Environmental Protection

Agencies Affirm Salt Ponds Are Part of San Francisco Bay

Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill’s plan to build a massive development of up to 30,000 residents on San Francisco Bay salt ponds in Redwood City is facing growing opposition, including concerns from state and federal resource protection agencies, according to a release from Save the Bay.

Agencies whose permission is needed to approve any development on the site have issued strong statements about the importance of protecting and restoring the Redwood City salt ponds.

“In light of the growing opposition to this development by federal permitting agencies, more than 140 elected officials, Bay Area cities, environmental groups, industry, and residents, the Redwood City Council has the responsibility to stop Cargill’s project in its tracks,” said David Lewis, Save The Bay executive director.

Save The Bay launched a brand-new online campaign where people can learn about Cargill’s plan and add their name to the list of those who want to protect San Francisco Bay. Save The Bay will deliver 5,000 signatures to the Redwood City Council this August to urge them to stop this development from being placed on 1,436 acres of restorable salt ponds.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board recently became the latest agency to weigh in, telling Redwood City that in their current condition these salt ponds are “an important biological resource” that “provide foraging and nesting habitat for a variety of birds.” The Board urged Redwood City to maintain the longstanding open space zoning that protects the site from housing or other development. “When no longer used for salt production, they can be restored and support beneficial uses and habitat diversity of the bay ecosystem,” stated the Water Board in a letter dated June 24.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Cargill in April that the entire property is a protected waterbody under the Clean Water Act (“waters of the United States”), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently called the salt ponds “critically important aquatic resources that warrant special attention and protection.” Redwood City's own General Plan says of the site: "Due to the sensitive nature of these open space areas, it should be assumed that they will remain as open space forever."

“Cargill’s development would be devastating for San Francisco Bay and the entire Bay Area. It would put a new city in a flood plain in the path of rising sea levels, and forever destroy the opportunity to restore these ponds to wetland marshes and protect this open space for the benefit of people and wildlife,” said Lewis.

The Redwood City Council has insisted that further study is required. This claim is rejected by municipal and environmental law experts who note that such a project can unquestionably be denied without first preparing an environmental impact report or conducting any CEQA review. (CEQA Guidelines section 15270 (“CEQA does not apply to projects which a public agency rejects or disapproves.”); California Public Resources Code § 21080(b)(5).)

Cargill – listed by Forbes in 2009 as the largest privately held company in the U.S. – owns the Redwood City salt ponds and announced its intent to discontinue making salt at the site. However, instead of selling or donating the former wetlands to be restored to tidal marsh and protected as open space, Cargill hired Arizona-based luxury-home developer DMB Associates to propose a new city with 12,000 homes, a million square feet of office space, schools and playing fields all behind a massive levee on the 1,436 acres of sea level salt ponds.

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