New round begins in open-space fight

The long-brewing battle over the future of Redwood City’s open space is spilling into the streets.

Environmentalists will begin gathering signatures around town this weekend in support of a charter amendment that would bar any new development on city parks and open spaces without a two-thirds public vote.

The initiative comes amid plans to redevelop Cargill Inc. salt ponds on a 1,433-acre property at the Bay’s edge in Redwood City, an idea threatening environmentalists’ efforts to restore Bay Area wetlands, 95 percent of which they say has been lost to building.

“Open space in Redwood City is precious, limited and under threat,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay. “This measure will ensure that valuable land is protected for Redwood City residents and for the city’s quality of life.”

The coalition, which includes Save the Bay and Friends of Redwood City, needs 15 percent of voters to sign on for the measure to appear on the November ballot.

Mayor Roseanne Foust and fellow lawmakers have lambasted the initiative, saying it would slow down city projects and stifle economic growth.

On Friday, Foust had a message for the city’s residents: “Don’t sign anything until you know what you’re signing,” she said.

Foust, who will address the proposed ballot measure at Monday’s council session, said a two-thirds public vote on all parks and open spaces would hogtie the city’s ability to build new amenities, such as a new school or recreation center.

“If this covers our city parks, it means our seniors won’t get a new senior center,” she said. “What if we wanted to add a new teen center? How long will that take and what would the cost be? And if we have to call a special election, how much will that cost?”

Lewis says he has already answered the mayor’s questions. He said the initiative would not require a public vote on what the city’s general plan currently lists as “allowable use” on parks and open spaces.

He said projects such as a new senior center or water fountain would not be up for a vote. A vote would would only be required when the city considers zoning amendments that would allow for building upon lands such as the Cargill salt ponds, a site where the city’s voters in 1982 forbade development, he said.

maldax@examiner.com

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