July 24, 2009
Greenbelt Alliance Sues Oakley to Protect Farmland
Plan to Build 5,000 Houses on Delta Floodplain Poses Risks
to Residents and Agricultural Land
San Francisco—Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area nonprofit, announced today that it will press ahead with a lawsuit against the City of Oakley to protect agricultural land on a Delta island where developers plan to build more than 5,000 new homes below sea level. More than 1,600 acres of agricultural land would be lost if the housing development is built.
“In eastern Contra Costa County, 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.”
The proposed development is not only unwise but unsafe. Most of the land is protected from flooding only by levees and subject to liquefaction during an earthquake. 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. Opponents also fear that the development would increase traffic on severely clogged Highway 4.
Sierra Club’s Delta Group endorses Greenbelt Alliance’s litigation. “Given the collapse of the housing market and the city’s economic problems in supporting infrastructure improvements, it makes no sense to add unneeded housing and eliminate more agricultural land,” said Tim Donahue, the group’s chair.
This most recent phase of the lawsuit, set to be heard August 6, follows up on litigation brought by Greenbelt Alliance in 2006 challenging the City’s approval of the development, known as the East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan. In addition to more than 5,000 homes, it envisions 1.2 million square feet of commercial space and 153 acres of man-made lakes. The parties named in the lawsuit are the City of Oakley, Shea Homes, KB Home South Bay Inc., and Bethel Island LLC.
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, and the City was ordered to address air-quality problems and loss of farmland. Unfortunately, it later readopted the Specific Plan without any measures to compensate for the loss of agricultural land or protect surrounding farmland, such as conservation easements or programs supported by developers’ fees. Because these measures are required under the California Environmental Quality Act and the original court order, Greenbelt Alliance is asking the court to order Oakley once again to set aside its approval of the plan.
“The fertile lands of East Contra Costa County have provided Bay Area residents with a safe, healthy, local source of food since the Gold Rush,” said Kathryn Lyddan, executive director of the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust. “The loss of our valuable agricultural land to suburban development threatens the future health and well-being of all of our citizens.”
More than 200,000 acres of Bay Area farmland and grazing land have been lost to development over the past 25 years, according to the California Department of Conservation Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program. From 1992 to 2006, almost 25,000 acres of Contra Costa agricultural land, including 12,521 acres of prime farmland, were lost.
Greenbelt Alliance contends that Oakley could protect agricultural land and avoid many of the problems associated with the proposed housing tracts by building instead on many available parcels of land that are actually within the town—and above sea level.
For 50 years, Greenbelt Alliance has been the San Francisco Bay Area’s advocate for open spaces and vibrant places, with offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Walnut Creek, San Rafael, and Santa Rosa. www.greenbelt.org