Near the end of a relatively quiet city council meeting Monday night, Councilmember Rosanne Foust boldly suggested that the council consider placing an advisory vote regarding the proposed Cargill Saltworks project on the November ballot.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and felt compelled to bring this up,” Foust said during the Matters of Council Interest portion of the meeting. She had recused herself from all Saltworks discussion when it was on the regular agenda because of the potential conflict of interest. Foust is the Executive Director of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA), which has expressed its support for the project.
“I’m concerned because the project has been incredibly divisive in the community,” she said of the 1,436 acre development.
Many environmental groups, like Save the Bay and the Sierra Club, have vehemently opposed the project, arguing that the opportunity for 100 percent wetland restoration is gone once the Saltworks land is developed. Housing advocates contend that there is a large housing dearth and this development of 12,000 housing units could greatly mitigate this problem.
Developer DMB Pacific Ventures and environmental group Save the Bay have spent millions of dollars on this project to convey their respective messages.
The council’s unified message has been ‘let the developer submit a final application and continue the environmental review process.’ Vice Mayor Jeff Gee has labeled himself and his council colleagues “information junkies,” gathering all the information they can get before making any decision.
The developer has not set a specific date for the revised project application. It is continuing an internal review and evaluation of its last submitted proposal.
Foust told Patch that an advisory vote could measure the community’s feeling on the topic. Because of the presidential election that will take place November of this year, this particular election will have a higher voter turn-out.
She said the advisory vote would include “a detailed project description listing all the benefits of the development” not simply a question asking the public “yes or no” on whether they support the project.
Foust added that this one project has “taken a tremendous toll on city staff and council” while they could be working on numerous other projects.
“It’s overshadowing every single thing that we do,” Foust said.
To take any action, the Mayor and Vice Mayor need to agendize the topic for a future meeting, something Mayor Alicia Aguirre said she would discuss with the Cargill Saltworks sub-committee and the city manager.
“This is an opportune time to explore various options in moving forward on this unprecedented project for the community of Redwood City,” Aguirre said in a statement. “Prior to re-engaging in that process, the city council may want to consider whether the revised project is of interest to the community and worthy of further exploration and analysis.”
Reactions to Foust’s Suggestion
Groups with a vested interest in the proposed development didn’t react with any immediate call to action but wanted to wait for concrete action from the other six councilmembers.
DMB Pacific Ventures spokesman Jay Reed said the company awaits details of what the rest of the city council wants to do.
The citizens’ group Redwood City Neighbors United, organized specifically to protest this one project, was also hesitant to make a group-wide statement.
“I was very surprised,” Co-chair Dan Ponti said of Foust’s proposal. “I felt like it was a turn in direction from what the council’s ‘wait-and-see’ approach.”
He added that he wasn’t sure what problem an advisory vote could solve. If the city wanted to get a general sense of voters’ opinions, he said, the city could do this through workshops and polls that are cheaper and much less politically charged.
“If an advisory vote were placed on the ballot, would Save the Bay and DMB flood the masses to put out a campaign out?” Ponti said.
He also questioned how the verbiage would be phrased and if this could bias people’s opinions towards how to react to the advisory vote.
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