September 2, 2014

Newark plans luxury homes and golf course on precious wetlands

A view of Area 4. Photo courtesy Carin High.

A view of Area 4. Photo courtesy Carin High.

Correction (March 7, 2014): an earlier version of this article misstated which Audubon Society has opposed this project. It is opposed by Ohlone Audubon, the Audubon that includes Newark in its range.

Over the past century and a half, 90% of the Bay’s original wetlands have been paved over, diked off, or replaced with airports, garbage dumps, residential developments, and (especially in the South Bay) salt ponds. To raise tax revenues, the city of Newark seeks to continue this destructive trend.

Last December, Newark updated its General Plan, reaffirming its intent to fill 560 acres to build hundreds of executive homes and an 18-hole golf course. The Sierra Club instead supports restoring these wetlands and adding them to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Help is needed to urge the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board to reject development plans for “Area 4,” one of the largest remaining unprotected areas in the South Bay.

At first glance, Newark’s wetlands (west of the railroad tracks, beyond the ends of Mowry Avenue and Stevenson Boulevard) might not seem remarkable, but even after decades of abuse, they still harbor an array of wildlife. Herons and egrets are common; willets and godwits probe the mud for crabs, crayfish, and worms. Flocks of ducks ply the quiet backwaters, disturbed only by merlins, hawks, and harriers. On the ground, burrowing owls and the rare salt-marsh harvest mouse are occasionally seen. Restoration of Area 4 will allow other important species to return: for example, the endangered clapper rail, a secretive bird the size of a chicken and heavily impacted by diking for salt ponds. The nearby Mowry Slough is one of the Bay’s most important pupping sites for harbor seals.

Area 4 has suffered abuse for decades, yet holds great promise for restoration. Despite continual discing and diking, wetlands have survived. Moreover, ecologists understand that vibrant ecosystems include a full array of ecological niches and vegetation zones. This area’s variety of habitat types—wetlands, upland areas, and the intervening transition zones—provides the mix needed for many species, and therefore gives the site unusual restoration value. While many tidal marshes are now undergoing restoration, with salt ponds being converted to more-natural habitats, very few places remain where both uplands and transition zones can be restored.

Fortunately, the Regional Water Board, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and other agencies have challenged Newark’s proposals, pointing out how they violate state and federal regulations on filling of wetlands. The Water Board has concluded that “impacts to Area 4 would be regionally significant.”

Environmental organizations have also intervened. The Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has filed two lawsuits challenging the development plans. Since that time, nearly a dozen groups, including the Sierra Club, Ohlone Audubon, and Save The Bay, have opposed the city’s plans.

WhatYouCanDo

The main agency warding off this disaster is the Water Board. It has said that it is not likely to permit the filling of wetlands in this area, but Board officials need to know that the public is on their side.

To add your signature to Save The Bay’s petition telling the Water Board to remain strong in its opposition and deny permits for this development, visit https://www.savesfbay.org/secure/bay-vs-golf-course.

Paul W. Rea, Ph.D., nature writer and environmental activist

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