More than 60 elected officials and environmental and community groups throughout the Bay Area are urging Redwood City officials to reject proposals to develop the Cargill salt ponds and rather have them restored as wetlands. 

“We oppose development on the Redwood City salt ponds because we don’t build on the San Francisco Bay,” reads a joint statement published Tuesday. “New housing on the Redwood City salt ponds would put people at risk from rising seas, destroy habitat for fish and wildlife, lack an adequate water supply and worsen traffic.”

The statement was signed by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto; four San Mateo County supervisors; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and other elected officials from the Peninsula and beyond.  

On Tuesday, several signatories, including San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier; David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay and Dan Ponti, who represents Redwood City Neighbors United, held a press conference at Bayfront Park, which is adjacent to the salt ponds. 

The joint statement and press conference follows a ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency in March that the salt ponds are exempt from the Clean Water Act, thereby removing one hurdle to development of the 1,400-acre Bayside property.

Immediately after the ruling, developer DMB Ventures announced it would begin conversations with the community and stakeholders about the future of the site. The project has been branded “Reimagine Saltworks.”

“Our intent is to engage in a broad community conversation about potential future uses of the property to meet many already present needs of this community,” according to a Reimagine Saltworks statement sent by David Smith Tuesday. “We need to address our existing regional vulnerability to sea level rise, annual flooding of homes and businesses, crippling congestion, access to integrated public transit options on both water and land, housing and habitat restoration.”

The statement noted that nothing has yet been proposed for the site, which was described in it as “an active industrial salt harvesting facility that can continue operations indefinitely.”

The property is owned by Cargill and has had different development proposal iterations over the years. The most recent proposal by DMB Ventures would have created about 12,000 homes amid some wetlands restoration but was dropped in 2012 after years of controversy.

During the press conference, Ponti said the site should never be developed for a variety of reasons. 

“The salt ponds are isolated east of Highway 101 and they’re also particularly vulnerable to enhanced earthquake ground motions, to liquefaction hazards and rising seas,” he said. “To appropriately mitigate for these hazards would be really expensive and not without residual risk. 

“It’s just plain foolish to put residents and businesses on a restorable wetland that can otherwise provide unique benefits to the community and region,” he added.

Pine elaborated on the benefits of restoring the site to wetlands.

“Tidal wetlands help the Bay ecosystem, they clean water that flows to the Bay, they provide recreational opportunities and very importantly they provide natural protection against sea level rise and flooding,” he said. “We need more wetlands and there’s not a better site than this to bring more wetlands back to the Bay.” 

Ponti noted Cargill has no entitlement to develop the site, which has been designated as open space for decades. His organization recently launched a petition, which has accumulated 6,000 signatures so far, asking the City Council to maintain the site in its current land use and zoning.

Ponti added that Redwood City residents have consistently advocated for Bay restoration and rejected Bay-fill development. He noted Bair Island was saved in 1982 by a vote of the people and is being restored and more than 73% of voters supported Regional Measure AA, the Bay restoration initiative.   

“We’re confident Redwood City will ultimately reject any proposal for housing and commercial development in San Francisco Bay,” he said.

Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain is also an outspoken opponent of developing the salt ponds and wants to see them restored.

Lewis said the joint statement is a showing of support for Bain and the city’s current policies and priorities. 

“It’s an expression of support for Mayor Bain and the Redwood City Council to keep the development where it has access to transit and not develop the salt ponds,” he said. He added he has not heard of a single elected official coming out in support of developing the salt ponds and also expects the list of signatories on the joint statement to continue to grow.

Gauthier said she’s seen the impacts of flooding up close and personal when East Palo Alto flooded in 1998 and 2012. 

“So I know the impact of living in areas that are not ready and not equipped for housing and development,” she said. “I’ve seen community members lose all of their household content because of a flood, not only once but twice. We have a chance right now to prevent that from happening.” 

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