Cargill Salt Pond Development a Bad Idea for San Francisco Bay

This post originally appeared in Project Groundswell

On a recent trip to Coyote Hills, a park on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, with a class of kindergarteners, we learned about marshland and a bit about salt ponds. Standing on the top of a hill, we looked out across the bay, and touching a flower one boy remarked that it “feels beautiful.” I was reminded of the mind of 5 year-olds and how sometimes they hit each other without realizing and you have to remind them to be aware of their surroundings.

Coyote Hills is located across the bay from Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City – the proposed site of constructionfor 12,000 homes. In this scenario, it feels as though Cargill is the 5 year-old, running around the world, not realizing that they are doing more than accidentally hitting other people or calling them names, they seem to be doing some real damage, and may continue if people do not raise their voices. This brief video explains the Redwood City project proposal to build luxury homes on a site of potential wetland restoration.

The Salt Ponds & Proposed Project

cargill salt ponds redwood cityAfter announcing that the salt ponds were no longer economically viable to produce salt, Cargill has proposed to develop the salt ponds into a new city of 30,000 people. According to Josh Sonnenfeld, Campaign Manager with Save The Bay, it would be the biggest bay-fill development in the past 50 years, and 17 times bigger than anything that has been built since modern environmental regulations.Save The Bay was founded 50 years ago this year, in order to stop developments such as these.

“Over past decades, the bay has shrunk in size by one-third and lost 90% of its wetlands. In order to bring back a healthy Bay, salt ponds throughout the region are being restored back to wetlands. Restoring Cargill’s 1,400 acres (two square miles) of salt ponds in Redwood City are critically needed for the health of the Bay and to provide open space for the community,” Sonnenfeld said.

Cargill’s plan comes with many concerns, one of which is how residents of this new city will have access drinking water. The developers have proposed an unprecedented private water transfer – with water rights originating in Bakersfield that would be swapped for increased water allocations in Redwood City. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle from November 21, 2010 criticizes this complicated plan. State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael is quoted saying, “We’re talking about a permanent transfer of hundreds of millions of gallons of water each year from agriculture to urban (areas) that are hundreds of miles apart… That’s a red flag that tells you this project needs to be reconsidered.”

An editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec 10, 2010 argues that “The idea of building 12,000 new homes in potentially restorable salt ponds right at the bay’s edge isn’t just irresponsible, it flies in the face of California’s climate change policies.” And finally, in a San Jose Mercury editorial from May 23, 2010 looking at some of the projects gaping holes, the paper argues that the “region would be better off if Redwood City just dropped it.”

coyote hills

Cargill’s Criticisms

It would be unfair to say that it is not only about the project, but the company behind the project – Cargill is the kid on the playground who can’t seem to stop beating up other kids for no apparent reason. As a result, I can’t help but be skeptical, given the facts. Interestingly enough, Cargill is the largest privately held company in the United States; and criticisms of Cargill have ranged from labor rights in the Ivory Coast and deforestation in Brazil, to beef contamination in the US. Not to mention that Cargill and Monsanto have done business together and “Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well being of small farmers around the world” according to Seattle-based Agra Watch – a project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice.

Where are we now?

Cargill has already submitted a proposal to change zoning and amend the General Plan. Currently, the local Redwood City government has initiated an environmental impact report. So, it seems that we wait… but hopefully not silently, “We need to make sure our elected officials know it is a bad project for the Bay,” said Sonnenfeld. Save the Bay is not alone in their efforts: 150 elected officials, as well as the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News have all come out against the project forming a strong regional and local coalition. A poll of 350 Redwood City registered voters shows residents oppose Cargill and DMB’s proposed development on salt ponds by a 2-1 majority: 57% to 28%.

Save The Bay reminds everyone that the development in Redwood City is, as Sonnenfeld said, “Out of touch with the values of people in the Bay Area.”

Frankly, Cargill, my dear 5 year-old child, despite your best efforts and intentions, your proposal just doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially considering your surroundings. Alas, too bad I am not your teacher.

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