San Francisco—In a precedent-setting decision announced yesterday, Superior Court Judge Barry Baskin ruled against the City of Oakley, denying its request to move forward with its plans to build a housing development on Delta floodplain and farmland. Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area’s advocate for vibrant places and open spaces, had sued Oakley to force consideration of the environmental impact of sprawling onto more than 1,600 acres of important agricultural land.
“Inexplicably, the City failed to consider a reasonable range of mitigation measures or potentially feasible alternatives to lessen the impact to important farmland,” the judge stated. The court went further and rescinded the approval of the environmental impact report for the project, effectively halting the development.
“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,” said Christina Wong, Greenbelt Alliance Field Representative.
The judge also scolded Oakley for not explaining “why it could not require the developer to acquire similar farmland for conservation purposes, elsewhere in the county.” According to Attorney Winter King of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, “This sends a clear message that public agencies cannot circumvent the intention of the California Environmental Quality Act. Cities can’t just pave over farmland without compensating for that loss.”
This case began in 2006 when Greenbelt Alliance challenged Oakley’s approval of the Delta development, known as the East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan. The proposed development is five feet below sea level and protected from flooding only by levees. To safeguard the new housing, the developers plan to pump water off the island 24 hours a day, potentially threatening water quality in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, a source of drinking water for 24 million Californians.
The original lawsuit alleged that the City’s environmental review had not adequately mitigated impacts to endangered wildlife habitat, air quality, and farmland. Greenbelt Alliance prevailed in that lawsuit in 2007, and the City was ordered to address air quality problems and loss of farmland. When it later readopted the Specific Plan without any measures to compensate for the loss of agricultural land, Greenbelt Alliance pressed on with the suit in July, asking the court to set aside the City’s approval of the plan.
“We can’t continue to eat up farmland—we need local places to grow food to be sustainable,” Executive Director Jeremy Madsen said. “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.”