On February 15th, the Ironhouse Sanitary District received an update from the development team, Montezuma Water, on the new use proposal for Jersey Island. This is the first update provided to the Board since they passed a resolution on October 27th to move forward with plans for a sprawling development that threatens open space and increases the risks of negative climate impacts for Jersey Island—an undeveloped island located in eastern Contra Costa County. The development team is continuing to meet with regulatory agencies, the City of Oakley, and other project stakeholders to gain necessary approvals before reporting back to the Board of Directors at their April 15th meeting.
Here at Greenbelt Alliance, we are following a similar trajectory: meeting with city and county staff, elected officials, the development team, and concerned parties to minimize the spread of misinformation and educate project stakeholders about the impacts of moving this proposal forward. Most recently, the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club has taken the position of opposing the Jersey Island development proposal.
Jersey Island’s largely undeveloped natural lands and its location adjacent to the Big Break Regional Shoreline have made it a haven for many of the Bay Area’s native avian and aquatic species. The current development proposal essentially asks for the conversion of open space and agricultural lands to build hundreds of single-family homes interconnected with tourist destinations (including an exotic wildlife park, waterpark, and other tourist attractions) that would require extending the county’s Urban Limit Line, conversion of vital agricultural lands, and extensive infrastructure development that will be under threat as sea levels rise.
You can help us stop this project in its tracks by signing our petition to urge project stakeholders to firmly deny extension of the Urban Limit Line and prohibit inappropriate sprawl development, and instead, enhance Jersey Island with much-needed park, recreation, and habitat conservation initiatives.
Click here to view the full petition.
What’s At Stake
Like many sprawl developments, the proposed project includes greenwashed language to describe potential site elements, such as “habitat refuge”, “specialty agriculture”, “mitigation”, and “clean energy”, but a deeper dive into the proposal tells a much different story.
This proposed development includes 450 new single-family homes along the waterfront of Jersey Island. Placing homes on an island with minimal access to jobs and no transit connectivity will increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and associated greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Locating homes here will set the County back on both climate mitigation goals and sea level rise adaptation. Simultaneously, without adequate protection from flooding and sea level rise, the long-term safety of residents will be threatened and will likely require costly protection measures from climate hazards in the near future.
Jersey Island’s largely undeveloped natural lands and its location adjacent to the Big Break Regional Shoreline has made it a haven for many of the Bay Area’s native avian and aquatic species.
The interior and northeast portion of the proposal shows roughly 800 acres of “wildlife and habitat refuge” including “significant visitor opportunities, including Safari tours of the rehabilitation and re-wilding centers and overnight stays with the animals.”
Greenbelt Alliance knows the value of habitat and restoration to restore natural systems and rebuild the Bay Area’s vital coastal ecosystems—but the existing development proposal does not reflect these values. Instead, it would introduce exotic non-native species to the island and further disrupt the essential habitat of existing species through development, increased traffic, and ecosystem disruption from new invasive species.
This is not the climate-smart development that Contra Costa County needs. Proceeding with this development will increase climate-related risks at the detriment of existing natural assets the area’s habitat, carbon sequestration, and associated ecosystem services provide.
On October 27,, 2021, the proposal was presented to the Ironhouse Sanitary District (ISD) Board of Directors. They entered into an agreement with Montezuma Water LLC to consider new uses for Jersey Island in 2019. Jersey Island, located between Oakley and Bethel Island on the San Joaquin River, is currently owned and operated by the Ironhouse Sanitary District. The District uses the island for agriculture and grazing activities that use recycled water from the wastewater treatment plant to support production of over 2,000 tons of hay per year and support 2,200 head of cattle (ISD). Jersey Island is also the site of pipe infrastructure that transports recycled water from the wastewater treatment plant to an outflow in the San Joaquin River (Board Report).
The ISD issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in 2018 to seek a partnership to consider alternative uses of Jersey Island. At that time, the ISD was motivated to issue an RFP because operation costs of the island (primarily levee maintenance and cattle operations) exceeded revenues. The ISD was also concerned about the liability of the levees and recognized in their RFP document that “most of Jersey Island is [4 to 18 feet] below sea level” and acknowledged that “climate change and associated sea level rise will significantly exacerbate this condition and place additional cost pressure on levee maintenance” (Board Report). In other words, the ISD is considering this new development to maximize revenue while also transferring liability for levee maintenance and sea level rise threats to the new inhabitants.
This proposed development may aid ISD’s near-term balance sheets, but it will come at an even greater cost to taxpayers and new residents as the adverse impacts pile up. Instead, we suggest ISD revisit the proposal to partner with East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) to further develop Jersey Island’s recreational and habitat uses, which would conform with the County’s existing zoning, not require extension of the Urban Limit Line, and provide increased recreational amenities and access to the Delta without putting people, and infrastructure, at risk of climate impacts.
Photo: Images by John ‘K’ via Flickr