Councilmember Proposes Vote on Cargill Saltworks Project

Councilmember Rosanne Foust proposed to her council colleagues to consider a November advisory vote on the project to gauge public interest.

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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Alex Wright April 13, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Why do those opposed to the saltworks project feel the need insult and attack our council? Is it not possible to disagree without using terms like "Foustian" and "obvious bias"? Just as I did on the playground when in grade school, I fail to see why anyone believes their point is more valid or will be heard more clearly if they toss in pointless adversarial rhetoric. Have you been to a park or a downtown concert lately? Have you driven down a clean street or turned the tap on recently to find water flowing as it should? Our council has oversight over these things as well. Would you stop to post commentary on our council’s “obvious bias” towards good public services? Do you watch your children play soccer on a well -cared for field and think to yourself that the park is “Faustian”? Why not? I don’t agree with all of our council’s decisions either but can we not treat each other with the respect we would hope for ourselves?
Jean Isaacs April 13, 2012 at 01:13 AM
To the previous writer, it is not disrespectful to point out an obvious bias held by a member of the City Council. It is critical to note the wish for the premature moving ahead to support the DMB Salt Works Plan, rather than waiting for an "unbiased" EIR (if that is possible since the current one is being written by DMB consultants instead of by consultants who are not in DMB pay). To be clear, I will state that I have been opposed to the Salt Works plan from the beginning - when it was first proposed, I have wondered where else around the entire San Francisco Bay would anyone think of developing right on the bayfront in these more enlightened times? I can't think of another community (except Brisbane?) which has contemplated filling the bay wetlands in order to build an entire new city (which is basically what it would be, since it is the size of many existing Peninsula cities). However, Redwood City residents have lined up in droves to buy into the "offerings" from DMB - new soccer fields, new 4H area/barn, etc, with apparently no thought to the great harm that would be done to the bay by developing such a huge area right on the bay front instead of restoring it to wetlands for the clear benefit this brings.
Eggbert April 19, 2012 at 04:11 PM
As one who laments the American loss of literary knowledge and sophisticate verbal play, I found "Foustian" both amusing and cheering. And if one has observed or can document a bias, how else is one to point that out than to use the word? "Bias" in this case is based upon documented history. Ms. Foust's reticence to recuse herself, ultimately enforced upon her, leaves her open to that charge without its being relegated to the status of childish insult. Ms. Isaacs, indeed, followed up her use of the term with an immediate citation of why it applies. She pointed out the verbiage that led her to that conclusion. Mr. Wright might certainly argue on point - that is to say, challenge that Ms. Foust's choice of words is not indicative of bias. But to dismiss the accusation as playground rhetoric without confronting the facts presented - well, that's rather weak sauce. In any formal, scored debate, that point would go to Ms. Isaacs.
Eggbert April 19, 2012 at 04:19 PM
As one who laments Americans' loss of both literary knowledge and skilled verbal play, I was cheerfully amused by "Foustian". As to insult: if one observes or can document "bias", it's not an insult but a statement of one's informed opinion. Ms. Foust's "bias" in this case, reluctant though she may have been to acknowledge it, was confirmed by no less than California's Fair Political Practices Commission. Further, Ms. Isaacs immediately follows her use of the word with an explanatory citation of why she feels it applies: Ms. Foust's own phrasing in proposing the advisory vote. To dismiss her conclusion as playground rhetoric without responding to the facts presented is, shall we say, weak sauce. Were this a scored debate, the point would clearly go to Ms. Isaacs.
Roger Brina April 22, 2012 at 03:03 PM
"Insult and attacks"? "Pointless rhetoric"? Are we even reading the same comments? Since when did anyone insult Ms. Foust, call her names, attack details of her private life, or single her out for her party affiliation? Every single criticism I've seen has been about her actions as a council member, her potential conflicts of interest, and the questionable ethics involved in advocating on an issue she is supposed to recuse herself from. Is the state of political discourse in our city so anemic that people are unable to distinguish between personal attacks and valid criticisms regarding conflicts of interest and ethics violations?


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