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Story in progress: ‘Smart growth’ or bay fill in Redwood City? ABAG has the numbers

SF Public Press
 — Sep 20 2010 - 1:50pm
The Bay Area needs more homes for its growing population, but does it make sense to house 30,000 people on unstable land, in earthquake country, that’s also at high risk of inundation by rising sea waters? A massive development proposal on the fringes of the San Francisco Bay, in one of the last potentially developable areas in the region, is raising questions about the definition of smart growth.
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Some figures from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to chew on:

  • The Bay Area’s nine counties and 101 cities are home to 7.2 million people, making it the fifth most populous metropolitan region in the country
  • Over the next 25 years region’s population is expected to increase by 1.6 million, an average of 64,760 new residents per year (about half of this increase is due to the difference between births and deaths, or natural increase. The other half is due to in-migration)
  • 1.6 million new jobs will be added to the Bay Area’s existing economy by 2035
  • About 700, 000 new homes will be needed by the same time to house the rising population
  • The Bay Area is the most transit-rich region in California, yet only 6 percent of all trips people make are by public transit. Walking and biking account for only 10 percent of all trips. By 2030 congestion here is expected to increase by 103 percent
  • Commuting between the Bay Area and  the Central Valley is expected to grow by 90 percent during the same period (ie by 2030). In areas between San Mateo and Santa Cruz, the increase projected at 120 percent
  • 50 percent of the region’s carbon emissions comes from the transportation sector alone, 84 percent of which is from on road vehicles.
Jason Munkres, ABAG regional planner last week, says the figures are their “best professional guess at what’s going on” and could change with time. “In the plannning profession figures change. They are constantly in flux. We have new information, we have new laws coming in all the time,” he says.
Munkres says the Bay Area had the capacity to absorb the projected population increase. “It might not be easy and a lot of local jurisdictions don't agree with our forecasts. But we think it could be done with a lot of effort,” he said. Munkres didn’t think that a combination of building housing on existing infill as well as on open space was required to address the needs of a growing population, but that’s what is going to occur.


[The Public Press is developing an in-depth report for the fall print edition and the website. We are raising funds on the journalism micro-funding site to pay for the reporting and photography on the story.]


Dear Ms. Nitra;
You raise some interesting points in your article, but also make some assertions for which you offer no supporting facts. The most glaring is your assertion that the land upon which this proposed project would be built is unstable. For greater credibility, this assertion must be backed up with geological facts.

Also left out of this essay is the impact of creating housing for 30,000 people on transportation systems in this area.

As a real estate professional I am a strong advocate for home ownership for as many people as possible. From that standpoint I also support this project and watch it's progress closely. I believe that the elected officails of Redwood City, and the Redwood City Planning Commission must, in concert with our U.S. Senators and Congresspersons, become strong advocates for such things as a BART extension that will connect the entire Peninsula with the South Bay and the East Bay.

James L. Somers
Alain Pinel Realtors

Dear Mr. Sommers,

Thank you for writing in and I’m sorry for the delayed reply. I didn’t see your comment until today. First, I’d like to clarify that our blogs are updates from the field as we go about reporting the story. It’s not the final story. Hence, there will be gaps in information.

However, since you brought the matter up, I've posted an info-graphic based on the US Geological Survey's liquefaction susceptibility map highlighting the project site, and a copy of this reply on the website (I can't upload it here in the comments section). You can view it at:

The property falls within a moderate risk zone. Dr. Thomas L. Holzer, research geologist with the Earthquake Hazards Team of the US Geological Survey in Menolo Park, says though liquefaction is probably not a high risk because soils in the South Bay tend to be clayey rather than sandy, the clayey soil can amplify the level of ground shaking, especially for more distant earthquakes.

The Saltworks site is about six miles from the San Andreas Fault, that caused the big 1906 earthquake. It is one of the higher risk faults in the Bay Area. The 2008 Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast predicts there is a two-out-of-three chance that the Bay Area will experience another earthquake of a 6.7 magnitude or greater within the next three decades.

If an earthquake of say, 6 to 7 magnitude originates in the San Andreas Fault, the earth on the Saltworks site would shake with an acceleration of a 0.3 to 0.4 g-force, Dr Holzer says. If it originates in the Hayward Fault, the acceleration would be about 0.2 g-force.

“The primary concern one would have is the area is protected by levees, so if the earthquake occurred during very high tide you might have levee failures,” he says.

Regarding transportation – right now Highway 101 separates the site from downtown Redwood City. There are three access roads, one four-lane road which acts as the main thoroughfare to and from the site and two minor two-lane roads, one of which runs for two miles along the bay-side of highway 101 through trailer home parks and away from downtown.

The builder, DMB Associates, says the project will provide a transit loop that will link the site to downtown Redwood City, including the Caltrain terminal and the light rail station (if and when it comes through) as well as a proposed ferry terminal on the bay end. How the existing infrastructure and mass transit systems will operate under the load of 30,000 additional residents in Redwood City hasn’t been studied yet. But it would certainly help if the light rail comes through or the BART line is extended to Redwood City.