Is Redwood City ready for an influx of 45,000 new residents over the next 20 years? That’s what has been quietly snuck in to the city’s current new General Plan.
As a former planner with decades of experience with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the county of Santa Barbara and the city of Palo Alto, these numbers have me worried — almost as much as the total silence from city leaders about what they’re planning for our community.
It’s important to recognize the type of growth being discussed. The General Plan’s Draft environmental impact report outlines an increase of approximately 15,000 people from the Downtown Precise Plan and associated development, and another 30,000 for the Cargill project. The combined Redwood City population increase of 45,000 people is the equivalent of a 60 percent increase in the city’s population over the next 20 years. Under this scenario, we will add more residents in the next 20 years than we have in the past 50.
While city leaders stay mum, it’s time for us to recognize this basic truth — as a community, we will have to choose between our Downtown Plan and building in the Cargill salt ponds.
The impact of 45,000 new residents on city and county services would be astronomical. Conservative estimates in the General Plan warns of demand for water that has no way of being met and a significant increase in car traffic (26 percent in the morning and 22 percent in the evenings) giving certain roads (especially Seaport Boulevard, Highway 101, Woodside Road, parts of El Camino Real and Interstate 280) the worst possible rating — an F. This type of growth is explosive, unnecessary, unsustainable and ultimately impractical.
This leads to the logical conclusion that Redwood City will be unable to proceed with both the Downtown Precise Plan and the massive Cargill development on the salt ponds.
On one hand, we have an award-winning plan to meet our housing needs downtown, near jobs, restaurants and public transit. On the other, we have a highly controversial proposal to build a new town on the other side of Highway 101, surrounded by new levees, the trucks, trains and ships of the 24-hour industrial port, with zero existing infrastructure, on liquefaction-prone Bay fill, all within the San Francisco Bay.
This isn’t just a question of where we want our housing growth to occur — but also where we want our businesses to be located. In addition to the 30,000 people and 12,000 dwellings proposed by Cargill, their plan is being touted as a self-contained community with "everything residents need” including shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.
In essence, Cargill would be constructing a competitive economic magnet on the other side of Highway 101, drawing people away from our struggling downtown to an area that is entirely dependent on one freeway interchange. This not only hurts our efforts to revitalize downtown, but would reverse the progress the region is making to grow our communities in a less car-centric way.
When my partner and I moved to Redwood City in 1989, we made sure to pick a house near downtown. We love to walk into town to grab a bite to eat, or take a stroll on the weekends. For more than 20 years we’ve been eagerly anticipating Redwood City’s downtown "renaissance” that has been continuously promised. Now is the time for Redwood City to move forward with their Downtown Plan — let’s not be distracted by Cargill. As a Redwood City resident who lives near downtown, I say: Yes, build in my backyard! Not on the salt ponds.
Mark has been a resident of Redwood City for over 23 years and is a landscape designer. His career as an environmental planner spanned 15 years and included such agencies as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Palo Alto.