Political Climate with Mark Simon: Developer plans for Salt Ponds appear DOA

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that development of the Cargill Salt Ponds in Redwood City is not subject to federal environmental regulations was lacking only one thing – the sound of a starter’s pistol. Immediately, we were off to the races.

Developer DMB Associates, in a demonstration of unbridled optimism that seems distinctive to developers, announced it will engage in a lengthy process of “public engagement” to produce a project that eventually could win support and, ultimately, approval by the City Council.

Yes. Well. Good luck on that.

Just as immediately, postings began flying around in support of prior proposals by DMB dating back to 2009. That proposal called for 1,400 housing units and for half the available land (and wetlands or marshlands or sloughs or salt ponds) to be open space.

And that was before San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine convinced everyone that sea-level rise is a real concern. As far as I can tell, the last DMB plan didn’t include dikes. But it could work, if you define waterfront property as sea water up to the third floor of your eight-story condo. Or maybe something on stilts – like homes in the Louisiana bayou.

Anyway, just as immediately, postings also started flying around expressing opposition to development of the Cargill site as anything other than open space (or more wetlands or sloughs, but definitely not salt ponds). This included those who found the ruling one more thing to dislike about the Trump administration, amid the hope that DMB may suffer by association.

The council that discussed this proposal in 2009 was substantially different than the one that will consider it now, and it’s an interesting quandary for the current council, which is under a clear mandate to build more housing, but not big, new developments and not ones that might be underwater in 10 years.

DMB said it would be looking for “sustainable solutions” to all the challenges facing the area, and this is their own list: “crippling congestion, dangerous flooding, sea-level rise, housing shortages, and a deficit of necessary open space fort parks and marshlands restorations.” I don’t know about you, but I’m disappointed the list doesn’t include a power-hitting left fielder for the Giants.

Anything can happen, I suppose, and, as I said, you have to admire sustained, if not sustainable, optimism. But from this rowboat, DMB’s plans look DOA.

THE OLD COLLEGE TRY: By golly, in my day, celebrities and wealthy people didn’t have to bribe colleges to accept their under-performing kids. The colleges just let them in. Being rich and famous ain’t what it used to be.

In a more serious note, my parents took great pride, as Depression-era, native Californians and taxpayers, that the state college system was created on their watch. When they were growing up, college was for rich kids, people with connections and some athletes. That anyone could go to college and at a reasonable price – well, it was a big deal to them.

Amid this admissions scandal, which seems focused more on prestigious private schools, it would be nice if the controversy was a catalyst for more attention and more resources devoted to one of the great equalizing institutions in our state. A generation ago, I taught some journalism classes at my alma mater, San Jose State University. At the start of every class, I would ask for a show of hands: How many of you are the first member of your family to go to college? Routinely, 80 percent would raise their hands.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: State Senate candidate Josh Becker, whose campaign says he should be described as a public interest entrepreneur, whatever that is, posted something in the midst of the admissions scandal that seemed an odd commentary on a system fraught with over-emphasis on test scores and getting into the “right” school. Herewith his posting: “Access to top schools is not an equal playing field – that’s why I support CollegeSpring – started by two entrepreneurial Stanford students, its mission is to provide high-quality test prep to ALL students not just those that can afford $700 classes. Please consider supporting CollegeSpring.”

INNOVATING INNOVATORS: Last week was what has become one of the more popular public events – the annual Innovators lunch put on by the San Mateo County Economic Development Association. It’s a showcase for a handful of young, up-and-coming companies that have been spawned in San Mateo County.

This year’s lineup was just as astonishing as in years past. The companies included Brava, which has developed a “Pure Light Oven” that makes the microwave look like a Model T; Etagen, developers of a new “linear generator” that is more efficient and low cost; Juntos, which is pioneering the way we connect with our financial institutions; and Zuora, which is expanding the “subscription economy” and which could mean the end to our need to own stuff. The most exciting was Mango Materials, which is converting methane gas into biopolymer products – in essence, biodegradable plastic. Not only could this be a significant answer to the problem of plastic proliferation, but the company was founded and is led by three women.

Samceda CEO Rosanne Foust said that in the 12 years since the Innovators event has begun, 49 companies have been recognized – and 42 are still headquartered in San Mateo County.

It’s a continuing theme of mine, but I don’t think it can be said enough: Tech is here to stay and it is transforming the local economy, along with everything else.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.