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OP-ED: Salt ponds not zoned for housing

I would like to publicly thank our local members of Congress for weighing in on the status of the salt ponds in Redwood City. Speaking only for myself, I fully support the efforts of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and the other Bay Area members of Congress who are seeking clarity on whether the salt ponds are “indeed waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act.” The clarity at the federal level will determine whether Cargill and DMB come back to the city of Redwood City with another proposal. If they do come back to us, I want it on record that I am not interested in another housing proposal, which is inconsistent with the zoning. Right now, the salt ponds are zoned “tidal plain” which means the site can’t be developed with a residential project. Unless the residents of Redwood City want to rezone the area to allow residential use, then Cargill should not propose another housing project on that site. When the Redwood City Council previously considered the Saltworks proposal, it was in the interest of hearing what was possible, but like many people, I was stunned by the sheer scale of what was proposed. In the interest of due process, I bit my tongue and let the process play out. For years, we listened to the developer’s claims, and heard the outcry from the community before the proposal was eventually withdrawn. I don’t want us to go down that road again. Flooding and sea level rise are big issues to consider as we think about the fate of the salt ponds. The developer stated in a recent KQED interview that their proposal would help alleviate the flooding in low-lying parts of Redwood City. Not many people are aware that Cargill actually owns the Bayfront Canal, not the city of Redwood City, and it currently controls access to places where stormwater can be released into the Bay. This access is a critical element in the city’s overall program to reduce flooding in the Friendly Acres area, yet it appears to be a bargaining chip in a political battle. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. In his recent letter to the editor, T. Jack Foster stated that “the development will be behind levees like Foster City and Redwood Shores and if the levees need to be raised, it is a fairly simple matter to do so.” It’s not that simple. Today, we know far more about the ecology of the Bay, the value of restored wetlands and impact of sea level rise than we did when those communities were built. Even if wetlands restoration can’t be funded right now, doesn’t mean funding won’t be available in the future should Cargill elect to restore the area, or donate it for wetlands restoration. We must seek other places to build housing on the Peninsula. Again, I am speaking only for myself, and not on behalf of the City Council. I hope this issue will be resolved in Washington, D.C. If not, I hope our city’s leadership will send a clear message that we’re not interested in having another proposal to develop residential or with that intensity of use. Ian Bain is a member of the Redwood City Council. The Daily Journal

Photo Source: Jeff Birdwell

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