Almanac

News - February 2, 2011

Portola Valley calls for prompt end to Cargill project

by Dave Boyce

The proposal to develop a mixed-use residential community for up to 30,000 people on a salt flat off the coast of Redwood City came in for another round of bruising from the Portola Valley Town Council at its Wednesday, Jan. 26, meeting.

Redwood City council members should call a halt to the project immediately because the environmental impacts are too potentially harmful to the region, their Portola Valley counterparts said in a resolution.

It's the Portola Valley council's second whack at this proposal by Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt Corp., which owns the 1,436-acre salt flat and has teamed up with an Arizona developer. A unanimous council, with Councilwoman Ann Wengert absent, had agreed on Dec. 8 to oppose the Saltworks project out of concern for the impacts on traffic, drinking water and the Bay's wildlife.

The Jan. 26 resolution takes a stronger stand. After researching the legal options, the Portola Valley council points out that the Redwood City council would be lawful in immediately rejecting the Saltworks proposal because it is "so patently flawed on environmental grounds that it cannot be approved in any form."

The resolution requests just such a decision from the Redwood City council, and that it restore the salt flat to a wetland and add it to the nearby Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

The Portola Valley council also approved, with slight modification, an unambiguous letter written by Town Planner Tom Vlasic and intended for the Redwood City council.

The town "has carefully considered its regional place in its land use decision-making," the letter says, as can be seen in the town's general plan and its practices and procedures.

The eastward facing slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains, including Windy Hill, are protected open space and a "visual backdrop" to "help set the limits to development," and the Bay wetlands serve the same purpose, the letter says.

"These Bay lands deserve similar public efforts for permanent protection," the letter says. "The scope of existing local and regional land use planning provisions and zoning regulations that must be changed to accommodate the (Saltworks) proposal to convert sensitive lands is unprecedented relative to contemporary land use actions."

Council Ted Driscoll observed, referring to Mr. Vlasic's point linking the mountains and the wetlands: "We're kind of bookends. We're asking them to deal with their end of the bookshelf."

Councilman Steve Toben called Mr. Vlasic's writing "extraordinary," while noting that he is not insensitive to Redwood City's need for housing, parks and other infrastructure. "It's a huge dilemma," Mr. Toben said. "I'm quite convinced that they're sincere."

Several council members wondered aloud about how Portola Valley could help Redwood City address its problems. "It's going to be tough," Mr. Driscoll said. "We don't have much in the way of resources to offer and we're one fifteenth the size."

Go to is.gd/qeRTjw and turn to Page 76 to read the Mr. Vlasic's draft letter.

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