October 18th, 2011


Principal Architect, Peter Calthorpe Associates

Executive Director, Save the Bay

Former Mayor, San Mateo


The debate over Saltworks, a proposal to build 12,000 homes on former salt ponds in Redwood City, is a harbinger of coming development fights in the age of climate change. In this October 18 Climate One debate, architect Peter Calthorpe argues that the need for housing in the San Francisco Bay Area is so great that infill development alone can’t meet demand; conservationist David Lewis counters that developing one of the region’s last unprotected wetlands is not worth the cost.

“This is not a site for housing,” says Lewis, Executive Director, Save the Bay. “This one area in Redwood City was held onto by the Cargill Salt Company because they wanted to develop it,” he says. “They have no entitlement to develop it. The city’s general plan says it should remain as open space. It’s a priority area for acquisition by the federal wildlife refuge.”

“I do have some concerns about it,” says Jack Matthews, He concedes that the development, as planned, seems isolated.

Peter Calthorpe, Principal Architect, Calthorpe Associates, argues that Saltworks needs to be assessed not as a stand-alone development project but as a response to regional pressures. “The larger context is that for a very long time we’ve been building more jobs than housing—particularly in the west side of the Bay, in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula. The jobs housing balance has been so askew that we have people commuting from outside the nine-county Bay Area. We’ve been pushing housing way to the periphery.”

Citing the Association of Bay Area Governments, Calthorpe says the region will need 72,000 new housing units to keep up with expected demand. There is no way to satisfy demand by only building transit-oriented development along El Camino Real, the region’s main north-south artery, he says. Calthorpe challenges David Lewis to answer how the region can reach a jobs-housing balance without employees moving to sprawling developments in Tracy or Livermore or Gilroy, if projects such as Saltworks aren’t built. “When you push housing farther and farther to the periphery because you don’t want to face up to the challenge in these jobs-rich areas, the environmental footprint, carbon emissions, VMT [vehicle miles traveled], energy consumption, and land consumption—because we all know it’s lower density once it gets out there – all of that, in many cases, is on pristine habitat or farmland.”

"We do it by building on already developed land and re-configuring our cities," Lewis answers. Saltworks “should have been dead on arrival in the beginning because it’s not the right place,” he says.


- Justin Gerdes
October 18, 2011
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California