Local Residents Battle Ag Giant Cargill Over Development Plans Along the San Francisco Bay


Residents of the San Francisco Bay area are battling ag giant Cargill over development plans that involve salt ponds along South San Francisco Bay. As the San Francisco Examiner reports:

Diversified international company Cargill sold most of its Peninsula salt ponds in 2003 for $100 million to government agencies that plan to restore the shoreline habitats to create a sweeping federal wildlife reserve.

But Cargill held onto a site adjacent to the Port of Redwood City, which it values at $200 million, and it has spent several years preparing development plans for the land under a partnership with Arizona-based developer DMB Associates.

The land has been used for commercial salt harvesting since 1901.

The development plans currently include as many as five schools, 63 acres of sports fields, 759 acres of restored habitat, and neighborhood parks and sports fields, 1 million square feet of commercial space and 8,000 to 12,000 new homes.

The 25,000 residents who could eventually call the former salt ponds home would swell Redwood City’s population by one-third.

The organization Save the Bay is among the groups pushing to the have the plan halted, with two local residents leading the charge

Here are Save the Bay’s top reasons to say no:

1) Destroys Restorable Wetland Habitat. Scientists insist that the Bay needs 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands for the entire ecosystem to thrive.  These salt ponds are one of the few remaining places that can be restored, providing much-needed habitat for endangered species and nursery grounds for young fish and birds. Read the 1999 SF Bay Habitat Goals Report’s discussion about the importance of restoring these ponds.

2) Sea Level Rise. Sea levels are expected to rise more than four feet by 2050. In preparation, theState of California recommends not building in places like these salt ponds that would require new levees to avoid being under water. Instead, healthy wetlands provide natural flood control. The Nature Conservancy calls this debate “a wake-up call, highlighting the importance of nature in protecting people from the hazards of a changing climate.” Read this excerpt from the State of California Climate Adaptation Strategy.

3) A Traffic Nightmare. Tens of thousands of new residents at Woodside Road and Highway 101, with no ready access to public transit in an already congested traffic area equals many tens of thousands of new daily car trips in the area. Read why this has Santa Mateo County transportation experts worried.

4) It is Not Smart Growth. Building a sprawling new city on restorable salt ponds out in the Bay is not smart growth. Redwood City has been working hard to fill vacant storefronts and encourage a “downtown renaissance.” Meanwhile, there is no infrastructure on the salt ponds. Redwood City should meet local housing needs with downtown redevelopment. Read these reports fromAssociation of Bay Area Governments and Greenbelt Alliance about the Bay Area’s real smart growth future.

5) The Era of Filling the Bay is Over.  The San Francisco ChronicleSan Jose Mercury News, over 150 Bay Area elected officials, business leaders, and many neighboring towns have formally opposed Cargill’s irresponsible development, stating that Bay fill would be a major step back to the 1960s when developers were filling in San Francisco Bay at an alarming rate. Over the past 50 years, the Bay Area has turned a corner. Now is not the time to turn back. 

6) Housing Behind a New Levee? It's Not Safe. This new sea-level community would be behind a massive levee that can’t be guaranteed to survive the next earthquake. Bay fill is one of the least safe places to build housing. Unstable soil is prone to liquefaction during a major earthquake. Read more in this Op-Ed from a retired FEMA official.

7) It Threatens Jobs at Redwood City’s Port. Encroaching residential development is the biggest threat to the future of the Port of Redwood City, the only deep-water port in the South Bay. The port is an economic engine for the city, a crucial bulk cargo point of entry for Northern California, and it provides hundreds of jobs. Read one industry official’s Op-Ed on why building homes and schools next to a 24-hour industrial site doesn’t make sense.

8) There’s No Water. Cargill/DMB initially suggested pumping brackish groundwater from under the salt ponds, then proposed a convoluted and controversial scheme to transfer private water from Kern County. It was quickly opposed, including by state legislators and Bay Area water districts. The developers then began looking into building a new desalination plant. The bottom line: there’s no water for this project.



AlterNet / By Tara Lohan

Posted at August 23, 2012, 1:28pm

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