Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Redwood City Neighbors United 2012 Review

2012 was a busy year for Redwood City Neighbors United and our first full year of working together as Redwood City residents to oppose the Saltworks project. As 2013 begins, let’s take a look back at a few of the important news stories from 2012.

  • In March, RCNU’s first membership meeting of the year featured Blake Lyon, Acting Planning Manager for the City of Redwood City, who discussed Redwood City’s general plan with residents. The Saltworks plan falls outside of the general plan and is a distraction to the improvement of the rest of Redwood City. RCNU and its supporters remain committed to supporting the general plan and opposing the Saltworks.
  • Faced with significant community opposition, Cargill and its developer, DMB, pulled its plan for the Saltworks in early May after three years of controversy
  • While withdrawing the plan, Cargill and DMB promised to submit a revised plan. Since then, they have gone straight to federal agencies in an attempt to circumvent the local opposition and controversy, requesting a jurisdictional determination from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. To help educate our members about why this jurisdictional determination matters, we held a second membership meeting in November featuring Calvin Fong, the former regulatory division chief for the San Francisco district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who explained the jurisdictional determination process to a large crowd of concerned residents.  Read about our meeting here.
  • If you missed our meeting, check out this Op-Ed on why jurisdictional determination matters to you

For a complete look back at the news of 2012, check out the RCNU website, visit our Facebook timeline, or our Twitter feed.

Heading into 2013, we await the jurisdictional determination from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers and remain ready to oppose a revised Saltworks plan if and when it is presented by Cargill and DMB. We continue to work to educate our local, state, and federal representatives about this ill-conceived development and we are already planning community meetings on this issue for 2013. Most importantly, we look forward to working with our neighbors to promote responsible growth, not Saltworks in 2013.

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Redwood City Saltworks project waits in limbo while feds mull next course

By Bonnie Eslinger, Palo Alto Daily News

Back in May, DMB Pacific Ventures withdrew its controversial plan to develop 1,400 acres of Cargill's salt ponds in Redwood City until two federal agencies could clarify -- hopefully by the end of the year -- whether they have jurisdiction over the project.

DMB is still waiting for an answer, company Senior Vice President David Smith said Friday.

"We had hoped by the end of the year, but now we're hoping for the first quarter (of 2013)," Smith said in a phone interview. "We're anxious to see what they say."

The company has had several sit-down discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, but so far the agencies have not indicated where they stand, Smith said.

If they side with DMB's argument that the vast majority of the Cargill site does not include "waters of the United States" and therefore should not fall under federal oversight, Saltworks won't have to comply with the Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act, both of which tightly restrict the kind of development allowed on bayfront property.

Depending on the federal ruling, DMB is prepared to submit a scaled-back plan that proposes to build on about half of the original acreage and restore more wetlands than first envisioned, Smith said.

"We won't re-file with the city until we know their (the federal agencies') perspective," he said. "And until we get the clarity from the feds, we're not doing any elaborate planning."

Redwood City Senior Planner Blake Lyon said when DMB withdrew its application the city took time to archive its files but otherwise hasn't done any work on Saltworks.

The lull does not mean the project isn't alive, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Redwood City residents and environmental activists who want the Saltworks project stopped are not just waiting around to see what happens next. After years of fighting against the development, they're using the down time to gear up for the next round.

"We're going to be ready to roll and engage with the city, as we were before the project went dormant," said Gail Raabe, an organizer with Redwood City Neighbors United, which hosted a talk about Saltworks last month with a former Army Corps of Engineers official as the featured speaker. The group has about 400 members, she said.

The Saltworks project that DMB unveiled in 2009 included up to 12,000 homes, several office buildings, shops and schools on half of Cargill's property, with parks, open space and restored tidal marshes on the other half. At the time, company officials said they hoped to break ground in 2013.

David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, which has led the battle against Saltworks, said even though things have been quiet in recent months, arguments against building in areas at risk of flooding were underscored by the devastation wrought in New York and New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy.

"Building below sea level was always a bad idea," Lewis said. "I think people are now beginning to realize that."


Friday, December 7, 2012

Op-Ed: Why federal jurisdiction over Redwood City’s salt ponds matters

By Gail Raabe. Published in the Palo Alto Daily News

It's been more than six months since Cargill and developer DMB withdrew the initial Redwood City Saltworks development proposal and shifted their attention to federal permitting agencies. The companies have asked the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether they have regulatory jurisdiction over the salt ponds. Even though there is no sign yet of a new Saltworks plan, the public's interest and concern surrounding this development continue to grow.

How else do you explain the packed house at a recent community meeting sponsored by Redwood City Neighbors United, where more than 90 people came to the downtown library to learn about "jurisdictional determinations" and the finer points of the Clean Water Act?

An evening with Calvin Fong, the former regulatory division chief for the San Francisco district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was time well spent for residents who now realize there is a lot at stake for Redwood City with this pending decision on federal jurisdiction.

There were several key "take away" messages that all residents of Redwood City and others concerned about developing the salt ponds should know:

1) The Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act protect against inappropriate fill and mismanagement of waterways, wetlands and other "waters of the United States," ensuring that any fill of San Francisco Bay is avoided or mitigated. The Army Corps and EPA enforce these federal laws.

2) If the agencies determine they do have jurisdiction, the National Environmental Policy Act is triggered, requiring the Army Corps to complete an analysis of the impacts of development and seek public comment. As an agency that is charged with protecting public resources, the Army Corps would conduct an objective analysis of all project alternatives and require either avoidance or mitigation of environmental impacts. Without federal jurisdiction, environmental review and analysis of a revised Saltworks development plan would be limited to only the California Environmental Quality Act, and the process would be under the direction of Redwood City.

3) There is clear precedent for San Francisco Bay salt ponds falling under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps and EPA. Cargill's former salt ponds near Napa are similar to ours in Redwood City and the Army Corps required permits for the restoration work that is currently underway there. The Army Corps also asserted jurisdiction over the Redwood City salt pond site where Westpoint Marina was recently constructed.

While we wait for the final decision on jurisdiction, there is growing concern that Cargill and DMB are asking the federal agencies to reverse long-standing regulatory policies for their benefit. If it is appropriate to have federal oversight of restoration projects in salt ponds, isn't it even more important for the Army Corps to have permitting authority over permanent development that could forever alter our Bay? Local residents expect that EPA and Army Corps actions related to Redwood City's salt ponds will be consistent with the regulatory oversight they have provided in other parts of the Bay.

Redwood City Neighbors United will continue to keep the community informed as this important process moves forward. Visit to sign up to receive Saltworks updates and information on future educational events.

Gail Raabe is on the Steering Committee of the local advocacy group Redwood City Neighbors United: Responsible Growth -- Not Saltworks.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bay Area Couple Fights to Stop Cargill, Save the Bay

By Adam Swart, Redwood City Patch

As Bay Area natives, Gail Raabe and Matt Leddy both grew up hiking, bird watching and appreciating the beauty of the bay.

Though they met in graduate school at San Francisco State University, they didn’t start dating until they ran into each other years later when they were both working as scientists at the California Academy of Sciences.

They both took an interest in environmental activism in 1982 after Mobil Oil announced plans to develop Bair Island, located in the bay near Whipple Avenue. The project was approved by the City Council of Redwood City, but for Raabe and Leddy, these plans represented a major concern both for recreation opportunities and wildlife.

As a result, they put a citizens referendum on the ballot and successfully campaigned to overturn the previous city council approval of Mobil’s plans.

As newcomers to activism, Raabe and Leddy were encouraged by their early success.

“To succeed in your first effort is inspirational,” says Raabe.

Now, the couple has a new project: fighting back against Cargill’s plans to develop as many as 1,436 acres of salt marshes.

Cargill’s original plans to develop an area south of Redwood Shores included plans for 30,000 new residents, according to Raabe, who stresses that her opposition to the project is about more than solely saving wildlife.

“This is a quality of life issue,” she said. “There are traffic impacts and water safety issues.”

In addition, tidal marshes provide a means to filter pollutants and sequester carbon, she added.

Raabe cites a 1999 report about the baylands eco-system stating that 100,000 acres of tidal marshes are needed for a healthy bay, while currently there are only 40,000 such acres.

Cargill has since withdrawn the original plan; however, Raabe expressed concern that a new plan may include small concessions for public relations purposes while still making a similar move to destroy the marsh space.

Given the high unemployment rate of 8.5 percent in the Bay Area, Raabe understands that many may see her opposition to Cargill’s development as being ‘anti-jobs’.

“When you look at the economic picture, it’s not a question of do we develop or do we not develop, rather, it’s a question of where we develop,” she said, insisting that she supports development elsewhere, such as in downtown areas with accessible public transportation.

In addition, Raabe points out that the eco-system of the Bay Area is a major draw for workers.

“I think the beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities are a big reason why we live here,” she says.

Despite the couple’s past successes, Raabe stressed the need for more community members to get involved in ‘Save the Bay’ efforts. 

“This is definitely a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle,” said Raabe.

“It’s going to take the sustained support of the entire community.”


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Redwood City Saltworks developer seeks to avoid federal environmental rules

By Bonnie Eslinger, Palo Alto Daily News

In a move that could allow it to elude some environmental regulations, DMB Pacific Ventures on Wednesday asked two federal agencies to declare whether they have any say over what happens to the Cargill salt flats in Redwood City it wants to develop.

DMB, which early last month withdrew its polarizing Saltworks project and indicated it will later submit a scaled-back proposal, said it wants the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to determine that the vast majority of the 1,400 acres of salt flats are not "waters of the United States" subject to their authority.

If that's the case, DMB's development wouldn't have to adhere to the federal Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act, both of which tightly restrict what kind of developments can occur on bayfront property.

"We need some clarity from the federal regulatory agencies as we move forward and we actually think that's important enough we're going to approach them before we bring and unveil our revised proposal to the city," DMB Senior Vice President David Smith said.

Three years ago, DMB submitted an application to Redwood City proposing to build as many as 12,000 homes, several office buildings, shops and schools on one half of Cargill's property and provide parks, open space and restored tidal marshes on the other half. The proposal has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups, area politicians and others who contend the property should be restored to its original state as wetlands.

Without being specific, Smith said the company is working on a revised proposal in response to public feedback that calls for half of the original development acreage and additional wetlands restoration. But that plan won't be released until the company settles the matter of jurisdiction, which could take at least several months, he said.

If the Army Corps and EPA rule that they do have jurisdiction over the Cargill site, that in itself would not necessarily kill the Saltworks project but could make the developer jump through a plethora of costly and time-consuming hoops.

Smith told The Daily News he wouldn't rule out legal action if the agencies conclude they do have jurisdiction.


Merry Goodenough, district counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers, said there is legal precedence for determining the agency has jurisdiction over salt ponds, particularly under the Rivers and Harbors Act, if it could be shown that with improvements, tidal waters could be restored to "navigable waters."

Despite what the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency determine, the Saltworks plan would still have to be approved by more than a dozen other agencies, departments and boards for approval, as well as Redwood City.


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