August 20, 2014

Oakland Zoo’s proposed expansion into Knowland Park goes from bad to worse

10272777_228030487396164_7927941693625751956_oThe Sierra Club has grown increasingly concerned about the California Trails exhibit that the Oakland Zoo proposes to build on the ridge line of Knowland Park. The City of Oakland approved the fifty-six-acre project in 2011 on a fifteen-year-old Mitigated Negative Declaration. Since then, however, the permitting agencies have provided significant pushback to the zoo’s claim that the project would have no significant environmental impacts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommended that the project be built within the zoo’s existing footprint to avoid significant impacts to rare plant communities and to the threatened Alameda whipsnake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), meanwhile, sent the zoo’s application back to the drawing board, noting that the project is at best conceptual.

Two-and-a-half years later, after much heated negotiation, both CDFW and USFWS find that the zoo and the city have each grossly underestimated impacts to Alameda whipsnake habitat, and now require fifty-two acres be set aside for mitigation. In order to fulfill this requirement, the zoo is now proposing that an additional twenty-one acres of Knowland Park land be set aside. In addition to the fact that taking park land for mitigation is double-dipping, this proposal would require the loss of public access to that land.

The parcel in question is closed-canopy oak bay woodland, not the high-quality Alameda whipsnake habitat that the project would destroy. And, because the Deed of Transfer that conveyed the park from the state to the city required that it always remain a public park, removing acreage from public access could potentially trigger the “reverter clause” that would re-convey the land to the state. The zoo and the city are once again offering a ludicrous solution to a self-imposed problem: they propose to keep the appearance of public access by allowing the public to view the twenty-one acres under mitigation from the project’s aerial gondola or a viewing station.

It is clear that the city failed in its fundamental duty as Lead Agency to require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Such a process would have included the critical alternatives analysis, which would have uncovered the major problems with the project and proposed better alternatives. In fact, early in the process the Sierra Club requested that the City conduct a full EIR. The California Native Plant Society’s East Bay Chapter, the California Native Grasslands Association, and Friends of Knowland Park all concurred. As of this writing, not a single East Bay environmental organization endorses this project.

The Sierra Club believes that the public’s right to full and complete access to land in Knowland Park is unequivocal. Furthermore, building on ridge lines, in protected park land, and in listed-species habitat is an affront to conservation principles—especially when there’s more than adequate unused land to accommodate this project within and immediately adjacent to the zoo footprint. The City has dragged the public down a long, twisted path in its quest to accommodate the zoo’s desire to build in the wrong place. The Sierra Club recommends that the City acknowledge that it has gotten in over its head and hit the re-set button.

WhatYouCanDo

Contact Oakland City Council members, the Director of City Planning, and the Office of Parks and Recreation to let them know that you oppose developing high-quality park land.

—Norman La Force, Chair East Bay Public Lands Committee

Fate of Doolan Canyon hangs on competing ballot initiatives

Photo by Scott Hein, www.heinphoto.com.

Photo by Scott Hein, www.heinphoto.com.

In November, Dublin’s voters will have the opportunity to preserve a beautiful swath of land that separates the city from neighboring Livermore. This past winter and spring, Dublin voters qualified—and on June 3 the Dublin City Council unanimously adopted—an open space initiative that establishes an urban limit line along the eastern city limits and removes the sunset provision for the western urban limit line. The new eastern urban limit line protects rural Doolan Canyon from urban sprawl.

Doolan Canyon is a scenic and biologically-rich area north of I-580 currently used for ranching and a few rural homesteads. The area contains critical habitat for the California red-legged frog and the California tiger salamander, both designated as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Numerous other Special Status animal species live or forage in Doolan Canyon, including golden eagles, western burrowing owls, American badgers, San Joaquin kit foxes, tricolored blackbirds, and Callippe Silverspot butterflies. Special Status plant species found in Doolan Canyon include Congdon’s tarplant and San Joaquin spearscale. Doolan Canyon is a California Native Plant Society Biological Priority Protection Area, and the Tri-Valley Conservancy rates most of its parcels as high priority for the protection of biological resources, wildlife migration corridors, trail corridors, and agriculture.

The protection provided by the urban limit line was a long time in coming. For decades, Doolan Canyon served in effect as a “demilitarized zone” between Dublin and Livermore; each city concerned that the other would annex and develop the unincorporated area that serves as a greenbelt buffer between them. With the passage of Alameda County Measure D in 2000—which established a county urban growth boundary—the only remaining risk was from city-approved development. Livermore adopted an urban growth boundary in 2002, but none existed on Dublin’s east side until now.

But a threat still remains. During the last weeks of the Open Space Initiative signature drive, Pacific Union Land Company—a developer seeking to build in Doolan Canyon—began circulating its own initiative to allow urban development in the canyon. Cleverly written to give the false impression that Dublin voters would retain control over development, the developer’s initiative sets an urban limit line on the far side of Doolan Canyon; this would, in effect, remove the requirement of voter approval for a huge, 2,000-unit residential subdivision within Doolan Canyon, as proposed by Pacific Union in 2010.

Using paid signature-gatherers receiving up to $7.50 per signature and deceitful collecting tactics (some paid collectors claimed to be collecting signatures for the open space petiton), the developer’s initiative also qualified for the November ballot. If the developer’s initiative passes, it would nullify the Open Space Initiative and authorize urban development in Doolan Canyon.

Fortunately, the city council voted unanimously to oppose the developer’s initiative and to write the ballot argument against it. Nevertheless, we must mount a large and effective grassroots campaign to defend Dublin’s new urban limit line and the natural values of Doolan Canyon. Pacific Union stands to lose $150 million in estimated profit if their ballot measure fails, so we can expect an expensive and distortion-filled campaign designed to confuse voters into approving the misleadingly-titled “Let Dublin Decide Initiative.”

WhatYouCanDo

Defense of the Dublin urban limit line will require people and money. It will take volunteers to walk precincts in the fall, knock on doors, and explain the situation to voters. There is no more effective method to cutting through the developer’s lies and distortions than direct, person-to-person contact. Success will also require funds to print and mail campaign literature, produce yard signs, and rent a campaign headquarters. No amount of time is too little and no contribution is too small. To volunteer, please visit www.SaveDublinOpenSpace.org or contact Dick Schneider at (510) 926-0010 or richs59354 at aol.com.

—Dick Schneider

Francisco Park proposal moves forward

Conceptual design for Francisco Park, Richard Parker, 450 architects, inc.

Conceptual design for Francisco Park, Richard Parker, 450 architects, inc.

UPDATE: On July 22 the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Francisco Park proposal. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will transfer the Reservoir to the Recreation and Park Department, which will work with the Francisco Park Project Working Group to proceed with park planning. Construction is expected to begin in spring of 2015.

The Francisco Reservoir was built on San Francisco’s Russian Hill in 1861 to provide water to the densest part of a rapidly-growing city. It was replaced in 1940, and despite numerous development proposals over the years, the site remains zoned “P” for Public Open Space—this in large part thanks to the efforts of neighbors and former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier.

In 2011, four neighborhood associations—Aquatic Park Neighbors, North Beach Neighbors, Russian Hill Improvement Association, and Russian Hill Neighbors—came together to form the Francisco Reservoir Working Group. The alliance produced a proposal to transform the defunct reservoir site into a new public city park.

With the assistance of Supervisor Mark Farrell, the Francisco Park proposal has passed through the city’s Recreation and Park and Public Utilities (PUC) Commissions. The Recreation and Park Department has authorized expending $9.9 million from the City’s Open Space Acquisition and Park Renovation Fund for transfer of the property from the PUC. Meanwhile, the Francisco Reservoir Working Group has received pledges of $9 million against the $11 million target for planning, constructing the park, and endowing future maintenance.

Although to the casual observer the city’s northern waterfront area appears to have a lot of green space, there is an unmet need for recreational opportunities for children in Chinatown, Russian Hill, and nearby neighborhoods. It is expected that Francisco Park would primarily serve seniors, schools, and children from Chinatown, North Beach, Russian Hill, and the booming Polk Street neighborhoods on the east side of Van Ness, where green open space is sparse. The Sierra Club, the Parks Alliance, and other green groups support the park’s creation.

Francisco Reservoir today

Francisco Reservoir today

There has been token opposition to the Francisco Park proposal from housing advocates who want this site with its splendid views used for housing. But the adjacent Fontana Towers, built in the 1960s are a constant reminder of inappropriate development in view corridors.

The proposal goes to the Board of Supervisors for final approval on July 22. Look to the Yodeler’s web edition for updates on this issue. Those interested in learning more about the Reservoir are encouraged to go to www.franciscoreservoir.org/email-registration and sign up for the newsletter.

—Becky Evans

Keep development off John Muir’s hill

A curved oak tree 700 feet above sea level at the top of the 2,600-acre ranch that John Muir and his family used to own, overlooking the entire city and Bay. Photo by David H. Collier.

A curved oak tree 700 feet above sea level at the top of the 2,600-acre ranch that John Muir and his family used to own, overlooking the entire city and Bay. Photo by David H. Collier.

John Muir may roll over in his grave. At least his grave will be close enough to hear the bulldozers if the Alhambra Hills development goes ahead–on land once part of Muir’s farm in Martinez (only two months ago, I found a map proving the prominent ridgeline was owned by Muir himself), and on hills filled with rare ridgeline oak trees shaped by the wind, where Muir used to wander.

For over 30 years this land has hung in the balance. In 2011 the city approved construction of 109 homes here, but Richfield Investment Corp. (based in Houston TX) agreed to delay grading for two years to give preservationists time to find money to purchase the land. In April the time ran out. We must act now to save this ridgeline.

Our hope is that the city of Martinez will join forces with others to find financing to save the site.

WhatYouCanDo

Sign the petition at www.AlhambraHillsOpenSpace.org. We received over 2,500 signatures in our first two weeks, thanks to the involvement of the Muir family and a small group of concerned residents.

While you’re at the web site, please click to join our e-mail list if you have ideas or resources to help.

Jamie Fox, Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee

Doolan Open Space Initiative submits signatures

Looking south-southeast down Doolan Canyon at the area that Pacific Union Homes wants to develop. Doolan Road is in the middle of the picture. The ridge in the distance is the East Bay Regional Park District's Ohlone Regional Wilderness containing Rose Peak, the highest peak in Alameda County, just 32 feet lower than Mount Diablo. Photo by Dick Schneider.

Looking south-southeast down Doolan Canyon at the area that Pacific Union Homes wants to develop. Doolan Road is in the middle of the picture. The ridge in the distance is the East Bay Regional Park District’s Ohlone Regional Wilderness containing Rose Peak, the highest peak in Alameda County, just 32 feet lower than Mount Diablo. Photo by Dick Schneider.

Dublin’s Save Doolan Canyon initiative (officially titled the “Dublin Open Space Initiative of 2014″) was submitted on April 16 with 3,670 signatures. It took just eight weeks of an all-volunteer signature drive to gather the signatures. The state Elections Code allows 26 weeks for the process. The initiative needs 2,282 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

As the Yodeler went to press, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters was verifying the signatures. We expect verification to be complete and the initiative reported as sufficient to the Dublin City Council on May 20.

Dublin voters were eager to sign the petitions because they are fed up with the rapid growth in their city, and they want to prevent additional sprawl into open space areas in and around Dublin. They frequently voiced their thanks to petitioners for doing what they clearly felt was long overdue.

Just as the signature drive was ending, developers wanting to build in Doolan Canyon began circulating a competing initiative. The developers found from their own polling that they would be unable to defeat the Open Space initiative directly, and so they decided to run a counter-initiative to confuse the electorate. Posing as an open-space-protection measure, the developers’ “Let Dublin Decide” initiative would allow their 2,000-unit subdivision to be built in Doolan Canyon without voter approval.

To win in Dublin will require enough resources—volunteers and money—to get our message out. The developers will surely unleash a massive, confusing mail campaign. Fortunately, we know what the voters want, and if we can clearly distinguish the Open Space initiative from the sham Decide initiative, we will prevail.

To help in the campaign, or for more information, go to www.SaveDublinOpenSpace.org or contact Dick Schneider at richs59354@aol.com or (510)926-0010.

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