The 1,433-acre property, east of Highway 101 and south of Seaport Boulevard, comprises former salt-crystallization ponds. Cargill Inc. and DMB Associates propose building here, over the next 25 years, 1,200 units of housing, a million square feet of commercial uses, a 63-acre sports park (i.e. sports fields), five schools, and a wastewater-treatment center. Only 440 acres is planned for wetland restoration.
The development would have numerous intrinsic problems, including the danger of flooding if seawalls were to rupture from earthquakes, problems with the proposed water sources, potential maintenance problems when water levels rise as the climate warms, and increased congestion on already gridlocked Highway 101 and Woodside Road. The plan includes a “transit loop” linking the development to the Caltrain terminal and a proposed ferry terminal, but there are no guarantees that the terminal would be built or that the cash-strapped transit agencies would operate such lines.
More broadly, San Francisco Bay has already lost 90% of its wetlands. The former Cargill salt ponds are the last large privately held piece of restorable wetlands on the Bay. Restoration of the 1,433 acres of salt ponds into healthy wetlands would contribute more to our community and our ecosystem than would houses and pavement.
Studies from the 1980s and ’90s show tens of thousands of shorebirds using the Redwood City salt ponds. Last year Matt Leddy of the Friends of Redwood City photographed hundreds of shorebirds feeding and roosting on just one of the ponds slated for development. “On one weekend, he estimated 2,700 shorebirds including willets, black-necked stilts, marbled godwits, dowitchers, dunlins, avocets and sandpipers were all using the pond,” according to Save Wetlands (Winter 2010).
Redwood City itself is significantly below state averages for open space and recreation. The Trust for Public Lands reports that nationally cities average 17 acres of parkland per 1,000 people. Redwood City has 145 acres of parkland for 80,000 people. Just to meet the average, even without 30,000 new residents, Redwood City needs 1,215 more acres–the vast majority of the bayfront lands.
The initial study for the proposal claims that it includes 804 acres of open space. Of that area, however, only 255 acres would be an actual park, 63 acres would be sports fields, and 50 acres would be “multi-use perimeter open space”, which due to its narrow configuration isolated from other habitat would be of limited habitat value, particularly for such threatened and endangered species as the clapper rail, snowy plover, and salt-marsh harvest mouse. The remaining 440 acres would be the restored wetlands mentioned above, and we don’t know how they would be managed, although they might be incorporated into the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge would be the right manager–but it should be getting the entire site.
Saltworks calls its project the “50/50 Balanced Plan”–but there’s nothing balanced about building a development on two square miles of wetlands in a city that lacks parks and on a Bay that has lost most of its original wetlands.
Cynthia Denny, chair, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter Wetlands Committee and Stop Cargill Campaign