Weekly Roundup November 1, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

Contra Costa Times 10/26/13
Court case, environmental fight continues over planned development in Newark’s Areas 3 and 4
A fight over the development of a swath of land in the southwestern part of town known as Areas 3 and 4 has been reignited as the city updates its plan for the future.
In one corner are city officials, who since 2006 have wanted to construct more than 1,000 homes and a golf course on more than 600 acres of land owned mostly by Newark Partners, a consortium of developers.
In the other corner are some residents and environmental groups who filed suit in 2010 to try to stop the development and have so far done so, although an expected court ruling could change that.
“It’s not a smart place for the city to be building on or sprawling into,” said Josh Sonnenfeld, of the environmental group, Save the Bay. “Most of the region has focused growth around existing transit and infrastructure, but there is no existing infrastructure out there.”
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weekly roundup

San Francisco Chronicle 10/27/13
Otter Signals Lake Merritt Ecosystem Comeback
Greg Lewis had just finished his evening row on Oakland’s Lake Merritt when he saw a slick, squirmy, furry bundle hoist itself out of the water and onto the edge of the dock.
It was a river otter, the first one spotted in Lake Merritt in decades.
“I saw his head pop up and saw him pull himself on the dock,” Lewis, 53, of Berkeley, said of the surprise Oct. 6 encounter. “He looked at us, we looked at him for a bit.”
Lewis, who develops air pollution monitors, snapped a few shots, and like that, the animal plopped back into the water and paddled off.
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San Francisco Chronicle 10/28/13
Report: Some Chemicals in SF Bay Near Levels of Concern
Pesticides, flame retardants and other chemicals used in homes and businesses have been found in San Francisco Bay at levels that could pose hazards to aquatic life if they go unchecked, according to a new report.
For now, none of the chemicals is present in concentrations alarming enough to be of “high concern,” meaning they are unlikely to cause significant harm to water quality and the bay’s inhabitants, according to the annual report from the Regional Monitoring Program, an environmental group that tracks contaminants in the bay.
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North Bay Business Journal 10/28/13
Efforts to Reform CEQA Environmental Law Fizzle
Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a much-scaled back version of a bill that was aimed at reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, eliciting disappointment from much of the business community across the North Bay.
Despite significant momentum from a number of interests across the state, comprehensive reform of CEQA — perhaps one of the most polarizing laws in the state — fizzled at the close of the last Legislative session, resulting in a much narrower bill that proponents of reform say fails to address systematic abuse and slowed economic development.
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Oakland Tribune 10/25/13
White Pelicans Flock to Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge
Being the first wildlife refuge in the nation, the bird sanctuary at Lake Merritt has quite a history of visiting birds.
“Not only are we on a migratory path, but we also house injured and senior birds that can no longer fly with their pack,” says Stephanie Benavidez, the supervising naturalist of the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge since 1974.
Two of their more famous injured birds were Hector and Helen, a pair of American white pelicans that had made Lake Merritt their home until they died at the ages of 27 and 29 years old, respectively. Hector died in 1985 and Helen in 1999.
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Contra Costa Times 10/30/13
Fiery Newark Residents Sway Planning Commission Delay Vote on General Plan Environmental Report
A vote to certify the general plan’s final environmental impact report has been pushed back at least two weeks, after a fiery Planning Commission meeting where residents complained the city gave them just a day to review the document.
The draft report was made public Monday and posted on the city’s website, but some residents told the commission on Tuesday they could not access it because the large file kept freezing their computers.”The public’s ability to provide substantive comments during this public hearing are being thwarted because the documents under review were not provided in a timely fashion,” said Carin High, member of the environmental group Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge. “I’ve never encountered a situation before where the public is given only one day.”
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Palo Alto Online 11/1/13
Saving the Baylands
Palo Alto Online The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve marshlands, home to the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail, have turned to fall colors of red and gold. Behind the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, yellowing native Pacific cord grass nods at the channel’s edge, and the succulent pickleweed, which tastes briny and tart, is crimson.
Last week, long-billed dowitchers and godwits pecked at mudflats exposed by the receding tide. The elusive clapper rail did not appear along the watery channel known as “rail alley.” But there were signs: Marks in the mud bank showed where the birds had scooted down to water’s edge from hollows made in the pickleweed. A lone feather clung to a nearby plant.
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National Wildlife Refuge System 10/23/13
Seals Making a Comeback on the Farallon Islands
More than a century after fur traders killed them off, northern fur seals have staged an amazing recovery on the Farallon Islands. Starting with the 1996 birth of a fur seal pup on West End Island ¬− the first seal birth in the Farallons in more than 150 years − the northern fur seal population on Farallon National Wildlife Refuge has increased exponentially. Seals have re-colonized the islands, which offer prime habitat − remote, easily accessible by sea and lacking human presence.
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City’s Plan Would Pave Bay Wetlands with Golf Course, Nearly 500 Houses

Photo of Area 4
Historic Bay tidal marsh, Newark’s “Area 4,” is one of the largest areas of restorable, undeveloped baylands in the South Bay (Photo by Margaret Lewis)

Should a bayside city work to help expand the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, restoring more than 400-football fields-worth of Bay wetlands and habitat? Or should they forever destroy that opportunity by filling in the area with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 single family houses?

Those are the choices right now in the City of Newark – a shoreline city of 40,000 next to Fremont. Rather than recognize the incredible opportunity to protect the Don Edwards S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge, endangered species, and migratory bird habitat, Newark is seeking approval to fill in over 300 acres of historic baylands, including nearly 100 acres of wetlands and aquatic habitat, sprawling the city into a FEMA-designated flood zone.

Environmental organizations and regulatory agencies have long stressed to Newark of the ecological importance of 550-acre “Area 4” – one of the largest areas of restorable, undeveloped baylands in the South Bay:

  • The 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project, the scientific roadmap for the restoration of the Bay shoreline, identifies Area 4 as being uniquely situated for the restoration of both tidal marsh and adjacent upland transition zones, two habitats critical to the health of the Bay
  • Area 4 is host to approximately a dozen special status species –including the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse – and it is directly adjacent to Mowry Slough, a primary breeding ground for San Francisco Bay Harbor Seals
  • The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has stated that “large expanses of undeveloped uplands immediately adjacent to tidal sloughs are extremely rare in the south and central San Francisco Bay” and that “Area 4 represents a rare opportunity to … provide an area for tidal marsh species to move up slope in response to sea level rise”
  • Similarly, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have stated that “this wetland is an integral component of the San Francisco Bay ecosystem,” and “critically important to waterfowl and shorebirds.”

Yet Newark has ignored these concerns, proposing to fill in these rare wetlands and wildlife habitat with 2.1 million cubic yards of fill – enough dirt to fill nearly 100 trucks a day for two years straight!

The City should focus future growth within already developed areas, near transit, shops and services, not on ecologically-sensitive, restorable baylands at risk from flooding and sea level rise.

Update 10/11/2013: 

Opposition to Newark’s plan to build as many as 500 houses and an 18-hole golf course on one of the largest pieces of restorable Bay shoreline in the South San Francisco Bay is growing. More than 2,000 Bay Area residents submitted comments to the city on its General Plan. You added your voice to the chorus of opposition from regulatory agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and the Water Board.

A letter submitted by Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS) staff stated, “the proposed development of Area 4 will only add to the cumulative loss of tidal wetlands in San Francisco Bay and endangered species that are dependent on that habitat.”

Your support also helped us convince several environmental organizations to send letters of opposition, including Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Greenbelt Alliance. Thanks to you, Newark’s plan will not go unnoticed much longer. Sign up here for updates on next steps.