Redwood City plan sparks debate over ‘smart growth’
SF Public Press aggressively covers both sides of the debate over the Redwood City Saltworks redevelopment proposal.
Yes, the plan has all of the characteristics of smart growth, the report says. No, it is not worth developing in an area that will be vulnerable to sea level rise and the site should be fully restored to wetlands, the examination concludes.
First, a little background: The Saltworks is one of the biggest San Francisco Bay area land-use projects to be proposed in decades. At 8,000 to 12,000 housing units, plus a million square feet of offices, retail, and civic buildings on 1,433 acres, the industrial area redevelopment would house more people than Mission Bay in San Francisco, a major endeavor currently under construction. The plan calls for transit service and significant wetlands restoration.
A major developer, DMB, is teaming up with the landowner, Cargill. The site has been used to produce salt for more than 100 years. The site designers are Calthorpe Associates and ROMA Design Group.
The article and movie illustrate the divided view of environmentalists regarding a project like this. There's a growing recognition in the environmental community that smart growth is a good thing — especially in the battle with climate change. The report gives a good deal of coverage, especially in the first half of the movie, to Peter Calthorpe's and DMB's views.
"The bay area has to come to terms with its jobs/housing inbalance," says Calthorpe. "Right now there are over 200,000 people who in-commute every day from outside the Bay area." Fifty percent of the Bay Area's carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. By 2035, there will be a 90 percent increase in commuters. "Our project is far more efficient than the vast majority of existing developments around the Bay," says Tim Frank, sustainability consultant for the developer, DMB Redwood. "If your goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then locating the housing here is an important part of the answer."
But opponents say the location and the nature of the land make it a dumb place for a smart growth project, the report says. Reason one is that the property is in an earthquake risk zone. (Of course, the entire Bay Area is an earthquake risk zone.)
Reason two is that the area is vulnerable to a 16-inch sea level rise by 2050. The development will have to be protected by levees, the report says. As the film and story point out, the developer is building substantial levees. "You can tell me you are going to build the strongest levee in the world," says one opponent, Mark Bartholomew. "But it has a lifespan, they all do. And then once you build all of this development behind it, then you are forced to have to maintain it. And who maintains it? The developer? They set it up so that they are not liable. So who ends up being liable? Us."
The developers are proposing restoring 30 percent of the site to wetlands. The film makes the case for restoring the entire site to wetlands, but it doesn't say who would pay for that.
"There aren't very many places like this," says David Lewis of the environmental group Save the Bay, "that are unprotected that are left to be restored. This is one of the few and the Bay needs all of the places that it can get."
New Urban News reported on this story in October of 2009: see Save the Moonscape by the Bay.
Update: About 20 miles north as the crow flies, Calthorpe has designed another large plan on the San Francisco Bay that is getting some attention. Alameda Point calls for transforming a former Navy base into a transit-oriented development. The 2008 plan includes 4,500 residential units and 3.5 million sf of commercial/retail space on 560 acres. About 26 percent of the site is preserved as open space. An Alemeda News article expresses support.