Monday, December 6, 2010

SF Chronicle Editorial: A Risky Development

San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 2010

When DMB Associates, a developer from Scottsdale, Ariz., began talking to the city of Redwood City about building an enormous housing project on a sprawl of salt ponds near Highway 101, company officials were told that they had to find their own water solution.

"One of the first things we learned from Redwood City was that they're already upside-down on water," said DMB Associates Vice President David Smith.

So DMB put together a complex water transfer with a family from Bakersfield to buy enough water for their development - and, if needs be, to kick back a little water to Redwood City in tough times. The water agreement is precedent-setting, just like the development itself. But both of the precedents being set here are the wrong ones.

DMB struck a deal with Nickel Family LLC, a Bakersfield agriculture company that's made a fortune by marketing its water rights to developers in the Bakersfield area. For an undisclosed sum (that probably ran into the tens of millions of dollars), DMB will have 8,393 acre-feet of guaranteed water from the family - about 2.7 billion gallons, for as long as 70 years.

Because there's no way to move that water from Bakersfield up to Redwood City, the water exists only on paper. The Nickel family is supposed to now receive 8,393 acre-feet less water, while a water agency up north is supposed to increase its share from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Then, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would move the extra water to Redwood City.

Confused yet? So are a number of observers in the Bay Area, who see everything about this water deal - and about this development - as something that California needs to avoid.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

SJ Mercury News Editorial: Redwood City salt ponds not the right place for massive development

San Jose Mercury News, May 22, 2010

The Redwood City Council will likely approve a contract Monday for an environmental impact report on a proposal to build a small city on 1,400 acres of salt ponds bordering San Francisco Bay. The project is so controversial that more than 100 elected officials and several environmental groups, led by Save the Bay, are demanding it be killed now.

That's unlikely. Developer DMB Associates is determined to forge on — the project would be extremely lucrative — and council members have said they want a full analysis. DMB is footing the bill, so it's not outrageous for Redwood City to proceed. But our question is: Why bother?

The opposition from environmentalists is not just aesthetic. Concerns include the sea-level rising, liquefaction in the case of an earthquake and the viability of a controversial deal for a future water supply. We need housing, but this isn't the place for it.

This region has long been committed to restoring the fragile bay ecosystem. Despite DMB's pledge to restore about 400 acres to wetlands as part of the project, putting up to 12,000 houses and 25,000 people on this site would represent a stark reversal of that commitment. Redwood City's own General Plan puts it best: "Due to the sensitive nature of these open-space areas, it should be assumed that they will remain as open space forever."


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