October 31, 2014

Environment wins round one on Saltworks

Developer DMB has withdrawn its proposal to build a small city on the Cargill salt ponds (in the background). But it will soon propose to build a slightly smaller city. We think the salt ponds should become wetlands like those in the foreground. Photo by Jaiya Alamia.

Developer DMB has withdrawn its proposal to build a small city on the Cargill salt ponds (in the background). But it will soon propose to build a slightly smaller city. We think the salt ponds should become wetlands like those in the foreground. Photo by Jaiya Alamia.

As a result of opposition by the Sierra Club, Redwood City residents, Save the Bay, Redwood City Neighbors United, the Committee for Green Foothills, and other environmental groups, Cargill and Arizona developer DMB Associates have withdrawn their initial plan for filling in the baylands around Redwood City. The initial ‘Saltworks’ proposal would have turned 1,436 acres of eminently restorable sea-level Cargill salt ponds into a mini-city of 32,000 residents and a million square feet of office space behind three miles of new levees, in an earthquake zone, and far removed from downtown infrastructure (see May 26 article).

The Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter has been working with other environmental groups since 2008 to prevent this development. In addition to voicing our opposition directly to Redwood City councilmembers, we have hosted educational events and engaged in a campaign to publicize our views in local media.

Round two is coming up

In a May 4 news release, DMB Associates announced that it will soon submit a revised plan. This is a typical modus operandi — big developers first propose a huge project and then whittle it down, pressing people to accept this “compromise” as reasonable.

While we celebrate the withdrawal of the initial plan, we must recognize that this is just round one. The fight is far from over. Unless Cargill and DMB Associates have a complete change of heart and decide to stop their campaign to profit by destroying baylands, we will have to continue our fight to preserve one of nature’s most valuable wildlife habitats.

Is DMB’s whittled-down proposal likely to be reasonable? Absolutely not. If past experience is any guide, we would expect the new proposal to be only slightly smaller than the initial one, still large enough to cause all of the problems that made the first project so objectionable. Significant portions of Bay wetlands would still be paved over, wildlife would still be displaced, and the effort to restore healthy wetlands would be halted—perhaps for good.

Ninety percent of San Francisco baylands, an area that used to teem with wildlife and was an important stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds, has been lost. Since massive fill-in-the-Bay projects were mostly halted in the late 1960s—Redwood Shores was the last big project—the baylands have been coming back bit by bit. Even the old salt ponds are now used by various species struggling to reestablish viable habitats. We cannot allow this trend to reverse; we cannot return to the benighted days before the 1960s when valuable baylands were destroyed with abandon.

Instead of a “compromise” Cargill and DMB should donate the salt ponds to the public or sell them at a reasonable price for full restoration, so that baylands regeneration can continue. Scientists say we need approximately 100,000 bayland acres to reestablish a vibrant natural habitat for wildlife and migrating birds. We appeal to Cargill and DMB to plumb the depths of their own consciences—to set aside profits for once and consider doing something for all the inhabitants of our earth.

Sue Chow, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter Save Our Baylands Taskforce; and co-chair, Peninsula Regional Group.

adapted from The Loma Prietan – July/August 2012

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