When we were teenagers in Antioch we didn’t know public land from private land. We would walk the winding trail that runs through what’s today known as the Sand Creek Focus Area, appreciating the wind quickly making its way through the grassy hills. Here, we would get the best view in town of shooting stars and patrolling owls. We explored that land and appreciated it without considering that those features could be removed—the hills could be developed at any point. We thought that land was for us, the public, forever.
Then I got older and went to college for urban planning. I learned about protecting land and how building within a city’s existing footprint is much better for the environment. One of my professors showed us a photograph with an aerial view of a city’s development sharply ending where it met the undeveloped hills. I recognized it at once. It was Antioch and more specifically, it was the part of the city that meets the Sand Creek Focus Area. My professor explained that nothing at the moment was protecting that natural landscape from sprawl development.
A year later, I was an intern at Greenbelt Alliance, working on a campaign to stop the Sand Creek Focus Area plan for 4,000 sprawling housing units in my hometown of Antioch. I learned that the land was very much at risk since plans were actually moving forward to pave over it.
“…it was important to me that my hometown builds in a sustainable way that helps future generations as well as existing residents.”
As I worked on the campaign, I saw a different future for the city. We don’t have to build on untrammeled hills. Antioch has a fantastic plan to build housing and jobs around the new Hillcrest eBART station. There’s no reason to build on habitat or increase traffic and greenhouse gases from long car trips from the Sand Creek Focus Area. It was important to me that my hometown builds in a sustainable way that helps future generations as well as existing residents.
Since then, we’ve created a strong coalition of passionate residents and local organizations that campaigned hard to stop the plan. Our coalition hosted events, led hikes, emboldened resident leaders, made numerous presentations, and provided testimony to the City. I gave my personal testimony and found myself surrounded by passionate residents of Antioch who also want to protect Sand Creek. It was a groundswell of grassroots support. After many meetings and impactful comments from residents, the City Council voted to table the plans indefinitely late last month. It was a rush to have worked hard for a community that means so much to me and to have it pay off in that way.
“I gave my personal testimony and found myself surrounded by passionate residents of Antioch who also want to protect Sand Creek. It was a groundswell of grassroots support.”
Our work isn’t over yet. While we stopped the plan, the land still isn’t protected. Individual projects of hundreds of executive homes can still come in for approval. If we want to stop sprawl from impacting our natural landscapes we have to look towards permanent forms of protection that keeps our hills as habitat and prevents pollution of our air and waterways.
It’s impossible not to get excited about working on this goal, because if one year of hard work could stop a massive plan like the one we just defeated, just think about what another year will get us.
Written by Evan Gorman (pictured above)