October 24, 2016

Harbor seals get new float at Alameda Point

Two sleeping seals on new float (print version)

Harbor seals enjoying their new float. U-shaped metal brackets were installed so that the fabricator, Kie Con, could lower the float into the water. The brackets will be removed when the float is positioned at its permanent location. Photo courtesy Richard Bangert.

A new cement float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22.  It is the first float of its kind on the West Coast. With seals starting to use the new platform, a milestone has been reached culminating two-and-a-half years of citizen advocacy to maintain a resting site for harbor seals at Alameda Point. A ferry maintenance facility is slated to begin construction this summer at the site where the seals have been finding solitude for over a decade. The new float will soon be anchored 100 yards away from their old haunt.

The Water Emergency Transportation Authority’s (WETA’s) environmental impact study for its new ferry facility at Alameda’s Inner Bay Harbor overlooked the significance to the seals of an old wooden dock left behind by Navy. Site visits by the consultant conducting the environmental study took place at a time of year and time of day when the seals are rarely seen out of the water (“hauled out”). When WETA was alerted to the harbor-seal issue in January of 2014, it sought review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which administers the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service ultimately ruled that the seals were not threatened and could find somewhere else to rest. But although Breakwater Island at Alameda Point has been used by seals in the past, ongoing observations by local seal advocates revealed that the seals only haul out on the breakwater at low tide and have rarely chosen the breakwater over the old dock. The new floating haul out, on the other hand, will provide a resting platform throughout the tide cycle.

Despite the fact that the National Marine Fisheries Service did not require a new haul out or mitigation payments, WETA nevertheless committed $100,000 for the harbor seals. Following approval of a 60-year lease for its maintenance facility, WETA and the city secured the services of Dr. Jim Harvey, director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, to provide expert advice on the location and design of the float. Dr. Harvey recommended a location near the old dock in order to stay within the seals’ known comfort zone. He said that ferries moving about nearby would not alarm the seals.

Harbor seals are found in coastal and estuarine waters from Baja California to the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The only other floating haul-outs used by harbor seals are floating ice in the far north, log booms in Puget Sound, and oyster- and salmon-net pens located in Quilcene Bay within Washington State’s Hood Canal.  Harbor seals do not migrate, and once they take a liking to a haul-out site they become regulars — a behavior known as “site fidelity.”

During the winter months at Alameda Point, it was not uncommon to see two dozen seals hauled out on the old wooden dock and some odd planks tied to the dock pilings. The inner harbor at Alameda Point is the only harbor seal haul-out site in the East Bay between Yerba Buena Island and Fremont. The sheltered harbor with good food foraging makes the area ideal for seals. When they come out of the water to warm up and molt, they are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance, unlike their marine mammal cousins the sea lion.

The new float is 20 feet by 25 feet. It was initially anchored next to the old dock, which was demolished on July 11. The float will gradually be moved to the permanent location. Once anchored, the new float will be 100 yards from the shoreline and Bay Trail.

The float is made of reinforced concrete. Styrofoam enclosed within the concrete keeps the platform afloat. It will be held in place at its permanent location with four anchors. One side is sloped to make it easier for the seals to haul out. This custom-designed structure was built by Kie Con Inc. in Antioch at a cost to WETA of $68,000.

The effort to create a new haul out for seals in Alameda’s Inner Bay Harbor was supported by the Sierra Club, including national executive director Michael Brune, who wrote a letter of support. The Golden Gate Audubon Society also supported the effort. Local activists launched an international petition in 2014, gathering 3,000 signatures.

The success of this constructed habitat suggests an option for helping Bay Area harbor seals when traditional natural habitat used by seals, such as Mowry and Newark Sloughs, becomes inundated by sea level rise.


You can volunteer as a harbor-seal monitor, sending in reports of seal observations when you visit the Bay Trail. To get involved, email alamedaharborseals@gmail.com. You can also follow the Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors Facebook page.

– Richard Bangert

June ballot Measure AA will restore wetlands for a healthy Bay and safer communities

Image from KQED Quest: "From Salt Ponds to Wetlands" at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by: Joan Johnson.

Image from KQED Quest: “From Salt Ponds to Wetlands” at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by: Joan Johnson.

Vote ‘Yes’ on Measure AA in this June’s election and you’ll be helping the Bay Area take a major step forward in responding to climate change and sea-level rise.

Sea-level rise threatens Bay-side communities

As many of us have witnessed during the latest El Niño storms, flooding in low-lying bay shoreline areas is becoming more common. As the bay rises three, four, or even six feet as a result of climate change (as scientists project will happen within this century) many shoreline areas will face constant inundation. Another way of saying that is that some areas may become a part of the Bay.

That is, if we don’t do something.

We could build levees around the entire Bay at a cost in the many, many billions. Then again, remember Katrina, remember the Mississippi, and all the other sites where levees have failed. Levees may be necessary in some areas – we’re not likely to allow San Francisco’s downtown to disappear under water – but they’re not the best solution.

Happily (if one can talk about happiness in the face of disaster) there appears to be an answer that makes use of nature’s natural flood barrier, tidal wetlands.

Wetlands: the natural solution

Tidal wetland vegetation slows storm surges, reduces the height of waves and encroaching waters, and so helps avoid flooding. Wetland vegetation traps sediment, and as the Bay rises so will the elevation of the tidal wetlands. As they trap the bay mud and grow new vegetation on this new elevation, wetlands raise our shoreline; a natural and growing levee. This won’t work everywhere, but it will be a critical element in how our Bay Area responds to the rising tides.

But, of course, first we need tidal wetlands. The Bay has lost over 80% of its tidal wetlands over the last few centuries as we humans have been altering the shoreline for agriculture, salt production, and urban development.

But thanks to the Sierra Club and many others the tide began to turn a few decades ago. Even before sea-level rise was recognized as the threat we know it is today (and wetlands recognized as an answer to the water’s encroachment) wetlands were valued for “cleaning and retaining water naturally, preventing floods, and providing a habitat and food source for a wide variety of plant and animal species” (Sahagian and Melack 1998; Mitsch 2005; Erwin 2009; Ranieri et al. 2013). With this in mind, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club began to save threatened tidal marshes.

As conservation efforts ramped up, state and federal agencies began to make it much harder to destroy wetlands for agriculture or development. Once the message finally got out, the goal of restoring those lost wetland acres took hold and wetland restoration became an active endeavor. Over the last decade tens of thousands of acres of tidal marsh have been restored along the Bay shoreline.

But current estimates show the need for at least 100,000 acres of restored wetlands for the health of the Bay and to address sea level rise. And restoring wetlands can be expensive — not as expensive as levees but still pretty expensive. Estimates are that it will take many hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the Bay’s wetlands to health. Where is the money to come from to undertake this essential task?

What would Measure AA do?

In 2008 the State Legislature created the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which was tasked with helping fund “the restoration, enhancement, protection, and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitat in the San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline.”

To fund this effort, this year the Restoration Authority is presenting the “Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure,” or Measure AA, on the June ballot in each of the nine Bay Area counties. Measure AA would create a $12 parcel tax that would raise $500 million over 20 years to fund critical Bay restoration and flood protection projects. The Authority’s enabling legislation and the ballot language ensure that the money will go where it’s needed. It’s not enough money to completely protect the Bay Area from sea-level rise, but it’s a great start to help us get ready for a higher bay.

This ballot measure will result in a healthier and safer Bay and most of all, it gives us all a chance to do something positive about climate change and sea-level rise. We still need to put all our energy into stopping the use of fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gases – but that is saying ‘No.’

Here is a chance to say ‘YES’! Voting ‘Yes’ on Measure AA fights climate change by creating a healthier Bay ready to take on the rising seas. Please vote this June and vote ‘Yes’ on Measure AA.

Arthur Feinstein, Bay Chapter Executive Committee

Marin’s Hamilton Wetlands at risk from development on adjacent toxic landfill


This map shows how the land proposed for the sports complex (in orange) is right next to the Hamilton Wetlands, city open space, the Pacheco Pond Wildlife Refuge, and Arroyo San Jose Creek.

A well-connected commercial developer is planning to build a massive private sports complex next to a model wetland project on the San Pablo Bay in Novato — right on top of a former U.S. Army hazardous waste landfill. We need your help to stop this development and protect the wetlands.

What’s at stake is Marin County’s newest environmental treasure: the 988-acre Hamilton Wetlands in Novato, developed with state and federal funding at a cost of over $300 million. With established habitat for two listed and 55 special-status species, Hamilton Wetlands is already know as one of the best places in the Bay Area to watch all kinds of wildlife, from a large diversity of migratory birds and waterfowl to river otters and western pond turtles. Hamilton’s restoration is the first stage in a larger vision for 2,600 acres of restored tidal and seasonal wetlands located in the Pacific flyway with connections to riparian, oak woodlands, and uplands habitats. That vision is now in jeopardy.

Commercial developers have proposed a 55-acre sports complex adjacent to the Hamilton Wetlands and within 100 feet of existing surrounding wetlands, wildlife refuge areas, and the Bay Trail. The proposed complex would include a 1,000-seat stadium, nine fields, and 12 buildings. The City of Novato is considering supporting this project with the stated aim of expanding sports field availability, yet less than 20 percent of the complex would be available for potential public use.

Migrating birds flock by the thousands to Hamilton Wetlands. Photo by Sue Lattanzio.

Migrating birds flock by the thousands to Hamilton Wetlands. Photo by Sue Lattanzio.

The former Hamilton Army Air Field — the site of the proposed development — includes a 26-acre toxic landfill that was capped in 1992, but was left unlined, potentially allowing leakage of hazardous material into the groundwater. These toxins include pesticides, heavy metals including arsenic, lead, and zinc, polynuclear hydrocarbons, petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs, and plumes of methane, MTB, and benzene, all of which the Army is required to monitor annually. The sports complex is proposed to be built on top of this toxic landfill. Any disturbance of this area is unacceptable as it could increase the release of these toxins into the wetlands and the bay (the landfill is located in a floodplain).

The developer’s proposal violates many land-use restrictions for the landfill and surrounding areas, including prohibitions on parking, roads, buildings, shrubs, trees, digging below 12 inches, changing the surface grade, and changing drainage patterns. The City of Novato is considering granting the developer’s request to rezone the surrounding public open space — including established wildlife buffers and drainage corridors — to accommodate plans to build access roads through wetlands, creeks and open space.

There are many problems with the proposal: over 3,800 daily visitors, seven days a week (around 400,000 visitors per year), parking for 800 cars, noise, traffic impacts, light pollution, and litter and toxic runoff, among others.

The Sierra Club supports keeping this area as an important open-space buffer, and for non-structural, environmentally responsible public usage to preserve and protect adjacent wetlands and wildlife.


Send an email or letter to the Novato City Council, Supervisor Judy Arnold, and Congressman Jared Huffman asking them to protect our wetlands and endangered wildlife by stopping this development.

You can find more resources on this issue on the Marin Group website. Visit www.facebook.com/sierraclubmarin for up-to-the-moment updates.

Sue Lattanzio

SF shouldn’t waste money on a golf course doomed by sea-level rise

Apartments in Pacifica are just inches from falling into the ocean. Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mWhelxSAhk.

Apartments in Pacifica are just inches from falling into the ocean. Watch the video at bit.ly/1PurDf8.

Pacifica, or at least a part of it, is falling into the sea. Many of you have seen or heard about the eroding bluffs in Pacifica and the vacating of apartments now on the brink of falling into the sea.

Only one and a half miles away the Sharp Park Golf Course, owned and managed by the City of San Francisco, faces a similar fate, protected from inundation only by a non-sustainable sea wall.

Sharp Park Golf Course was, after all, once a thriving tidal lagoon and coastal wetland habitat. In fact, the lagoon still exists as a part of the golf course, only now it’s essentially a lake called the Laguna Salada. The lake’s ecological importance is recognized by it being included in the City’s Natural Areas designation. But it is not only the Laguna Salada that recalls the area’s rich ecological heritage. Still found on the golf course are important populations of the threatened California red-legged frog and the endangered San Francisco garter snake — listed for protection by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. And these same species are occasionally killed or otherwise harmed by golf course operations.

Over the last 12 years the Golf Course has cost San Francisco a net loss of $1.8 million dollars. To protect the golf course into the future — if it can even be done in the face of sea level rise — millions more will have to be spent just on trying to protect it from the sea, let alone operating cost losses. Look what happened a mere 1.5 miles away in Pacifica, despite efforts to reinforce and protect that shoreline.

There is a better solution. Right next door to the Sharp Park Golf Course is Mori Point, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). There, efforts are underway to restore endangered species habitat for the snake and frog. The City should work with GGNRA to develop a gradual transformation from golf course to national parkland (the GGNRA has already expressed some interest). The planning for such a move would take many years of citizens input to determine what recreational and habitat elements would go in it. By the time it is completed, the sea will be distinctly higher and protecting the golf course more and more expensive. On the other hand, a restored tidal wetland/ lagoon system will help Pacifica address sea level rise through natural processes. We should start the planning process now.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 1.30.18 PMInstead, the City is about to release a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that will propose significant redevelopment work on the golf course, work that may further imperil the listed species. The City is trying to sneak this project through the California Environmental Quality Act analysis process by including it in an EIR prepared for the City’s Natural Areas program. This is a program designed to protect and preserve the City’s historic ecological resources: its native plants and animals that are found in specific, relatively undamaged areas of the City (thus Natural Areas). The City has identified the Laguna Salada as one of those natural areas and so is using this to try to include the golf course project in the Natural Area EIR. But, as we all know, a golf course is not a natural area, so including a golf course improvement project in a Natural Area EIR is the height of hypocrisy.


Please tell your Supervisor that the Recreation and Parks Department should remove Sharp Park Golf Course from the Natural Areas EIR and that the City should begin discussions with the GGNRA on how to transform a doomed golf course into a thriving National Park.

Send a letter to your supervisor at:

City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 244
San Francisco, Ca 94102-4689.

Or, send an email:

You can find out who your supervisor is at www.sfbos.org.

– Arthur Feinstein

Park District to expand Alameda’s Crown Beach

crown beachThe East Bay Regional Park District will soon be the proud owner of vacant surplus federal property next to Alameda’s Crab Cove Visitor’s Center on Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach. The purchase follows fierce legal battles and a successful campaign by the Sierra Club and an Alameda citizen’s group, Friends of Crown Beach, to rezone the land as open space.

The park district has been seeking to acquire the 3.89-acre parcel in order to expand the park ever since it was deemed surplus. But instead of negotiating a sale to the park district, the feds decided to auction the land for top dollar. A private housing developer prevailed, but was unable to close the deal because the state refused to grant utility easement rights on the state parkland street leading to the parcel.

Photo courtesy Jerry Ting, via Flickr.com/jerryting

Photo courtesy Jerry Ting, via Flickr.com/jerryting

After the City of Alameda frustrated the park district’s park expansion efforts by zoning the parcel residential, an acrimonious three-year-long ordeal ensued, involving the park district, the city, the federal government, the state, and the private developer.

Unable to transfer easement rights to the developer, the feds convinced a district court judge that seizing McKay Avenue through eminent domain was for a legitimate “public purpose.” The feds asked the court to value the street at $10.

The feds’ potential buyer, meanwhile, walked away from purchasing the surplus property after a citizen-led effort got the property zoned as open space, and the newly elected city council threw their support behind the park district.

The district court later ruled that a jury would determine what the feds owed the state for taking the street. The state’s asking price of $1.41 million—a price beyond what the feds were willing to pay—was based on the diminished value of the parkland itself by loss of control over access and because the park district would have had to construct new parking facilities for Crown Beach visitors.

Photo courtesy Floyd Brown

Photo courtesy Floyd Brown

A settlement was reached shortly thereafter.  The feds agreed to return the street to the state and sell the surplus property to the park district for $2,182,500—essentially splitting the difference between the park district’s unsuccessful auction bid four years ago and what the private housing developer was willing to pay.

“The community won with this agreement,” said Robert Doyle, General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. “We promised in 2008 through our Measure WW bond election that we would expand Crab Cove with this valuable land” and “are happy to deliver on our promise.” Doyle also thanked the community and the Attorney General for their “unwavering support during this lengthy process.”

Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer called the agreement a victory for Alameda.  “We’re thrilled that this issue has been resolved in a way that protects open space and parkland, and expands access to our shoreline,” she said. “I sincerely thank all those whose efforts have now been realized. Many Alamedans worked years to save this parcel from development. We’re glad to finally see it protected.”

By Richard Bangert

Fighting the rising tide of shoreline development around the Bay — Updates on three campaigns

In my work as conservation chair for the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, I often ask myself: Is there actually hope that our society will recognize in time the need to protect and preserve the shoreline in the face of rising sea level? Or will we descend into fantasy and pretend that technology and engineering can solve all of our problems?

Will the urge to develop every available acre mean that new communities face inundation and/or a shoreline consisting of high levees that hide the Bay from view and destroy the mudflats and tidal marshes that sustain aquatic life? Or will we, as a society, recognize that we need to provide room for wetlands to move into adjacent uplands wherever possible as sea level rises and existing wetlands disappear?

Well there’s HOPE! Here are two recent instances where logic prevailed and the natural world was given a shot at survival — and one case where your advocacy is sorely needed.

Oakland’s Coliseum City



Recently, the Oakland City Council approved the “Coliseum City Specific Plan” project. This project proposes to develop over 800 acres of land including the site of the present Oakland Coliseum and the San Leandro Bay shoreline. The original proposal put dense housing right on top of a thriving seasonal wetland that was itself a mitigation project for the loss of wetlands at the Oakland Airport. It also proposed high-rise housing on the Oakland Business Park, a site immediately adjacent to the Bay and contiguous with one of the richest tidal habitats in the Central Bay, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Regional Shoreline Park. All of this would have had significant impacts on Bay wildlife.

But thanks to the efforts of our volunteers, community members, and groups like the East Bay Regional Park District, the City rezoned the mitigated wetland (now called the Edgewater Wetland) and the immediate shoreline as open space. The city also kept the Oakland Business Park area zoned for business, not residential (business uses can be much more compatible with the adjacent Bay and its wildlife).

We extend a large thank you to Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who authored the zoning decisions.

This is just one victory in a long and ongoing struggle. Despite the favorable zoning decisions, the actual Coliseum City Specific Plan was not changed, and it still calls for the destruction of the Edgewater Wetland and for building dense housing right on the Bay (all in areas that are predicted to be under water in 2100 or before). And the Plan still proposes to bury Elmhurst Creek. We have not seen a living stream culverted in the Bay Area for decades, as we now recognize that they play a crucial role in the health of our community and its aquatic resources. As this project progresses, stay tuned for opportunities to help protect our shoreline.

Redwood City salt ponds

The Redwood City salt ponds. Photo courtesy Doc Searls on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Redwood City salt ponds. Photo courtesy Doc Searls on Flickr Creative Commons.

In another victory for a healthy Bay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took action in Redwood City to protect the 1,400 acres of shoreline used as salt ponds by Cargill Salt. These ponds are bay waters that have been surrounded by levees and used to concentrate the water as it is moved from pond to pond until it starts precipitating salt — and presto! There it is on your table. Cargill Salt claimed that the “liquid” in these salt ponds is too salty to be considered water, and thus should no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act.

While we’re all entitled to our opinions, this one fails the laugh test. So imagine our surprise and disappointment when the federal regulators of our nation’s waters and wetlands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, actually swallowed Cargill’s ludicrous argument and proposed to give up jurisdiction over these salt ponds. They ignored the fact that each winter these salt ponds swell with rainwater (yes, even this year) and provide aquatic habitat to tens of thousands of waterbirds.

Luckily, logic won out over Cargill’s army of lobbyists. In response to an outburst of protest over the Army Corps decision, the EPA stepped in and claimed jurisdiction over the decision of whether the salt ponds deserve protection. We don’t know when the EPA decision will be reached but we have faith that they will reach the obvious conclusion that water is water — even if it is behind a levee and even if evaporation has made it salty.

We thank Jared Blumenfeld, Regional EPA Administrator, and national EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for this brave action.

More great news out of Redwood City is that City Councilperson Ian Bain came out publicly against large-scale development on lands (or in this case waters) that may be underwater by 2100. Given that the Redwood City Council has consistently supported Cargill’s desire to build on the salt ponds, this is an encouraging development.

Newark Area 4 wetlands

Newark’s “Area 4" tidal marsh. Photo by Margaret Lewis, courtesy SaveSFBay.org.

Newark’s “Area 4″ tidal marsh. Photo by Margaret Lewis, courtesy SaveSFBay.org.

And then there is Newark. If ever there was a city government that turned its back on the Bay and its wetlands, Newark may be the one. Despite massive logistical and regulatory hurdles, Newark has persisted in pursuing an ill-advised plan for a golf course and upscale housing development at the (unromantically named) Area 4 wetland. Area 4 was historically part of the bay before being walled off by levees in the 1960s. Yet even levees and regular pumping can’t keep the land dry; despite these measures, over half of the land is active wetland.

This April, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge won a lawsuit over the city’s Environmental Impact Report (also opposed by the Sierra Club), which had found that the site was just fine for development. Unfortunately, winning a CEQA lawsuit does not magically stop bad projects. The City simply rewrote part of the document — changing essentially nothing — and the project starts up again.

But that struggle isn’t over. The developer and the City still need permits from many agencies. Now is the time for citizen activism. We’ll be working to get these lands absorbed into the adjacent Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. If you are interested in helping you can call me at (415)680-0643.

— Arthur Feinstein, Conservation Chair

Setback for Sharp Park wetland

California red-legged frog

California red-legged frog

On April 16th, the California Coastal Commission approved an after-the-fact permit for a very large water pump that had been installed by San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department (Rec & Park) at the Sharp Park Golf Course on the coast of Pacifica. In addition to hosting a golf course, Sharp Park is home to a wetland complex that provides invaluable habitat to the endangered San Francisco garter snake and the protected California red-legged frog.

The approval for the permit was moved by San Mateo Supervisor Carole Groom (a regular golfer at Sharp Park) before being unanimously approved by the rest of the Commission. Stipulations for approval of the permit were that SF Rec & Park monitor and report on the effects their pumping has on the wildlife that rely on this wetland habitat for survival.

The bigger picture problem at Sharp Park is that SF Rec & Park has no long-term management plan for how the golf course and this important wetland system will co-exist. Nor do they have a plan for dealing with rising sea levels, which will affect both the natural and public uses.

In fact, SF Rec & Park will go back in front of the Coastal Commission in the coming months for another after-the-fact permit on arming the sea wall that has been erected on the western edge of the property. This will be another opportunity for us to weigh in on the mismanagement of this wetland system. To get involved, contact conservation manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess@sfbaysc.org or at (510) 848-0800 x 304.

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