May 25, 2015

Michener Award goes to Ron Ucovich

Ronald Ucovich, one of the Chapter’s most creative and knowledgeable outings leaders, is the 2015 winner of the Michener Award for outstanding outings leadership.

Ron leads a Sierra Club group on a tour of the USS Hornet.

Ron leads a Sierra Club group on a tour of the USS Hornet. Photo by Barbara Hebert.

Ron’s guided adventures for the Hiking Section are unique. Perhaps you will examine the marshes, dikes, and abandoned settlements of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps you will sample the surprising variety of a seemingly simple suburb such as Hayward. Perhaps you will board the USS Hornet in Alameda, and explore the aircraft carrier stem to stern.

Ron taught high school Spanish, French, Latin, and signed English for 35 years. Walk with him and you’ll be convinced his subject was local history. Ron loves research, and his Sierra Club hikes are famous for combining appreciation of natural wonders with historical particulars. For each of his hikes, Ron keeps an updated file with records, articles, pictures, legends, and trivia. He is a treasure trove of local lore, informed in part by his other volunteer gigs at the USS Hornet, the Hayward Museum, the Alameda Museum, East Bay Regional Parks, and the USS Potomac. Ever the teacher, Ron has even been known to give homework assignments to the participants.

Ron leads cleanup after one of his “famous” lunches during a hike at Fernandez Ranch. Photo by Barbara Hebert.

Ron leads cleanup after one of his “famous” lunches during a hike at Fernandez Ranch. Photo by Barbara Hebert.

On Ron’s walks, lunch is a special occasion. Ron often brings food for the group, and it’s always a feast. After eating, however, his flock must abide by the precept “There is no such thing as garbage.” They do not use trashcans in the parks; they carry out the scraps to be composted.

Ron has lived in the area all his life. In the 1950s the Ucovich family dragged a new-fangled trailer to state and national parks for their vacations, helping Ron develop an early love of nature. After high school, Ron studied foreign languages at San Jose State, and stayed to get a graduate degree in Spanish and French. While teaching at Aragon and Hillsdale High Schools in San Mateo, Ron hiked on the weekends, which is how he met his wife. She thought guided hikes sounded like a good idea, and so she talked him into joining the Sierra Club in 1989.

While he was teaching, Ron had anticipated a retirement of traveling with his wife. Now, however, he finds new experiences in the “old” places close to home. Following his wife’s death in 1994, Ron began hitting the trails with Sierra Clubbers. The hike leaders noticed that he often knew the terrain better than they did, and suggested that he might want to become a trip leader himself. We’re lucky he took us up on the offer!

As of November 2014, Ron had led 341 outings with the Bay Chapter. These days, his hikes are exclusively on Thursdays. If you have had the pleasure of joining one of Ron’s outings, you know this award is well deserved; if not, clear your schedule for his next hike! And be prepared for mental as well as physical exercise.

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

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

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

Time to put the “Public” back in the California Public Utilities Commission

In the coming months, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be making critical decisions that will have a big impact on how much electricity our state consumes and where that energy comes from. Your energy bill and the environment hang in the balance.

California has been a leader in developing policies to prevent and combat catastrophic climate change. However, turning vision, executive orders, and legislation into action requires effective implementation. The CPUC is the regulatory body responsible for making decisions about the way many of California’s energy policies are implemented. The decisions currently on their plate include how residential electricity rates should be structured, how power generated by local rooftop-solar installations should be paid for, and whether California utilities should contract for new fossil-fuel-based electricity generating capacity.

Because of their intense financial interest to the utilities, CPUC proceedings are well attended by utility lawyers and technical staff. Unfortunately, what’s in the best immediate financial interest of the utilities is often counter to the best interest of the public and the environment. And because the issues are technical and complex, the public is not as engaged or present as one might hope. Yet we, the ratepayers, pay the price when energy policy threatens California’s environment, degrading our air, our water, our ecosystems, and our climate.

With critical decisions pending, this year is a key time for public engagement and volunteer action. The CPUC is under intense scrutiny due to allegations of inappropriate, potentially illegal communications between the investor-owned utilities and former CPUC president Michael Peevey. Commissioner Michael Picker’s confirmation to the CPUC presidency is now pending; a confirmation hearing will be held in August. It is therefore a particularly important time to insist that the CPUC protect the public interest.

Members should be aware of the importance of the following issues, and can comment as concerned individual citizens and ratepayers.

San Diego’s chance to “go clean”

The CPUC is charged with overseeing utility plans for assuring adequate and reliable generating capacity to meet California’s needs. To meet power demands, the CPUC is required to first draw on “preferred resources”: energy efficiency, renewable resources, and programs that encourage smart, informed consumption to curb power use during peak periods (an approach known as “demand response”). The CPUC’s commitment to “preferred resources” is currently being tested as it considers how to replace the now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County.

The local utility, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), has proposed purchasing partial replacement power from a $2-billion, 600-megawat (MW) gas-generating plant to be built in Carlsbad, California. The Carlsbad plant would represent a substantial cost to the ratepayers and would mean increased greenhouse-gas emissions over the 20-to-40-year life of the plant.

In March, an Administrative Law Judge issued a Proposed Decision denying SDG&E’s application to purchase power from the Carlsbad plant. In response, President Picker filed an Alternative Proposed Decision authorizing 500 MW of new gas-generating capacity. The Sierra Club has filed extensive technical comments making it clear that new gas-generating capacity is not needed, as the Request for Offers to replace the nuclear plant produced, in the words of the Administrative Law Judge, “a robust number of offers for preferred resources and energy storage.”

This is an opportunity for the CPUC to define whether they are regulating for California’s clean-energy future, or protecting fossil-fuel interests by authorizing new and unneeded dirty power. The CPUC will consider SDG&E’s application to purchase the gas-generated power at its May 21st meeting.

Rate restructuring to incentivize or punish conservation?

The CPUC is also working to implement California Assembly Bill 327, complex legislation that requires a reconsideration of California’s residential electricity rates. A proposal supported by the utilities would levy fixed charges of approximately $120 per year on ratepayers, irrespective of how much electricity they use or whether they have rooftop solar. The utility-sponsored model would also “flatten” the rate structure, effectively raising the rates for those using little electricity and lowering them for those using lots.

If the CPUC adopts this rate model, it would reduce economic incentives to conserve electricity, make energy-efficiency upgrades, or install solar panels. Economic models suggest that fixed charges and flattened rates will in fact lead to an increase in electricity usage. Fixed charges are an unfair burden on those who use little electricity, and may harm low-income ratepayers.

Later in 2015, the CPUC will consider proposals for how owners of residential rooftop-solar installations should be compensated for the power they feed back into the electrical grid. This is another contentious topic, with the utilities pushing to discontinue the current Net Energy Metering program.


As these issues come to a head in the next months, we will need your support! Go to and sign up for the “General” list and your local list to make sure you receive updates.

— Claire Broome

A sustainable development success story in El Cerrito


El Cerrito’s PDA will feature buffered bike lanes like this as well as protected cycle tracks.

Members of the Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee are reviewing Priority Development Areas (PDAs), which are a cornerstone of the $292-billion Regional Transportation Plan. The purpose of PDAs is to reduce car travel by focusing new residents into areas where the transit service is good and where people can easily walk or ride a bike to nearby destinations. Grants of planning money are available to get the PDAs off the ground.

This article will briefly review a PDA success story in El Cerrito. PDAs are complicated creatures, and in no way is this review meant to be comprehensive.

El Cerrito has two PDAs, and both run along San Pablo Avenue, the main street in the city. El Cerrito’s city government treats them as one combined development area (the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan), and that is how they will be treated here, too.

According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, in 2010 there were about 1,200 households within the boundaries of the combined El Cerrito PDA. By 2040, the plan is to have about 1,000 more households in the same area.

Transit service in the area is good now, with bus service provided by AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Vallejo Transit, and WestCat. Along San Pablo Avenue, there is an AC Transit bus about every 7 minutes. There are two BART stations in the PDA too.

El Cerrito is moving forward to make things work for the expected new residents and to cut down on driving. First, the city asked developers what changes they would like to see made to make development easier. The city was told that the building height limit had to be increased and that the number of parking spaces required was too high. The City Council increased the height limit to 75 feet and cut down on the number of parking spaces required. In areas close to BART, the reduction in parking is greater than for housing units farther away.

The city is also working with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and AC Transit to increase bus service along San Pablo Avenue. The first success was recently achieved when the 72 Rapid bus line began operating on weekends, not just on weekdays.

One of the volumes of the Specific Plan that serves as a guide for the PDA is titled “Complete Streets.” It lays out, over 90 pages, what’s needed to make the area more attractive for transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. One interesting feature is the way bicycles and buses will be kept apart from one another, with a special, separate bike lane.

There are other things that are necessary to make a PDA work, of course. Parks, schools, and shopping are important, too. It looks like El Cerrito has these elements under control and a successful PDA on its hands.
You can check out the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan.

The next article in this series will review a PDA in Newark that unfortunately does not look as promising. Want more? Follow @abetterbayarea on Twitter for the latest on sustainable communities in the Bay Area.

— Matt Williams, Chair, Transportation and Comact Growth Committee

State Transportation Plan shifts focus to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

ctp2040_logo_new_445x197The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) earlier this year released its draft California Transportation Plan 2040 (CTP2040), a long-range policy framework that defines goals and strategies for the state’s transportation system. Comments have been accepted from the public, and after more work, a Final Plan will be issued late this year.

The document lays out some of the things that have to happen to meet Governor Brown’s 2012 executive order requiring that transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) have to be 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

CTP2040 is intended to shift the transportation system “from a focus on infrastructure, capital improvements, and delivery, to a more sustainable focus that supports economic prosperity in concert with GHG emission reductions.” Here Caltrans is signaling that in order to reach our goals, no more highway lanes should be built. CTP2040 makes this point in more than one place. It also states, “The need to reduce GHG emissions makes the case that adding automobile capacity is not the answer.”

This new focus is a huge change for California’s transportation vision! CTP2040 is clear on the magnitude of the change, too. The shift from building highways to a sustainable focus will, in the Plan’s words, “require a fundamental, holistic transformation of the transportation systems.”

A part of the transportation “systems” that need transformation are the County Congestion Management Agencies (CMAs), many of which continue to plan for and finance expansions of roadway capacity (widening arterial streets and building new freeways are examples). How quickly will CMA policy board members (typically, members of city councils and county boards of supervisors) respond to CTP2040’s notice that a “fundamental [and] holistic transformation” is required?

Besides the rejection of more highway construction, the plan notes several other things that have to happen to get to the 2050 GHG target. Among them is the elimination of all “emissive vehicles from California roads.” By 2040, the plan says, cars would have to be “zero- to near-zero-emissions vehicles.”

Even with cleaner vehicles, Californians will still have to drive less, meaning that transit needs to carry more passengers than today. That could happen through a combination of strategies, including increasing transit travel speeds, decreasing fares, and converting 20 percent of the bus routes in the state to Bus Rapid Transit (dedicated right-of-way bus routes to avoid traffic). High Speed Rail is presumed to be running by 2040. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure also need to be improved.

Housing and land use is also addressed in CTP2040; the plan notes past practices have often led to an increasing reliance on cars. The goal now is to have people live in housing near transit — an approach sometimes called “transit-oriented development”. The Bay Area’s 2013 Regional Transportation Plan is attempting also to move in this direction, directing new development to areas that are walkable, bikable, and close to public transit.

In its early pages, CTP2040 references a quote from the 2013 statement titled “Scientists’ Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems for the 21st century,” signed by over 1,300 scientists worldwide:

“By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.”

It is encouraging to see this likelihood acknowledged in so important a document. CTP2040 is not perfect. One blunder is presuming that unbuilt highway-expansion projects (including some in the Bay Area) will go forward. An improvement would be to not build them at all. Getting to grips with GHG emissions now is critical, and despite such lapses, CTP2040 seems to take this imperative seriously.

— Matt Williams, Chair, Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Transit-oriented development key to Warm Springs Priority Development Area

Warm_Springs_MapAfter reading the article on the Warm Springs Priority Development Area (PDA) in the April-May issue of the Yodeler, I pulled up my computer files from a decade ago. In April 2005, while co-chair of the Bay Chapter Transportation and Compact Growth Committee, I wrote comments on the BART draft environmental impact report for the Warm Springs extension. The Sierra Club comments recommended against award of federal funds for the project, citing the improbability of transit-oriented development at the site. A decade later, it is a relief to see that we were unduly pessimistic.

The City of Fremont has since proposed some transit-oriented development near the Warm Springs BART station, set to open later this year. Dense and mixed development near public transit increases the likelihood that residents will walk, bike, or patronize transit as they commute, shop, and otherwise go about their lives. Without transit-oriented development, the desired driving reductions (a key goal of PDAs) are unlikely to be achieved.

Of the 879 acres comprising the Warm Springs PDA, less than ten per cent are devoted to residences close enough to the station to cause drivers to convert to transit (BART and the buses that stop at the BART station). “Close enough” means about a three-eighths-mile (or five- to ten-minute) walk. Studies of how far passengers walk to transit show, with remarkable consistency, that half of them walk less than half a mile. Even before that distance, the fraction of residents who walk to transit shrinks dramatically. For commuters who bike to transit that distance will be somewhat greater. The land immediately adjacent to the station is where development must take place if we want to divert people from cars to transit.

The Warm Springs/South Fremont Community Plan places residences in three areas. One lies east of the BART station and is separated from it by the large BART parking lot and a major suburban arterial with five lanes and two bike lanes. Another lies to the north, alongside and west of an active Union Pacific Railroad freight line and separated from the station by another suburban arterial. The placement of these two residential areas is unlikely to discourage driving.

The third residential area offers the greatest potential for transit-oriented development. It lies west of the station, linked to it by a pedestrian bridge over the Union Pacific tracks. Unfortunately, the development as currently proposed fails to capitalize on this opportunity; almost half of the residences are over three-eighths of a mile walk from BART.

Commercial establishments are foreseen for the Warm Springs PDA, but the population base within walking distance is too small for them to compete in terms of price and selection with a regional Walmart just a short drive away. Denser, mixed development near the station would enhance both the health of local commerce and the likelihood that residents would patronize transit. Otherwise, car-free living and desired driving reductions are unlikely.

The recent Yodeler piece on the Warm Springs PDA draws attention to parking. The topic is complex and, I submit, broader than suggested in the article. It is correct that land close to the station should not be squandered on surface parking; the parking should be in a multi-level structure. The land would be better devoted to dense and mixed development appropriate to a PDA. But I disagree with the suggestion that more parking capacity should be recommended. In the sustainable city, automobile use is discouraged, not subsidized. Indeed, the Bay Chapter has long advocated that BART charge for parking.

Parking concerns exist as well in the new developments. The project developer contemplates provision of parking garages in its developments but makes no mention of pricing. Current environmental thinking is that the cost of parking should be unbundled from the cost of the residences. Owners and renters who do not possess automobiles should not have to pay for parking for neighbors who do. This distinction will become increasingly important if the trend among millennials not to own automobiles continues. An associated question is, does the City require a minimum number of parking spaces per unit? This holdover from the 1950s has no place in the sustainable community.

The Warm Springs PDA presents an opportunity to create a model of sustainable development and transportation. Current plans fail to exploit this opportunity.

— Robert Piper, PhD

Don’t darken S.F.’s waterfront parks

Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

Rincon Park with “Cupid’s Span” by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen. Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

San Francisco’s unique and historic waterfront is an immensely valuable part of the city’s character, beauty, and economic vitality. Public parks such as Rincon Park on San Francisco’s waterfront — home to the giant bow and arrow sculpture — offer space for recreation and relaxation that is free and open to all residents and visitors.

However, two new proposed luxury towers would put users of waterfront parks in the dark if City officials approve the developers’ requests for increases to the legal building height limits later this year.

The Tishman-Speyer Corporation is seeking a 100 foot-increase to the existing height limits to build a 400-foot condo tower at 160 Folsom Street, a block from the waterfront. Nearby, the Paramount Group is seeking a 92-foot height-limit increase to build a 292-foot condo tower at 75 Howard Street facing the Embarcadero. Both developers have announced their intention to seek approval of their height-limit increases this year and have engaged powerful lobbying firms who have been busy meeting with Supervisors and city officials to work out deals.

Both of these height-increase proposals are significantly greater than either the 8 Washington condo project — which San Francisco voters rejected in November 2013 — or the abandoned Golden State Warriors stadium on Piers 30-32. Each would create the overwhelming effect of a wall on the waterfront that would overwhelm the Embarcadero and diminish the pedestrian experience — just as the old double-decker Embarcadero Freeway did for decades until it was finally removed.

The San Francisco Planning Department’s draft environmental review of the 75 Howard project found that a luxury tower in that location at the proposed height would have a significant detrimental impact on users of Rincon Park. It would dramatically increase the shadows cast on the park and significantly eliminate sunlight on most days throughout the year. The study concluded that the height-limit increase would “adversely affect the enjoyment and use of the park.” The proposal for 160 Folsom has not yet undergone official environmental review, but studies are expected to show similar harmful shadow impacts on park users.

In 1984, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition K, the “Sunlight Ordinance,” to protect the City’s public parks from degradation by new shadows cast by large developments. Prop. K blocks construction of any building over 40 feet that casts an adverse shadow on a San Francisco public park unless the new shadow is found to be “insignificant.” Clearly, the shadows cast by these new developments would not be insignificant. However, a loophole in the law exempts parks from Sunlight Ordinance protection if they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department. Rincon Park — along with every other one of San Francisco’s waterfront parks — currently fall under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco.

Concerned by this loophole, neighborhood organizations and citizen groups have begun working together to protect the waterfront in an effort called “Save Rincon Park.”

In April, the Bay Chapter’s San Francisco Group unanimously adopted a resolution opposing height-limit increases for the 75 Howard and 160 Folsom luxury tower projects and encouraging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to reject them. The Sierra Club further supports limiting parking at these developments to .5 parking spaces per unit and requiring the developers to mitigate for impacts on public transit by contributing meaningful funds to the City’s public transit system.


Sierra Club members in San Francisco are urged to contact Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the District that includes these proposed development projects. Urge her to stand up for parks and our waterfront by rejecting these height-limit-increase proposals.

Supervisor Jane Kim
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
City Hall, Room 244
San Francisco, CA 94102-4689
(415) 554-7970

— Dave Osgood, Rincon Point Neighbors Association

Proposed cemetery outside San Ramon a dead end for wildlife, water security

The cemetery would be about 2,300 feet away from existing homes and lie right next to future protected open space to the north and the Hidden Valley Open Space area and Tassajara Ridge Trail to the west.

The cemetery would be about 2,300 feet away from existing homes and lie right next to future protected open space to the north and the Hidden Valley Open Space area and Tassajara Ridge Trail to the west.

A local land speculator has proposed a massive 100,000-grave commercial cemetery in Tassajara Valley. The Creekside Memorial Park Cemetery would lie outside the Urban Limit Line to the east of San Ramon. This is not some quaint churchside cemetery; the project would involve moving millions of cubic feet of earth, tearing down a significant ridgeline, and building a road that would bisect the property. This disruptive construction would take place adjacent to the Tassajara Ridge Trail, the Hidden Valley Open Space, and other land proposed for open-space designation. A 100,000-square-foot mausoleum would be built at the top of the property, ruining the visual and pastoral nature of the surrounding open space and marring ridgeline vistas.

Not a drop to drink

Because the project lies outside the Urban Limit Line, water cannot be piped to the site. In order to meet advertised claims of a “lush garden environment” — with many thousands of new plantings and acres of turf — the would-be developer intends to drill wells and pump groundwater. This despite the fact that local ranchers and residents have had to truck in water for a number of years because their own wells are running dry.

The applicant’s own hydrology studies have shown that there is less than half of the needed groundwater under the existing site. The project’s draft environmental impact report concluded that the high level of water draw by the proposed cemetery is likely to affect the quality and quantity of the water in the wells used by neighboring residents. The unsustainable water use would also cause “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts, even after mitigation.

Threatened species

The proposed grading of 77 acres would destroy a wildlife habitat and migration corridor used by dozens of special-status species found at the site. These plant and animal species include the California red-legged frog, the California tiger salamander, the Golden eagle, the Western burrowing owl, Congdon’s tarplant, and San Joaquin spearscale.

Difficult traffic conditions

The proposed project would worsen already-difficult driving conditions on the narrow-shouldered, two-lane Camino Tassajara. Because funeral processions have the right-of-way, traffic would be blocked for ten or fifteen minutes at a time while vehicles perform a left turn into the property. Bicycling in the area would also become more problematic.

Official opposition

In a sign of the changing times in our area, the City of San Ramon — once the lead governmental body promoting the cemetery — is now on record as being opposed to it. Unfortunately, City opposition won’t be enough to stop the project, which is located in an unincorporated area and is thus under the jurisdiction of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

San Ramon’s elected officials and residents alike want to preserve the rural nature of the Tassajara Valley. Thousands of local residents have shown up at public meetings, gone on hikes led by ranchers on horseback to view the project area, and met with County officials to oppose this project. The grassroots opposition cites the environmental and logistical reasons listed above, as well as concerns about cultural issues and property values.

Bad business

In order to comply with state law, the project must be financially viable. But based on expected population growth, death rates, and the increasing popularity of cremation, the existing cemeteries in the Tri-Valley area have more than enough space to handle anticipated need.

This type of project leads to development pressure and more land speculation. It is completely at odds with the agricultural and open-space nature of the rest of the Tassajara Valley.


To register your opposition, contact the State Cemetery Bureau at

If you live in Contra Costa County, contact your Supervisor. The project is in Supervisor Mary Piepho’s district, so comments from her constituents will be particularly valuable.

If you live in one of the surrounding communities, ask your elected officials to follow San Ramon’s example and oppose the project.

— Philip G. O’Loane serves on the San Ramon City Council

Chapter sets priorities for park-funding measure

district_map_NWMeasure CC is the East Bay Regional Park District measure that was passed by the voters in 2004. It taxes the area from San Leandro north to Pinole and west of the Hills at around $10 per parcel to provide funding for Park District operations. Sierra Club leaders played a key role in drafting the measure and in identifying the items on which the tax revenues would be spent, including vegetation management, habitat restoration, and wildlife-protection projects. The Club was also instrumental in getting it passed.

Measure CC expires in 2020 unless renewed. The Park District is contemplating going to the voters in 2016 for a reauthorization. The Bay Chapter is again working to shape the reauthorization measure and ensure its passage. As with the original measure, we will insist that the projects slated to receive Measure CC funding are identified with great specificity to ensure that taxpayers know exactly how their money would be spent.

As we work to draft a final reauthorization measure to send to the voters, the Sierra Club identifies the following as critical funding targets. All are considered equally important.

  1. Funding for vegetation management should be increased from the amount designated in the original Measure CC. In addition, all vegetation-management funding should be allocated for the removal of non-native vegetation such as eucalyptus and its replacement with restored native habitat. Any funding for the mere thinning of non-natives must come from other sources. Over a period of 20 to 30 years, the costs of thinning with debris removal would be around $250 million, or $200 a year for each homeowner.
  2. Second, Measure CC renewal should increase the funding for stewardship programs and positions in the Park District. This aspect of the Park District’s mission still remains underfunded. In particular, the Park District needs more staff directly involved with conservation, restoration, and habitat-enhancement programs. How we manage parklands is just as important as acquiring more lands. In this time of climate change, the premier park and open-space land agency in the United States must have the scientists and skilled stewards who can meet that challenge.
  3. Third, funding for the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park should be increased to provide for the operation and maintenance of the Albany Bulb, the Brickyard, and other underfunded portions of the park. In addition, funding should provide the flexibility to pay for some of the costs of potential acquisitions such as the Golden Gate Fields race track site in Albany.
  4. Fourth, the renewal should include funding in Alameda for the Triangle Park at Alameda Point, the Northwest Territories at Alameda Point, conservation work at the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, and operational funds for when the Crab Cove property becomes part of Crown Beach.
  5. Fifth, Measure CC renewal should provide funding for the operations and maintenance of a nature preserve park at Point Molate. Richmond residents have demonstrated over and over that they want this important open-space resource protected as a public park.
  6. Sixth, we oppose further taxpayer subsidy of the Oakland Zoo as it has demonstrated that it can fund its own operations from private sources. The original Measure CC provides $100,000 a year for the Oakland Zoo.
  7. Seventh, no money should be allocated to fund any of the needed noise or lead mitigation at the Chabot Gun Range if the lease is extended for its operation. The range users and operators are the responsible parties and should bear those costs — not the taxpayers.

The Sierra Club looks forward to working with the Park District on the Measure CC renewal. You can help by writing the Park District Board of Directors to show your support for these key issues and insist that the Sierra Club be part of a working group that writes the renewal measure.

— Norman La Force, Chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee

Gun club on park land should pay for lead cleanup

Photo courtesy gritphilm on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy gritphilm on Flickr Creative Commons.

Gunfire is the last thing you might expect to hear as they stroll through the groves and grasslands of the East Bay hills. But for over 50 years the Chabot Gun Club has operated on East Bay Regional Park Distict land inside the Anthony Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley. Now the Gun Club’s lease is up for renewal, and it’s a good opportunity to look at the environmental implications of having a gun range on public parkland.

Lead from bullets used at the gun range can permeate the soil and is likely to have leached into nearby Lake Chabot, where fishing is allowed (the Sierra Club has filed a public records request to learn about lead levels in the lake). The range is also adjacent to the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. Noise from the gun range can be heard from miles away by hikers in the Lamorinda hills.

Whether the range should continue on a lease renewal is open to debate. What is not in doubt is that the Gun Club should pay a lease and rental fee that will cover the costs of lead remediation and mitigation of noise impacts. The lead remediation will be costly. Lead remediation and cleanup for the Pacific Rod and Gun Club at Lake Merced, which closed this April after 80 years, will cost an estimated $22 million — and that site banned lead bullets in 1994. Lead bullets are still in use at the Chabot Gun Club.


Contact the Park District Board and tell them that our taxpayer dollars should be not used to clean up the mess at the Chabot gun range. Tell the Park District that the lessee and users should pay a lease and rental fee to pay for the lead remediation and noise mitigation. Visit to find the email addresses for the Board members.

— Norman La Force, Chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee