Thursday, March 31, 2011

Saltworks redux

The Saltworks site (photo from Save the Bay)

I heard Peter Calthorpe, planner of the proposed Saltworks development, debate David Lewis of Save the Bay. This was at SPUR on 29 March 2011. Calthorpe is an effective presenter, and he gave the project a surface plausibility. He often referred to his own expertise, as if to self-certify the truth of his opinions. When pressed on the affordability of the housing Saltworks will provide, though, he waffled, glossing over the fact that this is waterfront housing, not worker housing. He  also denied that Saltworks is sprawl, but then noted that it would provide townhouses, a suburban housing type that's only a step up in density from tract homes*. A big point that Lewis made is that Saltworks' development would take the pressure off of affluent enclaves like Atherton and Menlo Park that refuse to add density along the CalTrain corridor. Calthorpe denied that the corridor can be redeveloped at sufficient density, but Lewis questioned that assertion, which is the linchpin of Calthorpe's justification for a project that makes no sense at all environmentally. Preserving and reclaiming the bay edge is a miniature version of the National Seashore project a generation ago - does anyone think that was a bad idea? The Saltworks site is the last large tract of reclaimable bay marsh, as Lewis pointed out. What is being proposed is like Foster City, but that was then, this is now. It's certainly not worth building 12,000 mostly market-rate housing units in this location if, with the slightest display of political will, they could be developed elsewhere along the West Bay's transit corridor. (As Lewis explained, Atherton and Menlo Park currently refuse to countenance added density in their parts of the corridor.) If nearby worker housing is so crucial to the companies in Redwood City, as Calthorpe avers, perhaps they could redevelop their own sites there to provide it.

[*: It would also provide higher-density housing, but Calthorpe stressed townhouses as a "missing product" in the urban mix. There's a reason for that.]