Foes step up fight against Oakley development

Peter Fimrite

A San Francisco environmental group is stepping up its opposition to a planned 4,500-home development on Oakley farmland next to aging levees on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The nonprofit group Greenbelt Alliance plans to file papers in Contra Costa County Superior Court today opposing plans to build the homes on agricultural land 6 feet below sea level.

The alliance claims more than 1,600 acres of agricultural land would be lost, drinking water could be exposed to pollutants and residents would be in danger if the levees failed – this at a time when hundreds of homes in Oakley and other eastern Contra Costa communities are being vacated or are in foreclosure.

“This is an unnecessary project in a dangerous location, and it has significant impacts on farmland,” said Carey Knecht, the policy director for Greenbelt Alliance. “We don’t need a development on farmland that is below sea level and adjacent to the delta.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2006 accusing Oakley city officials of failing to adequately consider the potential for levee failure or provide mitigation for possible contamination of drinking water from homes on the 2,546-acre site known as the Hotchkiss Tract.

The city prepared an environmental report after a judge ruled in favor of the Greenbelt Alliance. Oakley recently petitioned the court to reinstate its East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan, which calls for as many as 4,587 new housing units to be built.

Knecht said the Greenbelt Alliance will ask the court during an Aug. 6 hearing to block the development because the city again failed to include compensation for the loss of agricultural land, protection for surrounding farmland or mitigation for the impacts on endangered wildlife habitat, air quality and vehicle traffic.

City officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. But Rebecca Willis, Oakley’s director of community development, has stated previously that the developers will be required to build modern, dry levees inside the existing levees in addition to numerous other improvements, including a second bridge linking the area with Bethel Island and artificial lakes to capture storm water.

The city, she said, is trying to responsibly manage growth in an area where the county had already approved a 1,300-home development by Shea Homes, one of four developers who are also named in the lawsuit.

Rampant development on former agricultural land has been a sore spot in eastern Contra Costa County, especially following the mortgage meltdown, which left the county with the highest number of foreclosures in the Bay Area.

A third to half of the homes for sale in eastern Contra Costa, including Oakley, have at one time or another been short sales or foreclosures.

“Poorly planned developments have already put home values underwater,” said Christina Wong, field representative for Greenbelt Alliance. “Now the city of Oakley wants to build homes that could literally end up underwater.”

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