State court clears way for controversial wetland habitat

NEWARK – In a major victory for one of the Bay Area’s leading developers, a state appeals court has dismissed an environmental challenge to a plan to build 469 large homes near the edge of Newark’s wetlands, allowing the controversial development The way forward is clear.

Although rising sea levels in the project area could lead to flooding in the coming decades, and the endangered salt marsh crop would remove some of the mouse’s habitat, Newark City Council rejected the Sobrato Organization’s plans in November 2019 over objections from some residents. Approved. and environmental groups, who called the development “illogical and irresponsible”.

The Citizens Committee to Meet the refugee group and the Center for Biological Diversity argued that Newark should complete a more thorough environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act—including taking a look at the latest long-term sea-level rise data—before Project approval.

29 opinion, however, a three-judge panel in the California First District Court of Appeals upheld the prior 2020 Alameda County Superior Court ruling in favor of the city and developer, who argued the existing environmental review work. Given “Sanctuary West” by Sobrato is enough for development.

“The city’s potential responses to environmental conditions between 50 and 80 years from now cannot be considered part of the current project,” Justice Tracy Brown wrote.

“We are disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeals,” Carin High, co-chair of the Citizens Group, said in a statement Monday.

“As our region’s scientific community has made clear, these wetlands and restoreable wetlands are so important to the long-term health of our Gulf that they can be developed,” Hai said.

Tim Steele, senior vice president of real estate development for Sobrato, did not respond to a request for comment.

The decision is the latest chapter in a legal wrangling over 430 acres of land that is a part of a larger plot of land known as Sector 4 in the south-west corner of the city. The area is largely made up of a mix of undeveloped seasonal wetlands, swamps and “upper agriculture” – areas that are not usually waterlogged – owned by a partnership between Sobrato and another big-name developer, Piri Arillaga. Huh.

The homes and roads of the Sobrato project will be built on about 80 acres of upland areas, snaking along and in between the wetlands. The city report said that due to the risk of flooding, the entire development would need to be built over 15 feet of fill soil.

Residents and environmentalists say the land would be better than protected, allowing existing swamps to expand to the east as sea levels rise and acting as a natural sponge to buffer the East Bay’s shoreline .

Newark completed an environmental impact report in 2010 for a broad swath of land, including the area where Sobrato intends to build, which was sued by the citizens’ group, claiming that the report was insufficient, and partially Has won his case.

The report was revamped and reissued in 2015, and the city subsequently completed an additional environmental review “checklist” to compare the impacts of Sobrato’s current project to the impacts of potential projects outlined throughout the report. .

In 2019, following the city’s approval of the project, the civic group and the Biological Diversity Group filed another lawsuit in county court. He stressed that the checklist fell short in part because it did not fully consider that sea level rise in prior reports was “increasing faster than anticipated”, meaning both for the project area and for endangered species. There could be a “significantly more severe effect”. There.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roche ruled on Christmas Eve 2020 that the 2015 impact report envisioned and environmentally cleared a “very large project” with more than 800 homes, which covered 86 acres. The wetlands would have been destroyed, and the current project is small, so Roche ruled that it produced no new, significant impact.

Justice Brown, closely echoing Roche, also noted that any concerns over the homes’ risk to future occupants are not an issue that needs to be addressed under state environmental review legislation. “Sea level rise is not the project-caused environmental impact,” but the project’s environmental impact, she wrote.

Although current legal challenges have been quashed, the Sanctuary West project still has some hurdles to overcome, including a review by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Javier Fernandez, the agency’s planning manager, said while Sobrato said its project would not be built on any wetlands, which have yet to be verified by the board.

“We haven’t got anything from him yet,” Fernandez said in an interview.

Overall, the agency is deeply concerned about any development that could damage the Gulf’s wetlands and reduce the resilience of the region’s shorelines,” Fernandez said.

“As you harden one shoreline, it hardens other shorelines, and will eventually result in the loss of wetlands,” he said.

According to the commission’s executive director, Larry Goldzband, the project was also set to face review by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which could result in the project being scaled back.

But Sobrato reworked his original plans, avoiding additional oversight.

“They moved the small portion of the project that was outside of our jurisdiction to our site,” Goldzband said in an interview.

“They basically decided that discretion was the better part of heroism,” he said.

Newark’s Director of Community Development Steven Turner said Tuesday that the city has seen a revised set of plans for Sobrato that would reduce the number of homes in the plans from 37 to 432.

Turner said the city would need to review the revised plans. He said, ‘We have not taken any decision on this yet.

Citizens Group High, said that despite the court’s ruling, the group remains “sustained” in its decades-long efforts to protect the area planned for development and add it to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

“Time and time again, our region has banded together to protect our gulf,” Hai said, “and we will continue to pursue every path we can to stop this disastrous development.”