A developer’s plan to construct 12,000 homes along the bay in Redwood City has been stalled. The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will decide whether the Cargill Saltworks site falls under protection of the Clean Water Act, which would prohibit the development. We’ll discuss what’s at stake in the struggle to balance San Francisco Bay restoration efforts with a Bay Area housing shortage.

Paul Rogers, managing editor of KQED Science and environment writer for the San Jose Mercury News
David Smith, attorney at law at Stice Block LLP, representing the Redwood City Saltworks project
David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay

  • Arthur

    We should be restoring historic marshland to address sea level rise, not building on the bay. There is also no mass transit to this location, so it is car centric not transit centric. All of those extra cars will jam 101, leading to exponential increase in delay to a freeway saturated during rush hours. There aren’t even carpool lanes on 101 north of Whipple Road to encourage carpooling, which could ameliorate the increase in traffic.

  • Frank

    Developers are so often wolves in sheeps’ clothing, pretending to be trying to help people out when all they care about it raking in the cash while the environment is destroyed. Has this developer even given any assurances that any substantial percentage of these homes will be affordable? Or will these homes merely be yet more toxic, particle-board based monstrosities built for techies who in their hubris think themselves to be royalty and spend like drunken sailors?

  • thucy

    Has it not occurred to the developers that there are options to building on this site? Options include existing sites which can be re-purposed. There is no reason to build “out” when you can build “up”. Building up would even keep units more affordable, which is ostensibly the rationale behind this.
    We have more than enough giant parking lots in the Bay Area which are wasting space: parking lots and industrial buildings make more suitable building sites.

  • Another Mike

    I thought that Cargill gave up its salt evaporation ponds to restore the bay for such purposes as waterfowl migration habitat, not to be used for housing.

    Further, baylands are the worst soil imaginable from the point of view of earthquake resistance. How can anyone build housing to float on essentially mud?

  • Jonathan Greenberg

    What a salesman! This developer is so full of it, I want to vomit. You can’t talk environmental sensitivity away.

  • James Jonas

    One of the options for the property proposed and under consideration by the City of Redwood City was a Floating Community, like we have in Amsterdam or Sausalito. This provides:

    – Restoration: The vast majority of the property would be restored to the bay.
    – Housing: A floating home is still a home.
    – Adaptation: Floating homes rise with the tides.

    Why not a Floating Community?
    Restoration, Housing, Adaptation – win win win

    Maybe its the right time to put this option back on the table.

    James Jonas
    Redwood City Resident

    • Whamadoodle

      I agree–floating homes might also be better for earthquake country. We should be consulting often with the Netherlands during our coming century of climate change experience.

      • James Jonas

        Now is the time to experiment and build Floating Communities. The few floating communities in the Bay Area like Sausalito, Docktown (redwood city) and Mission Creek (SF) are great places to start. New Floating Communities implemented in the salt flats or Ferrari’s Pond (redwood city) would offer a unique opportunity to experiment.

        Learn by doing.

        Amsterdam: Amsterdam has built a large scale Floating Home community – IJburg [ : ] – We can learn a lot from their experience.

        But the knowledge is also local.
        – Docktown: .
        – Sausalito:

        Earthquakes: Yes, an earthquake just makes a floating home shrug. No big deal.

        Arthur’s 101/Whipple issue: Docks and cars don’t mix. Bikes, boats and docks work. I agree, the Whipple Rd/101 interchange is a mess. Perhaps we shift the focus away from autos and do something amazing? [Exp: human powered boats (paddlers, rowers), electric bikes and public transit…] Think different.


    • Matt

      Floating homes won’t work in the Bay–they would only work as part of infill development. A Dutch consultant “floated” this idea to developers working on San Leandro’s shoreline development proposal who responded that BCDC has placed a moratorium on future Bay development. This is probably for the best, as wetlands restoration is really the key to the Bay Area adapting to inevitable sea level rise.

      • Power2thePeople

        Even the former BCDC chief who was opposed to Sausalitos floating community back in the 60’s has reversed his stance and considers floating communities, not infill, but a sensible use and solution for searise and housing issues.

        RWC resident.

      • James Jonas


        Seas Rise, State Takes
        The State of California has a plan for San Leandro. The State Lands Commissions interpretation of the the Public Trust Doctrine is that residential use is not allowed in areas of long term flooding. When seas rise and mean high tide shifts, homes are removed, neighborhoods destroyed, cities gone. That’s the plan for sea level rise adaptation in California.

        Silting = Flooding
        The assertion that without manmade levees, that earthen levees will rise up out of the ground is a bit interesting. The idea is that flooding takes place, deposits silt, silt builds up and creates a natural levee. Thus, do nothing and you are protected from sea rise.

        The problem is that it takes a whole bunch of flooding to build up silt and the right conditions (still water, low wave action, vegetation helps, flat). If your home is built for the thousands upon thousands of days of flooding, then great. Floating Communities can be built for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of flood events.

        In the mean time, the mean high tide level is rising. With the shifting mean high tide line the state of California’s jurisdiction shifts onto ones property. The state asserts that unless you are given a specific right to live where you are under state law, you cannot stay (recreational use, fisheries, public access… are a-ok). So, believe in the magic rising levee at your own peril.

        Wetlands restoration is still a good thing, but don’t depend on it to protect your city.

        Silting = Flooding = Floating Communities
        If the State of California wants to continue to prefer a no-manmade levee policy, and depend on very slow silting, then Floating Communities are a must.

        BCDC Jurisdiction
        BCDC may not have jurisdiction over the Salt Ponds. Their jurisdiction is ends a specific distance from the bay. I believe West Point Marina is half in BCDC jurisdiction, and that is in front of the Salt Ponds. But, the Salt Ponds may represent a special case.

        BCDC, SLC (state lands commission) and Floating Communities
        Perhaps its time to rewrite the McAteer-Petris Act to correct the interpretation that a house on water is ‘landfill’. Anyone up for a California constitutional amendment to fix the State Lands Commission. It may just come to that as the current legal framework in California has to adapt or we, the citizens of the state, won’t be able to adapt to the rising tides.


  • Dean Lewis

    All this discussion about Cargill Salt donating all this land to the refuge. Cargill purchased Leslie Salt quite a few years ago for $10,000,000.00. The land they donated around that time, they did so, but on most if not all the land, they kept the right to use the ponds, into perpetuity for salt production.

    Somewhere around 15-20 years ago, the sold a lot of land, to the US Government, for inclusion into the refuge or $100,000,000.00. At that time they said it was undervalued and took an additional tax right-off for $50,000,000.00

    The land currently under discussion should be restored to the Bay just as similar lands in the North Bay. Just recently, levies were breached and new wetlands were formed. Immediately wildlife moved in and new habit was created.

    Morton Salt shares use of the Cargill plant. I understand that they are in the process of closing up their operation and moving on.

    This is a poor project that will do lots of harm to the bay.

  • Power2thePeople

    As an RWC resident who interacts with the community I can say hands down, the people DO NOT want this area developed.

  • Francesca

    This is clearly the Bay. Restore it to its natural state and preserve it for future posterity!

  • Marc

    The Saltworks development is a throwback to the era of massive bay fill projects following WWII. Nothing like it has been proposed in decades. There are many suitable locations for commercial and residential development, but Bay wetlands can only be restored on sites where they previously existed. Citizens and government agencies now recognize that it was a tragic mistake to destroy 92% (the correct figure) of the Bay’s ancient tidal marshes and replace them with shopping malls and artificial lagoon communities. Today the largest coastal wetland restoration in the Nation is underway between Napa and Silicon Valley. Goal: restore 100,000 acres. Not only can we bring back the salmon, birds and harbor seals that were once so abundant in the bay, but restored marshes offer the easiest and cheapest protection against shoreline flooding of developed areas (like Highway 101) caused by sea level rise. I guess it should come as no surprise that out-of-State developers would have little concern about impeding this visionary rejuvenation of San Francisco Bay. But we know better and should tell them to go home.

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