Council may seek earlier public input on Cargill

San Mateo County Times
March 25, 2008

Council may seek earlier public input on Cargill

City to decide action after manager’s analysis on development of salt flats

by Shaun Bishop

The next step in determining the fate of Cargill Salt lands in Redwood City hinges on the city attorney’s analysis of a proposed ballot initiative that would give voters veto power over the site’s development.

City Attorney Stan Yamamoto on Friday is expected to release his analysis of “Open Space Vote,” a proposed amendment to the city charter filed March 13 by several environmental groups.

When that happens, supporters likely will begin gathering 5,300 signatures to put the measure on the November ballot, and the city — which so far has stayed on the sidelines of early discussions about the 1,433-acre site east of Highway 101 — will discuss how to respond.

“We need to ask our questions, get our information, find out what we need to do,” Mayor Rosanne Foust said.

The measure was drafted by the Open Space Vote Coalition, an ad hoc group whose members include representatives of Save the Bay, Friends of Redwood City, and the Committee for Green Foothills. The groups oppose development of any kind on the land and say it should all be restored to wetlands.

If passed, the measure would require two-thirds approval by voters for any development on land identified as “open space,” including city parks and the Cargill land, which is zoned as tidal plain.

DMB Associates, a real estate development firm hired by Cargill, has said feedback from residents shows most want a balance of uses on the site, including housing, commercial development, parks and wetlands.

While the firm has held a series of community meetings, no formal plan has been submitted to the city.

The city had been waiting for a plan beforestarting its own public input process, but Foust said the council may now consider moving that discussion up, depending on Yamamoto’s analysis.

The measure’s supporters must get at least 15 percent of Redwood City’s registered voters to sign petitions to qualify it for the November ballot, Yamamoto said. As of March 6, there were 35,373 registered voters in the city.

Mayor Foust has said the groups’ campaign for the measure “sets up an adversarial relationship” that could polarize the community before a planned overhaul of the city’s general plan.

The City Council kicked off the general plan review in January by hiring a consultant team for $1.5 million.

“My question to them is, ‘Why? Why now?’” Foust said. “I really feel they are hijacking the community input through our 20-month general plan process.”

Felicia Madsen, deputy director of policy for Save the Bay, said the measure complements the city’s effort to get residents’ opinions about future development in Redwood City.

“This charter amendment would actually build on the open transparency that the council is pursing,” Madsen said. “This really doesn’t circumvent, this is actually in addition to, to ensure every voter has an opportunity to have a say.”

She said the general plan review could be “very difficult and intimidating and a confusing process for every voter, every resident who wants to be involved.”

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