Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Am I Wrong?

A week ago Saturday the Daily News published a letter of mine about the proposed redevelopment of the Redwood City saltworks.

Dear Editor: Over the next few months, we can expect to hear a lot about "preserving open space" from the anti-growth crowd in Redwood City, who oppose any new development of our saltworks. I find their "green cred" somewhat suspect, not just because a lot of them live quite nicely on former open space themselves in Emerald Hills (which once was grasslands, oaks and redwood forest), and put their share of CO2 into the atmosphere getting up there, but because their "housing not high-rises" campaign of 2004, which had the net effect of preserving a row of auto dealerships and a boat-storage lot, exposed their true concerns: preserving "their" city from the threat of new residents moving here in large numbers.

To more open-minded Redwood City residents, I'd like to point out the saltworks are not public property, and short of a huge infusion of public cash, restoring it all is not an option. The options we do have are to let it continue to be a saltworks, or accept something along the lines of the 50-50 proposal of the saltworks owners (50 percent developed, 50 percent restored and made available for recreation). I think it's a good deal, and we should take it.

I've gotten some flack over this from some folks whose opinion I respect, who ask why I'm supporting a project that:

  1. Fills in the bay.
  2. Enriches large corporations.
  3. Is still vague.
  4. Is not transit-oriented.

I can accept (1) as a reasonable argument, though I think I've made my position clear--the saltworks aren't really a natural space any more, and getting half a wetlands is better than none. As to (2), my political roots are pretty far left, and I'm sympathetic--but it just seems orthogonal to the issue at hand. Regarding (3), perhaps I am hasty in endorsing this project, but others are equally hasty in condemning it.

Naturally I take (4) a more seriously. So is this project transit oriented? Admittedly, it's a ways from CalTrain. Here's a map, with some additions of mine.

The developers are happy to point out that the area is close to the planned Redwood City Ferry terminal, but prospects for that project are dimming (and probably it's a dumb idea).

My $0.02 is that this area is ripe for some sort of local Bus Rapid Transit line to connect it to the core of Redwood City and Sequoia Station. This should be done already to better connect to the Seaport Office complex (those big towers out next to the cement plant). Done right, it would only be about a 10-15 min ride.

How well this would actually work out depends on the extent to which new development was actually organized around it, and its degree of pedestrian-friendliness.

A few musings...

  • Our housing problems are worse than our transportation problems (well, for me, anyway--my commute's fine, but I worry about the rent!). This doesn't mean we should sign off on any new development (I'm pretty solidly against SJ's expansion into Coyote valley), but
  • If people move to a new RWC neighborhood and drive a couple miles to work, that's still better than if they live in Fremont, Livermore or Stockton, and drive a couple dozen.
  • Cynically speaking, anything that adds to the overall density of the region will make traffic worse, and transit more appealing.
  • There is a difference between transit-hopeless development (look on the fringes of any metro region for this) and potentially transit-accessible (transit-salvageable?) development (I think there's hope for Redwood Shores and Foster City).

One thing I would truly love to hear from opponents of the Saltworks project is an admission that Redwood City needs more housing--and a suggestion of a better place to put it. I don't mean this rhetorically!!! I think there really are other places around town ripe for redevelopment. Our KMart is pretty deserted--tear it down, build some apartments/condos/townhomes, whatever, and make room for a couple hundred new Redwood City families... but hey, it's not my job to think up alternatives to turning the Saltworks into housing--people who are against this project should be doing that!

We need to move beyond "veto politics" to actively looking for solutions to problems, and for a change, getting people to be for something.

What do you think?

It sucks, but the "Proposition Q" project that RWC voters defeated in 2004 was all around a better project--it was denser, closer to the city's core, and was set on land already lost to development (and nothing anyone would miss).

1 comment:

Michael J. said...

"If people move to a new RWC neighborhood and drive a couple miles to work, that's still better than if they live in Fremont, Livermore or Stockton, and drive a couple dozen."

I think you're right on the money.

I doubt we'll see, and don't really think it'd be appropriate there, to implement the densities necessary to sustain bus service that doesn't suck. However, I think it's perfect biking distance from downtown and the caltrain station. A good bike/pedestrain crossing of 101 and a solid route, where the priority is the bikes not the cars, all the way to downtown could go along way.