April 27, 2015

Safe harbor for Alameda’s seals — M.O.U. ensures replacement haul-out site

Photo courtesy Andrew Reding on Flickr.

Photo courtesy Andrew Reding on Flickr.

There’s great news on a project in the City of Alameda that could have left harbor seals homeless. As part of a project to construct a ferry-maintenance facility at Alameda’s Inner Bay Harbor, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) plans to remove an abandoned dock that harbor seals currently use for feeding, hauling out, and even delivering pups. But following a backlash from environmentalists and other fans of the seals, WETA has signed a Morandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Alameda to build an alternate haul-out site for the harbor seals to replace the old dock.

According to the staff report, WETA will establish a $100,000 holding fund earmarked for planning, design, and construction of the new haul out. The location of the haul out will be determined in coordination with the City, but WETA will be the lead party responsible for permitting and building the haul out — construction on which must begin on or before August 2016 and prior to demolition of the existing haul-out site. If the City determines that WETA is unable to commence construction of the new haul out by that date, it has the right to take over the project and use the funds in the holding fund account. Once the haul out has been built, WETA will be responsible for keeping the structure in good repair.

As the WETA representative admitted at a recent City Council meeting, they’re already spending tens of millions of dollars on this project, so they wouldn’t not agree to spend a relatively small amount more in order to be able to move forward. Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled that the seals will have safe “harbor” in Alameda!

Let’s keep the “wet” in “wetlands” at Sharp Park

Save the FrogsUpdate: The California Coastal Commission will consider the permit for the Sharp Park Pump House Project on Thursday, April 16th, at 3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite 329, San Rafael. We’re asking folks to show up around 10 am so we can get speaker cards in before the hearing. If you are planning to attend, contact Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman@sierraclub.org or call 510-848-0800. If you cannot attend the meeting but want to submit a comment, send it by Monday, April 13th, to stephanie.rexing@coastal.ca.gov.

At its April meeting in San Rafael, the Coastal Commission will consider an application by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department for an ill-conceived project in one of the most biologically-important areas managed by the department.

The goal of the so-called “Infrastructure and Habitat Enhancement” project is to dry the naturally-wet Sharp Park Golf Course by dredging nearly 100,000 gallons of sediment and native vegetation from what remains of the Laguna Salada wetland complex in order to speed the flow of water to a pumphouse. The increased flow would be disastrous for the breeding of the California red-legged frog in the wetland’s pools and lagoons. The water is also vital to the survival of the San Francisco garter snake and the many other species in this vital wetland ecosystem.

The Coastal Commission is the first agency reviewing this project that has a responsibility to reasonably protect wetlands and other coastal resources. Showing up to the Coastal Commission hearing is the best way to fight for the integrity of this sensitive wetlands ecosystem and the species that reside there.

Facing up to the grim reality of sea-level rise — How can we save our shoreline communities?

Author Arthur Feinstein leads a talk at the MLK, Jr. Regional Shoreline

Author Arthur Feinstein leads a talk at the MLK, Jr. Regional Shoreline

The City of Oakland is considering an 800-acre development along its San Leandro Bay shoreline (just opposite the Oakland airport) called the Coliseum Area Specific Plan, or Coliseum City.

The City of Newark is considering a 500-acre development on wetlands and low-lying land immediately adjacent to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

What do these proposals have in common with the San Francisco and Oakland airports, as well as the campuses of Google, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard? At least one startling fact: they are all likely to be under water by the year 2100 — if not sooner.
While it still defies one’s imagination, the reality of climate disruption and sea-level rise is that many, if not most, of our bayshore communities face potential inundation from a three- to six-foot rise in the Bay’s water level. And by inundation we are not talking about occasional flooding, but rather being underwater all the time as the Bay rises above present shoreline elevations.

Add an increased number of extreme weather events (remember last December’s four to 11 inches of rain in one day) and even those shoreline communities not actually inundated by a higher sea level will face increased risk of significant flooding during storms and high tides.

It is a grim picture but an all-too-likely reality. The question now is: what do we do about it?  The best solution, of course, is to stop global climate disruption altogether, and the Club is doing all it can in that area. Unfortunately, it is probably already too late to avoid some of the worst impacts.

So what can we do to mitigate these impacts? It is a question all the regional agencies are considering. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission — the state agency charged with protecting San Francisco Bay—recently adopted a Climate Change Amendment to its Bay Plan that calls for halting new developments along the shoreline until we figure out how we can protect them, or whether we should build them at all.

The fact is, shoreline protection such as levees is expensive, and, as we’ve seen in New Orleans, not a sure thing. There are estimates that building levees around the Bay could cost many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Where would that money come from? And who will pay for their maintenance? Moreover, the environmental impacts of traditional-style levees are immense, including wetland destruction and loss of habitat for fish and other species.

The Coliseum Area Specific Plan would create three new professional athletic stadiums, many units of housing, and lots of commercial property. Although Oakland can probably use all of this, its location is highly questionable. Most of the site was once the tidal marshes of San Leandro Bay, filled in with soil from the early 1930s into the 1960s.

The Coliseum project extends to the shoreline of San Leandro Bay, one of the Central Bay’s richest aquatic wildlife habitats, sustaining tens of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds. The Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park located on San Leandro Bay would be adjacent to the proposed development. This park’s waters and wetlands support one of the largest populations of the endangered California clapper rail (now called Ridgway’s rail). Massive development is not usually a good neighbor to a flourishing wildlife habitat and it is likely that Coliseum City would have devastating impacts on this rich aquatic habitat.

Similarly, the Newark development is located on a site that was once known as the Whistling Wings and Pintail duck clubs. Its wetlands support the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—the only mammal to survive on saltwater and found only in San Francisco Bay. The Newark site once hosted thousands of waterfowl, but its wetlands are now drained yearly. Nevertheless, the site is included in the expansion boundary of the National Wildlife Refuge and it offers a rare opportunity to restore an entire tidal marsh slough system — if we can succeed in stopping the development.

It will take our best efforts, and huge amounts of money, to save our existing shoreline communities. Does it make sense to build new communities in these threatened areas? We don’t think so.

Recently, the Newark project lost a battle in court for failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act’s requirement for full analysis of the project’s impacts. While this doesn’t kill the project, it does give Newark residents and others a chance to reexamine it and discuss how appropriate it is to build in lands that will be submerged someday soon.

Meanwhile, the comment period for the Oakland project’s environmental impact report just ended, and the Bay Chapter submitted a letter expressing the concerns just discussed. There are many steps yet to go in this project and lots of opportunities for citizens to take part in the decision-making process.

If you are interested in engaging in how the Bay Area should address sea-level rise, contact Arthur Feinstein at (415)680-0643. You are also invited to attend the Conservation Committee’s regular meetings, held on the first Thursday of each month at the Chapter office.

— Arthur Feinstein

Development discussion and walk in the MLK, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park

Willets at Arrowhead Marsh. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, flickr.com/taylar.

Willets at Arrowhead Marsh. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, flickr.com/taylar.

Sunday, December 7, 9:30 am. Join the Bay Chapter’s Conservation Committee for a leisurely, three-mile hike on paved, level paths along Oakland’s San Leandro Bay shoreline, starting at Arrowhead Marsh in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park.

San Leandro Bay is one of the Central Bay’s most glorious bodies of water. We’ll enjoy great views, see thousands of water birds and shorebirds, and hopefully spot a few endangered species. Along the way, we’ll see some of the region’s most successful wetland-restoration projects. We’ll also walk the site of the Bay Area’s first major development proposal for lands that will likely be under water by 2100.

As we explore land likely to disappear under sea-level rise, we will reflect on the impact of development and climate disruption to species that depend upon tidal marshes; explore new proposals to preserve the Bay’s remaining wetlands; and consider whether it is appropriate to build in areas threatened by sea-level rise.

The proposed Oakland Coliseum Area development would be an enormous (780-acre) project, described in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) this way: “Overall, this proposed Project would create three new sports venues, 5,750 housing units, and almost 8 million square feet of net new commercial and business uses.  The Coliseum Area would have around 7,000 residents… by the time of project Buildout in… 2035”.

How does the DEIR address expected sea-level rise? It suggests that buildings have car garages on the first floor with businesses and housing on the second floor “to allow sea level rise to impact uninhabited parking structures rather than dwelling units.” Perhaps the idea is that as sea level rises and the garages flood everyone will take to boats. Another solution proposed by the DEIR is to have all essential infrastructure built above the anticipated sea level, 3 to 6 feet in the air. The image brought to mind is of elevated roads surrounding lower blocks of housing and businesses (with the garages now flooded) like a gigantic waffle.

The DEIR does acknowledge that something would need to be done to avoid catastrophe for the 7,000 residents whose homes would be underwater. Perhaps, it suggests, a massive levee will be required along the entire length of the bay shoreline? We won’t go into the costs or headaches of the DEIR’s strikingly inadequate proposals here. Suffice to say that such short-sighted plans only punt, abdicating responsibility for the consequences of their actions to future generations and shifting the burden of response to relevant regional agencies.

We will ponder these questions and more, while enjoying a spectacular—and endangered—natural area. Join us! For more details, visit the Bay Chapter activities calendar.

Feds continue court action over Crown Beach Park

Crab_Crown_TrailmapLast July, the Alameda City Council heeded the will of Alameda citizens (and the Sierra Club) by zoning federal surplus property near Crown Memorial State Beach as open space. As a result, a private housing developer recently defaulted on its contract to purchase the property from the federal General Services Administration (GSA), and walked away from a plan to build 48 houses on the property.

One might think this is great news for the East Bay Regional Park District—that the way is now cleared for the district to acquire the land for the purpose of expanding the park at Crab Cove, just as the voters intended back in 2008 when they passed Measure WW. But the United States Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the GSA, is continuing its action to take over title of McKay Avenue, the state-owned street leading to the Crab Cove Visitor Center. If the GSA were to take control of McKay Avenue, the GSA could transfer the right to a private developer to dig up the street in order to install the utilities necessary for its project. The state and park district are fighting to kill the eminent domain action so that the GSA—which currently only has utility easement rights for federal government agencies—is compelled to sell the empty lot to the park district.

The Department of Justice says it needs to seize McKay Avenue for the “continuing operations of the Alameda Federal Center,” which is located on the upper part of the street. (The 3.89 acres vacated by the Department of Agriculture—and now zoned open space—are located at the end of the road closest to the beach.) However, the state and the park district argue that the eminent domain action is actually intended to secure a more profitable sale of the vacant property.

On November 10, the court sided with the state and the park district on a motion to strike affirmative defenses. In his ruling, Judge William Alsup determined that the Department of Justice’s claim that it needs to take ownership of McKay Avenue for its “continuing operations” is disingenuous and “belied by the easement it already retains and the circumstances around the now defunct sale to the private developer.” The judge went on to write, “The only real reason the United States seeks to obtain title to McKay Avenue in fee simple is to secure easements for a prospective private development of the vacant federal parcel.”

This ruling was good news, but it is far from the last word on the matter. Judge Alsup ordered the United States to file a summary judgment motion, in which the judge decides the case based on undisputed facts without a trial, on or before February 16, 2015, and also urged the parties at the hearing to pursue immediate settlement negotiations.  If the case is neither settled nor resolved by summary judgment, it is scheduled for trial in October 2015.


Write to the Alameda City Council, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and ask them to help end the eminent domain action and make way for the expansion of the park at Crab Cove.

—Irene Dieter

Read more about Crab Cove in “Promising news for Alameda’s waterfront”.

In Alameda, rare S.F. Bay harbor seal habitat at risk

harborsealPacific harbor seals have been coming to Alameda Point to find food, suitable breeding habitat, and resting area in recent years, taking up residence at a site adjacent to Enterprise Park and the Bay Trail. The seals have been using the Alameda Point Channel and Inner Harbor for feeding, hauling out, and even delivering pups. Rather than encouraging their homestead, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) wants to kick them out. If WETA gets its way, it would be a permanent loss for the seals and a lost asset for the community of Alameda and visitors.

WETA’s plan for the Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Inner Bay Harbor—a ferry maintenance facility project—will have a profound impact on the marine ecosystem. One of its most prominent inhabitants, the harbor seals, have not been adequately addressed in the Incidental Harassment Authorization Level B permit application by WETA.

Following the end of Navy operations at Alameda’s Naval Air Station in 1997, the Navy’s recreational boating dock fell into disrepair. The simultaneous lack of maintenance and lack of human presence on the docks was ultimately fortuitous for the harbor seals that frequent the protected waterway. The dock itself, along with odd wooden structural debris that lodged against the dock, became an easy and inviting haul out for the seals, and an ideal spot to rear their pups.

Shoreline development is one of the primary reasons for harbor seal abandonment of San Francisco Bay. When haul-out sites are disturbed by nearby development or regular human presence, the seals are prone to depart for safer surroundings. In the case of the WETA ferry facility project, it is not a traditional natural shoreline that will be disturbed or destroyed.  But the dock’s demolition and replacement with an active berthing facility for 11 ferries will leave the harbor seals little choice but to move on.

The Sierra Club recommends that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—which will decide on WETA’s harassment authorization permit—apply additional mitigation measures to the project to compensate for the loss of harbor seal habitat. Given the geography of the Alameda Point Channel and Inner Harbor, the addition of a new haul-out dock nearby, possibly an anchored floating dock, should be evaluated as a mitigation measure to help retain the colony of harbor seals that find respite along Alameda Point’s shore.

It is unknown when NMFS will issue a finding on WETA’s petition application to move forward with its ferry project. NMFS could also call for going from an Environmental Assessment to an Environmental Impact Statement, which would undoubtedly involve a full-blown study of harbor seals at Alameda Point.

Before the project can begin, WETA will need a construction permit from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). It is unknown when they will apply for that permit, but likely after NMFS issues a decision on the harassment permit—probably early next year. BCDC can also require mitigation as a condition of issuing a permit.


Add your name to the petition asking WETA not to harass and displace the seals. For more information or to get more involved, contact Richard Bangert at alamedaptenviro-2013@yahoo.com. Look for future alerts calling on the BCDC to protect these precious marine mammals.

Promising news for Alameda’s waterfront

Crab Cove at Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda.  Controversial federal surplus parcel that was recently rezoned as open space is directly adjacent to this area.

Crab Cove at Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda. Controversial federal surplus parcel that was recently rezoned as open space is directly adjacent to this area.

Open-space activists in Alameda are making important advances in turning more of the city’s waterfront property into public parkland.

This summer, the Alameda City Council unanimously adopted a Sierra Club-backed citizens’ initiative that rezoned a 3.89-acre federal surplus parcel next to Crab Cove from “residential” to “open space.”

This means Tim Lewis Communities, the housing developer that had contracted to buy the site from the federal General Services Administration (GSA) and hoped to build 48 luxury homes on the waterfront, can no longer do so. The move also means that the East Bay Regional Park District is in a better position to acquire the property and expand Robert Crown Memorial State Beach.

With the city council’s action, the Crab Cove Open Space Expansion Initiative will not have to go before voters on the November ballot.

The Bay Chapter will continue to work to stop the GSA’s eminent domain action on the state-owned street leading to the parcel, which has been undertaken for the purpose of helping the private developer secure easement rights.

In other Alameda news, thanks in part to the strong lobbying efforts of the Sierra Club, the city council agreed to remove pavement and a few buildings from the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point sooner rather than later.  The city’s Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan now states that this completely paved area will be converted to a natural wetland park once funding is secured, rather than when buildings there are no longer commercially usable due to sea level rise. If you know of funding that is available now, please contact Irene Dieter at idsierraclub at gmail.com.

Visit the Alameda Point Environmental Report blog for updates.

—Irene Dieter

Last chance to support expansion of California’s Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries

Map of Marine Sanctuary Expansion AreaA pair of marine sanctuaries north of the Bay Area is being considered for expansion. Under the proposal, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would extend the boundaries of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries north to Alder Creek in Mendocino County, and west to the edge of the continental shelf. The proposed expansion could protect an additional 2,771 square miles of ocean from overfishing, oil and gas drilling, and sewage dumping by cruise ships.

The public is invited to submit comments online before Monday, June 30. Your comments can help to support and strengthen the expansion of the marine sanctuaries.

Both sanctuaries are home to extraordinary marine ecosystems known for their rich biological diversity. The area is home to dozens of species of marine mammals, including 25 endangered species such as the blue and humpback whales. With one of the most productive ocean upwelling systems on earth, the area attracts a diverse community of fishes, invertebrates, marine mammals, and seabirds from all around the Pacific Ocean to feed in its nutrient-rich waters. NOAA is also considering amending the regulations and management plans for both Marine Sanctuaries. In addition to protecting ecologically-significant seascapes and wildlife, the expanded sanctuaries would promote ecotourism and sustainable fishing practices. 

You can include the following Sample Statements when you submit your comments online:

  1. I support the expansion of the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries!
  2. Remove the authorization provision that could potentially allow drilling, dredging, marine sewage outfalls, and the taking of marine life.
  3. Increase the 1,000-foot overflight protections for wildlife hot-spots to 2,000 feet, as in the Olympic Coast Sanctuary.
  4. Remove the provision for “Personal Water Craft Zones” that allows recreational watercraft and jet skis in Marine Protected Areas. Allow surfer safety craft by permit only.
  5. The entire Marin coast is part of the Gulf of the Farallones upwelling ecosystem, not the Monterey Bay ecosystem. Please move the MBNMS/GFNMS boundary south to include the entire Marin Coast.

Remember to submit your comments before June 30! Thank you for doing your part to protect the unique ocean ecosystems off California’s north coast.

Save coastal prairie at Richmond ‘campus’

California clapper rail (and its reflection). Photo courtesy the Watershed Project (www.thewatershedproject.org).

California clapper rail (and its reflection). Photo courtesy the Watershed Project (www.thewatershedproject.org).

Help the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) protect one of the last remaining large areas of Bay coastal-prairie habitat.

The area is at UC’s Richmond Field Station, where the two institutions are jointly developing a “second campus”. In their very own publicity materials about the site, they proclaim support for the prairie and its protection, but so far their plans don’t live up to their words.

The site includes numerous sections of prairie, as shown on the accompanying map. We urge preservation and restoration of the Big, Northwest, West, EPA (North and South), Eucalyptus, North, and Gull. Further, many of the meadow areas can be reconnected by removing a few obsolete buildings and unnecessary portions of roadway:

Map from “Richmond Field Station Final Botanical Survey Report” by URS, 1997, modified by Bob Newey.

Map from “Richmond Field Station Final Botanical Survey Report” by URS, 1997, modified by Bob Newey.


  • the dilapidated buildings and roadway (Starling Way) separating the Big and Northwest Meadows;
  • the roadway (a portion of Lark Drive) that separates the Big Meadow and West Meadow from EPA Meadow North; this can be made into a pedestrian and bike path);
  • the segment of Regatta Boulevard (running north-south) west of the Northwest Meadow; the drainage culvert there should be converted to a meandering stream flowing into Meeker Slough to the south. Meeker Slough flows through Western Stege Marsh. Access to the area west of the prairies can be attained by a westward extension of the segment of Regatta Boulevard that already runs east-west north of the Big Meadow.

Instead, UC has proposed placing soccer fields and basketball courts on the prairie, and upgrading Lark Road into a major vehicular roadway.

The section of Regatta Boulevard along the western edge of the prairie is also important. Since this is no longer needed as a roadway, UC has proposed turning it into a “greenway/central gathering place”. Turning this into a meandering stream will greatly enhance the greenway as well as the habitat value of the prairie, and further will allow removal of toxics from urban stormwater runoff by natural processes before they can enter the Slough and marsh. (Much work has already been done to remove toxics from the marsh.)

The Field Station site is large enough to contain all proposed development without touching the indicated prairies. UC, LBNL, and Richmond would not be forced to reduce development, lose revenues, or be harmed economically, academically, or financially. UC and LBNL would need to spend some additional funds to realize the plan; we are just asking them to put their money where their mouth is. So far they have offered no public explanation why they wouldn’t.

UC recently formed a committee, chaired by its chancellor, to manage the site and its Long Range Development Plan. This committee issued a final plan before UC even had time to review and respond to public comments.


Write to Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks at:

200 California Hall, MC1500
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
fax: (510)643-5499.

Ask him to support the Sierra Club’s vision for the coastal prairie and meandering stream at the Richmond Field Station.

Richmond residents, write to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the City Council at:

City Hall
450 Civic Center Plaza
Richmond, CA 94804.

Ask the Council to support the Club’s plan for the coastal prairie and meandering stream, and specifically to remove Lark Drive as a thoroughfare from the South Richmond Area Plan.

To work with the Club on this issue, contact Norman La Force, chair of the Club’s East Bay Public Lands Committee, at (510)526-4362.

Norman La Force

Vote yes on Proposition B–waterfront height-limit initiative in SF

YESonB_ 191x300

Update (April 21, 2014): “We thank the Warriors for abandoning their wall on the waterfront and encourage the voters to make their voices heard by passing Proposition B.” — Sierra Club Bay Chapter chair Becky Evans.

The Sierra Club urges San Francisco voters to vote yes on Proposition B–”Voter Approval for Waterfront Height Increases”–on the June 3 ballot. The measure would require voter approval for waterfront luxury-condo towers or other waterfront development projects that violate existing legal building height limits (see Feb., page 4).

A record-breaking petition drive by a coalition of environmental and community groups collected 21,000 signatures, more than twice the required 9,702 in just three weeks. The initiative is backed by the Sierra Club and the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition, who came together to defeat the 8 Washington waterfront luxury-condo towers, which were rejected by 67% of San Francisco voters last November.

“The overwhelming success of this petition drive shows just how strongly the people of San Francisco feel about keeping the waterfront a special place that is open and accessible for everyone to enjoy,” said Becky Evans, chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club and the official proponent of the initiative.

Despite the overwhelming voter rejection of the 8 Washington luxury condos, the San Francisco Port Commission has proceeded to move forward with a series of other proposals to raise waterfront height limits for luxury-condo high-rises, office towers, and hotels. Waterfront height limits can currently be changed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors.

The initiative builds on a previous initiative passed by San Francisco voters in 1990 that required the creation of a Waterfront Land Use Plan to guide development along the city’s waterfront.

To volunteer in the campaign, or for more information, see www.NoWallOnTheWaterfront.com,

Vote yes on Proposition B.