Baykeeper Opposes the Redwood City Saltworks Development

Redwood City is considering a real estate proposal to develop 1,400 acres on former salt ponds at the edge of the Bay. Baykeeper is opposed to this development because it poses significant threats to the health of San Francisco Bay. We will continue to publicize opportunities for public comment on the development as the process continues.

Project Background

In 2003, Cargill – the Minnesota-based multi-national agricultural giant – sold 16,500 acres to public resource agencies now undertaking historic efforts to restore the wetlands which were degraded through salt-making processes dating back to 1901. However, two large parcels, in Redwood City and Newark, were retained for on-going salt operations and future sale because the company determined these to be potential sites for development. Since that time, Cargill partnered with luxury home-builder DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Arizona, to develop approximately half of the 1,400 acre Redwood City parcel within wetland areas currently being used for salt production.

Proposed Project

In May 2009, Redwood City received a development application from DMB Redwood City Saltworks, LLC for a 1,436-acre mixed-use project located on Cargill-owned wetlands currently being used for salt production. Based on the NOP and Initial Study, the project would consist of 8,000 to 12,000 residential dwelling units of various densities, including low to medium density, medium density and high density, in seven neighborhoods of varying sizes. The project includes up to 1 million square feet of office space and 140,000 square feet of commercial space. The project also includes recreational open space and restoration of approximately 436 acres of tidal marsh.

Specific project objectives for the Saltworks Project have not yet been established but will be developed based on responses to the NOP and public comments received during the scoping period.

Why Does Baykeeper Oppose the Saltworks Project?

The Saltworks project poses significant threats to the health of San Francisco Bay. Salt ponds and other wetland areas play a vital role in the Bay ecosystem: they provide nesting, spawning and rearing areas for fish, birds and mammals; are a rich source of nutrients; serve as a natural filtration system for local waterways; prevent shoreline erosion; and help control flooding to areas further inland.

The Saltworks project would also contribute to the infill of San Francisco Bay, which has reduced the size of the open Bay from 787 square miles at the time of the 1849 Gold Rush to approximately 548 square miles today. The Redwood City Saltworks project would be one of the largest fill projects in San Francisco in the last 50 years.

Additionally, the proposed development is located in a site subject to the threat of sea level rise and storm surge caused by climate change. As seen on maps prepared by BCDC (pdf), the entire Saltworks project area is likely to be inundated due to sea level rise by mid- to late-century. The entire development would then need to be raised with imported fill, and this fill would increase flood risk to surrounding areas by reducing the ability of shoreline areas to store flood waters. As sea-level rise progresses, the project site would be subject to greater risk from tsunamis and storm surges. Based on review of tsunami-threat maps (pdf) recently prepared for the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA), the Saltworks project lies partially within the threat zone, and housing has been proposed immediately adjacent to areas likely to become inundated in the event of a strong storm surge. These maps do not consider the effects of sea-level rise, which is expected to significantly increase the depth and extent of tsunami inundation, posing significant threat to homes and businesses and likely prevent insurers from providing flood protection to their owners.

In time, Californians are likely to face defending large portions of existing coastal development from gradual rates of sea-level rise and storm surge. The Saltworks development would pose another liability for California in terms of flood protection and coastal armoring.These salt ponds should instead be preserved to maintain their existing flood protection function, among other ecosystem services to people and wildlife of the Bay Area.

These are just a few of the reasons for opposing this project. Save the Bay has taken a leading role on opposing this project, and we encourage you to visit their site www.dontpavemybay.org to learn more about the likely environmental impacts and unsustainable nature of the project. You can also visit Friends of Redwood City (http://www.forwc.org/) and Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge (http://www.cccrrefuge.org/) for more information – both organizations have a long-standing commitment to opposing this project and to preserving wetlands throughout the Bay Area.