April 24, 2014

Think before you pump–SF Parks Department needs to do EIR for Sharp Park pumping

Normal winter rains flood many areas of Sharp Park, and the golf course' attempts to drain the water kill California red-legged frogs. Photo courtesy of www.restoresharppark.org

Normal winter rains flood many areas of Sharp Park, and the golf course’ attempts to drain the water kill California red-legged frogs. Photo courtesy of www.restoresharppark.org

Once more the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department is trying to avoid environmental scrutiny of its actions at Sharp Park (see May 2011, page 9), where it operates a golf course in the Laguna Salada wetland complex. On Tue., March 25, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will have the opportunity to evaluate an ill-conceived project in the most biologically important area managed by the department.

The golf course was built on a vibrant and rare wetland system in the 1930s, before environmental reviews were required. To maintain the course, the department fights the naturally wet conditions, and has a history of evading environmental review of its activities. In March 2013, the department was caught illegally armoring the sea wall along Sharp Park under the guise of re-grading the walkway along the berm. In July 2013 the department was fined $386,000 for illegally killing wildlife protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

Now the department is proposing the “Sharp Park Pumphouse Project”, which would dredge nearly 100,000 gallons of sediment and native vegetation from what remains of the Laguna Salada wetland complex to speed the flow of water to its recently installed 10,000-gallon-per-minute pumphouse. The increased flow would be disastrous for the breeding of the California red-legged frog in the complex’s pools and lagoons. The water is also vital to the survival of the San Francisco garter snake and the many other species of this vital wetland ecosystem.

Rather than preparing a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, the department has prepared an abbreviated environmental review, called a “Mitigated Negative Declaration”. Unlike an EIR, a Negative Declaration does not have to consider any alternative—even though an environmentally superior alternative exists, namely simply to decrease pumping and allow the water to rise. Preeminent herpetologists, coastal ecologists, and hydrologists, as well as the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, have recommended studying an alternative.

WhatYouCanDo

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has the power to order a full EIR.  Laguna Salada advocates have never lost a vote on this issue at the Board—so far. Come to the Supervisors’ meeting at 3 pm on Tue., March 25, at San Francisco City Hall, Room 250! Speak up for the California red-legged frog, the San Francisco garter snake (which also lives at Sharp Park), this rare wetland complex, and a more environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible Recreation and Park Department.

For more information see http://wildequity.org/entries/3335.

Amy Zehring, community organizer, Wild Equity Institute

Celebrate on the Mountain–Sat. and Sun, April 26 and 27, Mount Diablo State Park.

Mount Diablo Celebration 300 x 89Sat. and Sun, April 26 and 27, Mount Diablo State Park.

The Sierra Club Bay Chapter will be among over 40 organizations with booths at the 150th-anniversary commemoration of the California State Parks and the 40th anniversary of the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association.

Enjoy hikes, demonstrations, and all things Mount Diablo:

  • hike with a nature photographer and learn secrets to capturing the stunning landscape;
  • learn about the Mitchell Creek Restoration Project and see the work in progress;
  • tour the Native Plant Garden and see what’s in bloom;
  • meet a park ranger and learn what it’s like to work in the park;
  • see distant galaxies from telescopes near the Summit;
  • check out a volunteer trail crew rebuilding a fire-scorched trail, and join them!

Events are happening all over the park. For a list of times and locations, see MDIA.org closer to the date.

To volunteer to help staff the Sierra Club booth, contact Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess@sfbaysc.org or (510)848-0800, ext. 304.

“Rebels With A Cause: How a Battle Over Land Changed the American Landscape Forever” — Friday, April 25, and Sunday, April 27

Sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore California. Photo by Alan Majchrowicz.

Sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore California. Photo by Alan Majchrowicz.

Updated (April 18, 2014): updated details.

Friday, April 25, 7 pm, in the lounge of the Etta building at 1285 Sutter Street (at Van Ness) in San Francisco.

Sunday, April 27, 3 pm, Marin Headlands Center for the Arts at 944 Simmonds Road in Sausalito (part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area).

As part of our 90th-anniversary celebrations, the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter is presenting two unique screenings of “Rebels With A Cause: How a Battle Over Land Changed the American Landscape Forever”, a stunningly beautiful documentary about the battle that saved a key portion of the Marin coast from development and led to the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. These events will be fundraisers for the Sierra Club Bay Chapter.

Speaking at both events will be writer/producer/director Nancy Kelly and Huey Johnson, one of the activists featured in the film.

The San Francisco event will also include activist Amy Meyer, co-chair of People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area and author of New Guar­dians of the Golden Gate: How America Got a Great National Park. Suggested donation: $10.

In addition to the screening of part of the film, the Marin event will feature a hike, led by National Park Service ranger Roxi Farwell, with a stop at the part of the Headlands that would have been Marin­cello, a failed gated-community development (a story­line featured in the film). A reception will follow the hike. $75 per person, $50 for students and seniors.

For more information, or to RSVP for either event, email lauren.wertz@sierraclub.org or (510)848-0800, ext. 321.

For event tickets, click on the appropriate button below:

 

Study squirrels before acting at César Chávez Park

Is there a squirrel problem at Berkeley’s César Chávez Park? And if so, what should be done about it?

This park was built on top of an old landfill, by adding a layer of topsoil on top of a clay cap designed to cover any toxic substances in the old dump.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board has expressed concerns that ground squirrels and gophers may create burrows that would pierce the clay cap and release the toxics. As far as we know, though, there is no evidence that the burrows have actually pierced the cap.

City staff has proposed capturing and killing squirrels and gophers from the park. The Sierra Club supports a resolution introduced by Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, proposing study before taking action: to find out if there is a problem, and what might be the most appropriate response?

WhatYouCanDo

Write to Mayor Tom Bates and your Berkeley councilmember at:

City Hall
2180 Milvia St.
Berkeley, CA 94704,

or you can find their e-mail addresses at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/electedofficials. Urge them to adopt Councilmember Worthington’s resolution calling for study of the possible burrowing problem at César Chávez Park.

Norman La Force, chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee

Park District should study before renewing Chabot shooting-range lease

Should the East Bay Regional Park District renew the lease for the Anthony Chabot Regional Marksmanship Range at Chabot Regional Park?

The range is used by both private gun owners and many Bay Area police forces for target practice. The lease is now up for renewal.

Complaints have arisen about the noise from the guns. Steve Bakaley, chair of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Activities Committee, reports that when he leads hikes at Chabot, he warns hikers of the noise. There are also potentially significant impacts to wildlife, from noise and from the use of lead bullets.

The Sierra Club recognizes that the range has operated for 50 years, but there has been no environmental review since 1984. This is long out of date. A lot has changed in 30 years including population growth, increased park usage, and greater recognition of the toxicity of lead shot for wildlife.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the Park District should require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the lease extension so that impacts can be identified and mitigations proposed. If it is found that mitigations can not remove all significant impacts, then the District’s Board must decide if there are overriding considerations that would justify the extension of the lease.

WhatYouCanDo

Write to:
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, CA 94605-0381.

Urge the Board to make sure that any lease renewal for the Chabot gun range undergoes a full EIR.

Norman La Force, chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee

Putting the environment first in East Bay Parks

View of steeply sloped oak woodland on the Castleridge property, acquired by the East Bay Regional Park District.

View of steeply sloped oak woodland on the Castleridge property, acquired by the East Bay Regional Park District.

The East Bay Regional Park District has a unique chance to improve its environmental stewardship.

The District’s mission statement (included in its Master Plan states: “An environmental ethic guides the District in all of its activities.” As a component of that mission, it includes: “Acquire and preserve significant biologic, geologic, scenic, and historic resources.” This component should be at the core of the Park District’s mission.

But among these types of resources, the biologic is the most fragile and difficult to preserve, because living beings function on a complex and dynamic time scale under the pressure of human impacts. For this reason the Park District needs to place a greater emphasis on managing habitat and species for their native-habitat values.

Our regional native habitats are the Park District’s “most important product”, and yet, once purchased and nominally preserved for future generations, they have received an extremely limited proportion of District resources–insufficient ecological staff expertise, leadership, and funding.

In recent months several of the District’s top managers have retired. This provides the opportunity for a restructuring that could put a stamp on the agency’s direction for decades to come–by creating a new position of “assistant general manager for stewardship”. By creating this position near the top of its hierarchy, the District will symbolically announce its commitment to our natural heritage–and will concretely empower a staffperson with the task and authority to advance this key part of its mission.

Norman La Force (chair) and Peter Rauch (member), Sierra Club East Bay Public Lands Committee

Tell UC not to abandon native plants on Mount Sutro

Sutro Stewards volunteers planting the "Living Seed-Bank" project above Sutro Nursery. The University must not abandon the fruits of all these volunteer efforts. Photo by Lila Lee, Media Solutions SF.

Sutro Stewards volunteers planting the “Living Seed-Bank” project above Sutro Nursery. The University must not abandon the fruits of all these volunteer efforts. Photo by Lila Lee, Media Solutions SF.

UCSF’s new proposals for Mount Sutro would abandon years of planning and break commitments to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The plan for the 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve would use heavy machinery to indiscriminately remove understory habitat and all trees less than 10 inches in diameter from 25 acres of land, virtually eliminating all native plants and trees. These are the ones the most necessary to support wildlife. With the understory removed, invasive species would quickly return and prevent recovery of the native species. Soon the hills and valleys would be filled with invasive vines and blackberry, recreating the dangerous fire fuel that exists now. Since nearly all native trees here are smaller than 10 inches, nearly all would be removed.

The plan would also halt all restoration efforts in the remaining 36 acres, reversing years of progress with restoration pilot programs and violating the University’s previous commitments. The proposal to rewrite the Environmental Impact Report from scratch would in effect prohibit future administrations from adopting best forest-management practices.

These actions would radically decrease biodiversity and undermine the quality of habitat. They would also work against the University’s stated goal of “safety, health, and asthetics” for the Reserve, and be detrimental to long-term fire control.

Sutro Stewards volunteers begin meadow restoration on the summit of Mount Sutro. The University must not abandon the fruits of all these volunteer efforts. Photo by Lila Lee, Media Solutions SF.

Sutro Stewards volunteers begin meadow restoration on the summit of Mount Sutro. The University must not abandon the fruits of all these volunteer efforts. Photo by Lila Lee, Media Solutions SF.

The University appears to be be abanding its responsibilities in order to save money. Yet UCSF has not requested any Proposition 84 funding, which is available to the University for “the management of natural lands and the preservation of California wildlife resources.” We urge UCSF to continue with its previous management plan for the Reserve, completing the current EIR (rather than writing a new one) and adopting its findings to create a long-range management plan.

The Club also opposes the University’s plan to lift the caps on the amount of development at the Aldea housing site in the Sutro Forest, reneging on its two-decade-old commitments to the community in the Long Range Development Plan. The Aldea site is far from transit, and is not served by University shuttles in the evenings and on weekends. Increasing density here would only intensify traffic and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The University also proposes reversing its plan to tear down UC Hall on Parnassus, and instead to increase the use of the building. This would create choking traffic in an area with several important cross-town bus lines, causing deterioration in bus service not only in the adjoining neighborhoods but across the city.

WhatYouCanDo

Write to UC Chancellor Janet Napolitano at president@ucop.edu or:

Office of the President
University of California
1111 Franklin St., 12th Floor
Oakland, CA 94607;

and to the Board of Regents at regentsoffice@ucop.edu or:

Office of the Secretary and Chief of Staff to the Regents
1111 Franklin St., 12th floor
Oakland, CA 94607
fax: (510)987-9224.

Tell them to not abandon the adopted Management Plan and EIR for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve.  

 

Advocate for California state parks–March 14 in Berkeley

Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. This is no way to take care of parklands. Should we be adding new ORV acreage?

Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. This is no way to take care of parklands. Should we be adding new ORV acreage?

The Parks Forward Commission “is conducting a wholesale assessment of the California State Park system. This independent process is designed to address the financial, operational, and cultural challenges facing State Parks to ensure the system’s long-term viability.” It will produce a draft report in April and recommendations to the legislature in fall.

Please attend the upcoming meeting and share the Sierra Club message (see below), speaking up for preserving the park system and its ecosystems/values, providing dedicated funding, and curbing the expansion of off-road vehicle areas.

Public Health and Park Access Work Groups

Friday, March 14, 1 – 3 pm, David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, in Berkeley.

Parks Forward is an independent commission charged with conducting a wholesale assessment of California’s state park system. Made up of experts and thought-leaders, Parks Forward is designed to address the financial, operational, and cultural challenges facing State Parks to ensure the system’s long-term viability.

To accomplish its work, the Commission has been meeting both as a whole and in sub-groups to address specific issues (such as finances, partnerships, and public health). A key issue raised repeatedly by commissioners and the public is the need to improve access to parks, particularly in light of the state’s changing demographics.

The Berkeley work group meeting will be facilitated by Parks Forward Commissioner Carolyn Finney, a professor at UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and recognized expert on issues surrounding race and resources management.

The meeting will include discussions among commissioners, experts, and the public on how best to improve urban park access and provide workforce opportunities to those who are currently underrepresented. This is a unique opportunity to share with commissioners what you value about parks–we urge you to attend.

Additional information on this meeting and Parks Forward more generally can be found at www.parksforward.com.

Patricia Jones, co-chair, Sierra Club California State Parks committee

An additional meeting

On Monday, March 17, the Parks Forward Finance and Partnerships Work Group will meet to discuss three issues:

  • maintaining the department’s unique and iconic cultural resources;
  • using current technology to generate revenue;
  • using public/private partnerships to expand alternative lodging options.

This meeting will be held at the Presidio Log Cabin, 1299 Storey Ave., San Francisco from 1 – 3 pm.  For those unable to attend in person, there is an audio line (listen-in only) at:  (877)615-4337 passcode: 6569665#. Public comment is welcome at the end of the meeting by those in attendance as well as via info@parksforward.com. A map and parking details will be posted to www.parksforward.com in advance of the meeting.

Sierra Club suggestions for improving the draft report, based on the outline:

Section 1: History of Excellence

a. History of Leadership and Devotion: This subsection should include a discussion of the public trust requirements of the state parks system.

b. California’s World Class Parks: This subsection should include reference to Californians’ devotion to environmental quality, and the important role parks play in demonstrating and exemplifying that devotion.

Section 3: Challenges, Parks Forward Initiative, and Initial Findings

a. Analyses and State Response to Growing Crisis: Our organization took issue with the Little Hoover Commission conclusion that the parks system organization was obsolete. We do believe there can and must be improvements, but we do not concur with the LHC’s proposal to essentially divest the system of certain parks and its relatively unquestioning proposal to expand the “financial bridging” provided by local entities. While there were a number of good technical details in the report, we encourage the Parks Forward Commission to look well beyond this report for ideas and analysis. We question whether it, among the numerous reports produced by various entities, deserves to be highlighted in this subsection.

d. Parks Forward Commission Initial Findings: This subsection should include a discussion of the outpouring of public support expressed for the State Parks when parks were closed or threatened with closure.

d(ii) A Need for Fundamental Change: The needs listed in this sub-subsection of the draft outline glaringly misses noting the ecosystem services and environmental/open space/wildlife habitat provided by about a million acres of state parks lands. This is a core issue area and should be included among the competencies–even if it isn’t a competency that has been fully realized. Also, it’s important for the parks system to develop standards for managing the wildlands and ensuring that they continue to present ecosystem value and ecosystem services.

Section 4: California Parks’ Future

a. Natural Resources, Iconic Landscapes, Rich History, and Diverse Culture are Protected and Valued: This sub-subsection should include a brief discussion of the need for standards and best practices for management of natural lands in the state parks system. This can be expanded upon in subsection 5(a)

c. Parks Promote Active, Healthy Lifestyles and Communities: This subsection should emphasize activities that are consistent with the park system’s need to properly steward the natural resources and that also are consistent with the state’s goals to reduce air pollution, including greenhouse gas pollution.

Section 5: Charting a New Course

c. Promote Healthy Lifestyles and Communities: This subsection should note that, given the public trust responsibilities, the mission of the parks system, and the state’s goals, expanded recreational opportunities must be consistent with state’s environmental goals, and consistent with the protection of natural resources and ecosystem services of the parks.

d. Engage Youth: Emphasis should be on increasing youth appreciation for natural resources and ability to enjoy nature for decades.

Section 6: Implementation

f. Secure Stable Sources of Public Funding: This subsection should overtly address potential dedicated tax tools.

Park District can’t afford to keep eucalyptus plantations–economics and ecology agree: convert to native species

Chabot Campground thinning.

Chabot Campground thinning.

The East Bay Regional Park District’s Vegetation Management Program, in many ways a great advance, contains one major flaw that it’s time to fix.

The Sierra Club supported the plan last year when the District adopted it, because of its strong emphasis on protecting and restoring native species (see August 2013, page 8). More than 20 years after the devastating 1991 Claremont fire, the District finally had a plan for managing the vegetation in its 17,000 acres along the wildland-urban interface.

The Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and California Native Plant Society generally supported the plan, but with grave reservations about one component: the preservation of large eucalyptus plantations. We called for these areas to be converted to allow native woodlands and other native vegetation to reclaim the hills from Richmond to San Leandro. Instead, the plan calls for thinning those groves–and removing the understory, including native plants such as oaks and bay laurels, where they have survived.At some point the eucalyptus will reach maturity and begin to die off, creating even a greater fire risk unless the trees are removed then. (Could we count on the District to have the funding at that time to do this?)

Recently an economic analysis has added to our concerns. Jerry Kent, a former assistant general manager for the Park District who worked on these issues before his retirement, finds that if the District persists in its current approach, it will ultimately cost $180,000 an acre over the next 20 – 40 years to maintain and then remove the eucalyptus plantations. There are 1,293 acres; the total cost will be $230 million.

Our worst fear is that at some time the Park District will lack funds for the needed maintenance and will do what governmental agencies do in such situations: just stop, calling it ‘deferred maintenance’. Once that happens, the chances of a catastrophic fire grow, while the habitat suffers.

The Park District’s main funding for this work is from Measure CC, a parcel tax levied on residents west of the hills from Pinole and Richmond in the north down to San Leandro. Measure CC must be renewed by 2020, and the District wants to start the process in 2016. If it increased the tax to cover the $230 million needed for eucalyptus (or anything close to it), voters would revolt and refuse to reauthorize the tax. (This tax pays also for a wide range of essential park operations such as stream and creek restoration and opening up new parks to users).

No one wants another 1991 conflagration. It would be a human nightmare as well as an environmental disaster. Moreover, just as we saw in the aftermath of 1991, the call would go out to simply clearcut all vegetation in huge swathes of Park District land. The Club had to spend years fighting this alternative after the 1991 fire, and it still appeals to some politicians.

It is time for the Park District to fix its plans with the goal of making vegetation management cost-effective, promoting real fire safety, and restoring native habitat in lands now covered with eucalyptus.

WhatYouCanDo

Write to general manager Robert Doyle and the Board at:

East Bay Regional Park District
P.O Box 5381
Oakland, CA 94605-0135.

Urge the District to adopt plans to remove all eucalyptus.

To read Jerry Kent’s full analysis of the costs of eucalyptus thinning, see http://claremontcanyon.org/pdf/the_risks_and_costs_of_eucalyptus_and_pine_dec_7_2013_jerry_kent.pdf.

Norman La Force, chair, Sierra Club East Bay Public Lands Committee

Initiative seeks to expand Crown Beach in Alameda

People enjoying an outdoor concert at Crab Cove in July 2013, part of the popular annual Concerts at the Cove series. Crab Cove and the beach are in the background. This illustrates the value of adding more open space adjacent to this concert site. The federal parcel is more or less 90° to the right of photo vantage point, about 100 yards away. The visitor center is also to the right. Photo by Richard Bangert

People enjoying an outdoor concert at Crab Cove in July 2013, part of the popular annual Concerts at the Cove series. Crab Cove and the beach are in the background. This illustrates the value of adding more open space adjacent to this concert site. The federal parcel is more or less 90° to the right of photo vantage point, about 100 yards away. The visitor center is also to the right. Photo by Richard Bangert

Help gather signatures for an initiative to expand Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach at Alameda’s Crab Cove.

The measure would zone a 3.89-acre parcel of surplus federal property on McKay Avenue as open space, effectively halting the pending sale of the land to a housing developer (see “Feds threaten eminent domain for private development on state parkland”). Friends of Crown Beach is leading the signature-gathering effort to put the initiative on Alameda’s November city ballot.

The initiative drive is the latest of several obstacles the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) faces in its attempt to sell federal surplus property in Alameda to a housing developer. Both the California attorney general and the East Bay Regional Park District oppose the sale. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), which regulates shoreline development around the Bay, recently added another barrier.

In January BCDC executive director Lawrence Goldzband wrote to the GSA directing it to explain how the taking of McKay Avenue could be consistent with the San Francisco Bay Plan. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) requires that all federal projects along a coastline must comply with the laws of the state. The Bay Plan lists Crown Beach, including McKay Avenue, as a Waterfront Park Priority Use Area. Taking a state “coastal resource” is considered a project under the CZMA.

In November California Attorney General Kamala Harris responded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s letter announcing pending eminent domain to take McKay Avenue. Harris challenged the GSA’s “public use” rationale for taking state property saying, “In light of the highest and best use of this excess property, it becomes difficult to discern how the United States District Court or the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will view the taking of State of California property—for the sole purpose of facilitating the sale of land to private developer Tim Lewis Communities (‘TLC’)—as a public use or necessity. But even more to the point, we fail to see how GSA will ever convince a federal court that a street and sidewalk already devoted to ‘public use’ still necessitates the condemnation of it.”

Harris added, “The ‘public use’ question is all the more significant in light of the positions stated by the East Bay Regional Park District and the local community in Alameda.”

In July 2012 the City Council rezoned the parcel to residential as part of the city’s Housing Element. But in 2008 the Council had endorsed the East Bay Regional Park District’s Measure WW, which called for acquiring this surplus federal property for park expansion when it became available. The District filed suit alleging that the rezoning violates environmental-protection laws and the city charter.

Before launching the ballot initiative, the Club and Friends of Crown Beach spent close to a year trying to convince the City Council to rezone the parcel as open space.

WhatYouCanDo

To help with the initiative campaign, contact either Gretchen Lipow at gretchenlipow@comcast.net or (510)814-9592.

For more information, visit http://friendsofcrownbeach.com.

Richard Bangert