After eight years in elected office in California, I can tell you that I often fell into the same trap as everybody else: chasing revenue. When you're up against the wall on budget problems, any new revenue – especially a boost in property or sales tax revenue – looks like the solution to all your problems.
The premise behind the categorical exemptions in the California Environmental Quality Act for infill and single-family projects is that projects in relatively dense, established urban areas are unlikely to create major impacts. According to a recent decision, this premise has its limits.
The proposed Saltworks project in Redwood City is, as one of its designers says, a potential "game changer" for the Bay Area. Proposed by landowner Cargill and developer DMB, the project would provide 8,000 to 12,000 high-density, mixed-income housing units in a decidedly suburban town halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, and within close proximity to hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The Bay Area has seen similar projects in recent years, but they have been in San Jose and San Francisco proper. Even those suburbs that have embraced relatively dense, transit-oriented development haven't seen anything on the scale of Saltworks.