Activists seek charter change

San Mateo Daily Journal
March 15, 2008

Activists seek charter change

by Michelle Durand

Environmentalists hoping to stunt future Redwood City development filed paperwork Thursday to change the city’s charter to place the fate of all projects involving open space in the hands of voters rather than the City Council.

The effort, known as the “Open Space Initiative,” is a smack at the pending Cargill saltworks plan although proponents are hesitant to say so. The Cargill site, approximately the size of the Presidio in San Francisco, is the largest untouched land parcel on the Bay and the subject of intense scrutiny for more than a year as developers, the city and the public grapple with its future.

Instead of targeting Cargill directly, those pushing the initiative, particularly nonprofit group Save the Bay, say a charter amendment is a way to broaden democracy and involve voters directly in rezoning decisions.

In unveiling the initiative last week, Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis said the proposal is a “response to the assault on parks and open space.”

City officials, who said they were broadsided by the proposal, see the effort differently. Mayor Rosanne Foust expressed disappointment the city was not alerted to the ballot initiative and worries a city charter amendment will be harmful to the pre-vote public hearing process in the long run.

“They have truly hijacked our community process,” Foust said.

To qualify for the November ballot, proponents must gather 15 percent of the registered voters in Redwood City at the time the clerk qualifies the document. There are approximately 35,000 registered voters in the city.

The ballot initiative is a joint effort by Save the Bay, Committee for Green Foothills and the Friends of Redwood City.

By passing the amendment, “the voters of Redwood City ensure that current and future voters have the right to protect open spaces from the threat of inappropriate development,” the filed petition reads.

While Foust argues the proposal cripples the community’s public process the proposed amendment claims “the residents of Redwood City are also particularly well qualified” to evaluate and approve development.

Foust doesn’t discount the community’s qualifications but believes the initiative implies the City Council doesn’t care or is ill-equipped to listen to the public.

“I think that message was delivered loud and clear in 2004. We get it,” Foust said, referring to the community divide over a similarly controversial plan for the Marina Shores development.

After the City Council approved the proposal, a grassroots effort headed by the Friends of Redwood City placed Measure Q on the ballot and defeated the plan. The development resurrected as a scaled down project, Peninsula Park, through a collaborative effort of developers, city officials and former opponents.

Foust hoped for a similar approach to the Cargill land but said the initiative amendment shows that viewpoint is not shared.

As the city embarks on a 20-month general plan creation, Foust said she also doesn’t understand why initiative backers have chosen to apparently work against rather than with the city.

“The question is, why now?” she said.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: [email protected] or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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