“Groundhog Day,” Newark City Council Edition

The proposed development of “Area 4″ in Newark. Decades ago, this area was healthy tidal marsh, and could be again. But the City of Newark is continuing plans to pave Area 4 and build hundreds of houses and an 18-hole golf course. Photo Credit: Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge.

In the 1993 movie, “Groundhog Day,” a weatherman played by Bill Murray finds himself caught in a time loop, reliving the same string of events over and over again, day after day. In a futile effort to respond, he devises a seemingly endless number of new ways to die before finally getting the clue that to break the cycle, what he really needs to do is take a step back and reverse his misguided priorities.

Unfortunately, Newark City Council demonstrated Thursday that it remains stuck in a “Groundhog Day” of its own when it voted unanimously to approve a revised Environmental Impact Report that would allow the development of 500 luxury homes and an 18-hole golf course on sensitive tidal habitat adjacent to and identified for inclusion in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This latest action marks the City of Newark’s continued pursuit of an ill-advised, environmentally damaging project that has died many times and been resuscitated in one form after another since 1992.

As far back as 1999’s Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project and as recently as 2013’s Tidal Marsh Ecosystem Recovery Plan, this property, known as “Area 4,” has been identified as uniquely situated for the restoration of both tidal marsh and upland transition zones; as a host habitat for the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse; and as “critically important to waterfowl and shorebirds.” It is also directly adjoining Mowry Slough, one of the primary breeding grounds for San Francisco Bay harbor seals.

Despite years of hard work by the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge to alert Newark lawmakers to the irreversible damage that would be caused by developing this large tract of restorable baylands, and numerous communications over the same period from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission citing their presumptive jurisdiction over portions of the property and raising concerns with elements of the proposed development plan, the city has continued undaunted in its attempts to build on the site.

In January, Alameda County Superior Court sided with the Citizens Committee and found the Environmental Impact Report for the current development plan insufficient to meet the requirements of the law.  Since then, the city has sped through technical changes designed to satisfy the court’s concerns while leaving the flawed fundamentals of the project wholly intact and very much the same as they have been ever since 2010, when Newark City Council gave the project its initial approval.

The City of Newark will now have to file for permits from the Water Board and BCDC, where the Citizens Committee will keep leading the fight to preserve Area 4, and Save The Bay will keep supporting them, this time before agencies that are likely to get off the merry-go-round and stand up for the Bay.

Stay tuned for how to make your voice heard to protect this vital tract of wetlands and wildlife habitat!