$7 Million settlement for farmland in East Bay

Five-year legal battle in Oakley ends in settlement, creates fund for conservation

Greenbelt Alliance, along with The San Francisco Foundation, announced today the resolution of a settlement in Contra Costa Superior Court that holds up the requirement to compensate the surrounding environment when developing on prime farmland.

“The Bay Area is at the center of the local food movement, and eating locally is an integral part of sustainable living and food security. It’s essential to have farms close to urban centers,” affirms Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen. “We’re excited that this settlement sends a clear message not only in the Bay Area but all over the state that if farmland is lost to development, additional farmland should be preserved.”

Today marks the successful end of a case that began in 2006 when Greenbelt Alliance challenged the City of Oakley’s approval of a development on San Francisco Bay Delta land. The settlement calls for a fund to support the permanent protection of farmland similar to the lands that will be lost to development.

At stake: 828 acres of prime farmland of statewide importance within Oakley. The landowners want to convert the farmland and other acreage in the area of the East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan into over 3,000 housing units. However, the City’s original proposed development plan did not adequately mitigate impacts to threatened wildlife habitat, air quality, and farmland. After being sued by Greenbelt Alliance and losing, Oakley reapproved a plan that still did not compensate for the loss of agricultural land. Greenbelt Alliance pressed on with the lawsuit, and in October 2009, Superior Court Judge Barry Baskin denied the City of Oakley’s request to move forward with the project without any mitigations for loss of land.

As houses are being built over the next several years, the fund is expected to generate approximately $7 million. The City will send the funds to The San Francisco Foundation which will issue grants to organizations for the fee title acquisition of eligible farmland, conservation easements, and other related causes. Protecting farmland in Contra Costa County will be prioritized, but the money can also be used to protect lands in parts of Solano, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Yolo counties.

“In the race to protect our remaining farms, forests, and watersheds, every acre counts,” says Greenbelt Alliance Senior Field Representative Matt Vander Sluis. “The settlement is a reminder that each decision we make about growth in the Bay Area must be done with an eye toward how it affects the environment and our own quality of life.”

To read the official Greenbelt Alliance press release, click here.

9 Comments on “$7 Million settlement for farmland in East Bay

  1. If this is a race to protect that 828 acres, we lost it! “Prioritizing protection of farmland” is just press release boilerplate these days, when money changes hands in the name of “mitigation”. The facts are 1) land near Oakley will be covered with houses; and 2) no new farmland is created.

  2. Hi Rand, thanks for your comment. Of course, our aim is to protect every acre of farmland in the Bay Area. We don’t dispute the outcome may not be perfect, but it generates funds to permanently protect other agricultural land and sends the message to other developers that they will have to save similar landscapes if they build on farmland.

  3. That they will build on farmland is a loss, certainly. Why wet don’t have iron-class protection of farmland at the state level is a mystery. But building on delta land? With water levels rising and increased flooding along waterways, how is building homes in the delta a good idea?

  4. Is the taxpayer funded “protection” of farmland really justifiable from an environmental point of view? I don’t think so. It causes leapfrog development and underwrites inefficient, high input agricultural operations that harm the environment.

    Better to spend public funds on the purchase of prime habitat or on conservation easements.

  5. Valerie, Greenbelt Alliance agrees that building houses on farmland is always a bad idea; unfortunately current state law is limited in how much we can stop development. Keep speaking up!
    @Environmental realist, the new fund to permanently protect farmland is not taxpayer money — it is a penalty paid by the developer. And given the state of the housing market right now, these homes may never be built.

  6. Rand Lind has it right – Clearly what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.

  7. We live in SF, recently visited the East Bay and Peninsula. It is upsetting to see so much potential yet obsolete land-use and underutilized property go to waste in favor of using limited resources to duplicate existing sprawl with new sprawl.

    How many notice the misuse, vandalism and neglect in our existing urban neighborhoods? We need to redirect development and give time and effort into creating and sustain livable neighborhoods. Livable neighborhoods stand out as safe, clean, well cared for, and so encourage social inclusion, sociability and economic vitality.

  8. How about a caveat for buyers about to purchase a house that states that it could very well be under water within 50 years? Maybe a clause that relieves the builder from responsibility.

  9. This entire East Cypress area of Oakley is at sea level and it is a sitting duck for a Katrina-style flooding disaster from rainfall, melt water, or earthquake. This land should remain farmland forever for the sake of public safety, if nothing else. The huge dikes surrounding the existing KB homes development should be a warning that this area is fundamentally unsafe for development.

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