Judge puts brakes on Oakley development

Samie Hartley

The Contra Costa County Superior Court has halted Oakley’s plans to develop thousands of acres of farmland as part of the East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan, ruling that the environmental impact report (EIR) for the project is still incomplete.

Last week Judge Barry Baskin ruled in favor of Greenbelt Alliance, a San Francisco-based environmental group that sued the city in order to protect the agricultural land that it claims would be sacrificed as part of the development.

“Inexplicably, the City failed to consider a reasonable range of mitigation measures or potentially feasible alternatives to lessen the impact to important farmland,” Baskin wrote in his ruling.

Greenbelt Alliance has been challenging this project for several years. The group initially challenged the EIR in 2006, suggesting that the city failed to approve a complete EIR, violating the California Environmental Quality Act in the process. The court ruled in 2007 that the city was in compliance for the most part, but it needed to do more to protect air quality and prime farmland. The council voted to approve a second EIR this past March, which Greenbelt Alliance challenged in July.

The judge ruled that the new EIR addresses the air quality matter, but adequate mitigation must be made to make up for the farmland that would be lost.

City Manager Bryan Montgomery said the ruling is disappointing, but the city will work with developers to comply with environmental regulations and move the project forward: “We thought land preservation was adequately covered in the EIR, but the judge ruled otherwise. The land in question isn’t prime farmland. There are no crops growing there. It’s mainly used as a grazing area for cows.”

Montgomery said he’s unsure how the city will proceed in light of the new ruling. It might appeal the ruling or conduct a third EIR, but city staff will need to meet with developers first.

Greenbelt Alliance Field Representative Christina Wong wrote in a press release last week that she was pleased with the judge’s decision: “This is a huge victory for the Bay Area and the state, because cities will have to protect farmland. They can’t just disregard environmental concerns.”

“We can’t continue to eat up farmland,” said Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen. “We need local places to grow food to be sustainable. It’s time to drop ill-conceived plans to build on the greenbelt. Instead, we must create great neighborhoods within our cities and towns and protect our farms.”

The East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan is designed to urbanize rural areas on both sides of East Cypress Road in the Hotchkiss Tract area by the addition of approximately 5,000 housing units, shopping centers, three schools, a fire station, parks, trails and manmade lakes.

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http://www.thepress.net/pages/full_story/push?article-Judge+puts+brakes+on+Oakley+development%20&id=3873191

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