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On November 14th, EBCNPS submitted comments to the East Bay Regional Park District regarding their Notice of Preparation for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for their Albany Beach Restoration and Public Access Project. Our comments focused on the importance of making sure the eelgrass beds that exist just offshore of the project area are protected both during construction and during recreational use of the beach after the project is completed. A copy of our letter can be viewed here: 11_14_14 NOP Comment

Ancient oak within the proposed Oakland Zoo expansion area

Ancient oak within the proposed Oakland Zoo expansion area

On November 18th, the Oakland City council voted 6-2 to approve the Oakland Zoo’s proposed conservation easement – taking the final step in approval for the Zoo’s proposed expansion project that would remove public access to roughly 77 acres of public wildland in Knowland Park. With this vote, the Oakland City Council sent a message that public land in Oakland is up for grabs to any private entity that wants to profit from it.

The most heartening part of the challenging night was that supporters of the park packed the council chambers and were eloquent to a person in their support for protecting the park. It was clear that had the audience voted, the easement would have been crushed. And the divide between what the public wants and what it got from this city council is manifest. On the zoo’s side I can recall only zoo staff, a few zoo volunteers, and zoo board members speaking. We also know that hundreds of e-mails were sent to CC members, and one of our petitions hit 17,000 signatures. So, the outpouring for the park, for the native plant and wildlife resources was overwhelming. Four reps from Sierra Club spoke, one from Defense of Place, and letters came in from the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental organizations. Not a single local environmental organization supports the Zoo’s project.

Councilmembers Councilmembers Kaplan and Kalb were the dissenting votes. Kaplan gave no reasons for her vote (although we know from our talks with her that she is a park user, was deeply offended by the removal of public access to benefit a private entity). The person who nailed the reasons for opposing the conservation easement was Councilmember Kalb who made it clear that the easement on already protected public park land is double-dipping–regardless of what the zoo’s paid biological consultant said–and that easements like these shouldn’t be used. He also made plain that the city—regardless of whether it was a successful legal strategy–should have required the Zoo to complete a full EIR with the implication that the mess that the city is facing is because it never did the Alternatives Analysis which would have been required in an EIR document. Although Dan doesn’t lose his temper, he scolded the city and the Zoo for dodging this critical step. “It’s not something that a good nonprofit should’ve done,” Kalb said to Zoo representatives, adding, “The city made a mistake in not pushing you to do it.”

While we obviously failed to win the vote (which we knew was a long shot), we succeeded in getting this issue out in front of the public after a long uphill fight. Those of us who remember the meetings in 2011 recall the challenging efforts to inform decision makers and the public about the native plant species and communities in the park. CNPS was often cited in the discussions and certainly vilified by the opposition, which if anything has helped us in the eyes of the public. I don’t think we’ve ever had more media attention, and the environmental community did join our cause in full force.

The Knowland Park Team will be de-briefing and assessing next steps, so stay tuned. We cannot adequately thank those who have poured their hearts into this effort. For now, let’s get out to the park and continue to enjoy and learn from it while we can.

maritime chaparral at Knowland Park. photo: Mack Casterman

maritime chaparral at Knowland Park. photo: Mack Casterman

Please come to Oakland City Council meeting

Tues 11/18 starting 5:30 pm

Oakland City Hall at 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza

Council Chambers, 3rd Floor

Please RSVP here if you can attend: bit.ly/knowlandmeeting.

Beautiful & wild Knowland Park is home to native wildlife, including rare and threatened species, and it was deeded to the city of Oakland to remain a public park forever. The Oakland Zoo wants to take over the heart of it (77 acres of prime habitat on western ridge) for an exhibit of species that are now regionally extinct due to development! …plus restaurant, gift shop, offices and meeting rooms, and a gondola ride that will transport Zoo visitors uphill to the ridgetop development. This is not conservation. Once the chain-link perimeter fence goes up and the richest portion of Knowland Park is bulldozed, it’s gone forever―habitat significantly damaged, no free public access.

This could be it―giving Zoo management the go-ahead―unless we can convince the City Council to vote down this horrible plan and demand that the Zoo consider alternatives below the ridgeline. We can do this with your help.

Come to the City Council meeting on Tues 11/18 to stand up for your park.

Help us to tell the City Council they must not vote to give away our public parkland. The Zoo has room to build their project BELOW the ridge. We can still have a great Zoo and save Knowland Park.

Note: You can sign up for a 1-minute statement, or if you don’t want to speak, you can cede your time to other speakers.

FYI, the City Council will be voting whether to approve 52 acres for a “conservation easement.” While that sounds like a good thing, it’s actually a penalty being required as a condition of the Zoo’s project permit, only because Zoo management insists on building their big project on top of prime habitat for a threatened species, and refuses to consider the recommendation of the state Fish and Wildlife agency that they move the project.

Please join us in our final appeal to the City Council. We need every single supporter to stand with us. Thank you!

Dublin voters made their voices heard in yesterday’s election! Measure T, written and supported by developers was defeated in a landslide of more than 4 to 1 with 83% of voters voting NO to development outside of Dublin’s Urban Limit Line.

The defeat of this measure ensures continued protection for Doolan Canyon (Part of EBCNPS’s East Dublin and Tassajara Botanical Priority Protection Area), and sends a strong signal to developers that Dublin residents value their open space areas and deem them worthy of protection.

Thanks to the many residents of Dublin who volunteered their time and energy to ensure that this misleading measure was soundly defeated. Thanks also to the local environmental groups who joined EBCNPS in opposing this measure: Tri-Valley Conservancy, Save Mt. Diablo, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Vineyards, Greenbelt Alliance, Alameda Creek Alliance, and Ohlone Audubon.

A report from the Contra Costa Times can be found here: Landslide defeat for Measure T in Dublin

On October 7, 2014, EBCNPS sent a letter (linked below) to the Oakland City Council regarding their closed session meeting to discuss the Oakland Zoo’s proposed 53 acre Conservation Easement in Knowland Park.

Letter_re_legality_of_closed_session_10_7_14 Final

Oak- Grassland Interface at Knowland Park  photo: Mack Casterman

Oak- Grassland Interface at Knowland Park photo: Mack Casterman

The East Bay Express just reported on the results of a recent poll by the Save Knowland Park Coalition that found that 77% of Oakland Voters oppose the Oakland Zoo’s current expansion proposal. We are hopeful that Oakland’s elected officials and Zoo executives will view the results of this poll as a wake-up call and that it will inspire them to consider alternatives to their current environmentally destructive proposal.

You can view and comment on the article here: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2014/10/16/save-knowland-park-releases-poll-showing-strong-voter-opposition-to-oakland-zoo-expansion

Doolan Canyon – photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Some great articles were posted this week on SF gate and Contra Costa Times regarding the community opposition to the developer funded “Measure T” in Dublin which would allow for urban development in Doolan Canyon – one of EBCNPS’s Botanical Priority Protection Areas.

SF Gate: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Decision-in-Dublin-development-or-open-space-in-5797606.php

Contra Costa Times: http://www.contracostatimes.com/dublin/ci_26649973/contra-costa-times-editorial-dublin-voters-should-decide

Knowland Park, East Bay Express photo: Bert Johnson

Today’s East Bay Express featured an article that investigates the history and current state of the Oakland Zoo’s proposed expansion into Oakland’s Knowland Park (part of our “Foothills of South Oakland” BPPA). It is an in-depth story that was well researched. Please check out the article and share it with your friends via email and social media:

East Bay Express Article: Zoo Gone Wild

Map of Oakland Zoo Expansion footprint and proposed mitigation areas (no public access) as of April 2014.

Map of Oakland Zoo Expansion footprint and proposed conservation easement areas (in yellow) as of April 2014.

In August, lawyers from the law firms of Shute, Mihaly, & Weinberger (SMW) and Barg, Coffin, Lewis & Trapp (BCLT) submitted letters to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on behalf of EBCNPS and the Friends of Knowland Park.

The letter from SMW was sent to USFWS and addressed issues with the Zoo’s proposed conservation easement, which is meant to provide mitigation for impacts to the federally threatened Alameda Whipsnake . This easement would remove over 50 acres of public access to public park land. A copy of the letter can be viewed here: SMW_Letter_re_Oakland_Zoo_Expansion_8-1-14

The BCLT letter was sent to USACE and addresses a wetland area (a perennial freshwater seep) 700 feet down-slope from the Zoo’s proposed development footprint. It discusses the need for avoidance measures to be considered during the permitting process for the Zoo project. A copy of the letter can be viewed here: 2014-08-15_Letter_to_USACE_re_Oakland_Zoo_Expansion

We are hopeful that the regulatory agencies will take the advice and information presented in these letters to make informed decisions regarding the issuing of permits for the Zoo’s proposed project.

Photo Credit: Scott J Hein

Photo Credit: Scott J. Hein

Exciting news from the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy:

Media Release: Newly Discovered Population of the Lime Ridge Navarretia in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

A new, and now largest known, population of the Lime Ridge navarretia (Navarretia gowenii) has been discovered in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve on a property recently acquired by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) in partnership with the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy (Conservancy).

“The discovery of the Lime Ridge navarretia in lands near Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve reminds us that we must be thoughtful as we balance conservation and development,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor and East Contra Costa County and Habitat Conservancy Chair Mary Nejedly Piepho. “We need to think long term and consider what we leave behind for future generations.  The work to establish and maintain the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy is one way we are doing that.”

The Lime Ridge navarretia had formerly only been known at two locations in Contra Costa County; both in the Lime Ridge Open Space in Walnut Creek, California. David Gowen, a botanist associated with the California Native Plant Society, originally discovered the previously undescribed species in 1998 and later identified the population as its own species in 2008. (For information on the initial discovery see: http://www.savemountdiablo.org/downloads/Media_New%20Species%20on%20Lime%20Ridge.pdf)  David Gowen confirmed this recently discovered population in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.  Heath Bartosh, a principal with Nomad Ecology, working for the Conservancy was conducting a baseline botanical survey on the site when he and colleague Brian Peterson discovered the population. “This is a very significant find given that there are so few populations of this species” Bartosh says. “This gives us the opportunity to learn more about a plant whose habitat requirements we are just beginning to understand.” The Lime Ridge navarretia is listed as 1B.1, rare, threatened, or endangered in California and elsewhere by the California Native Plant Society.

The East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy and the East Bay Regional Park District have partnered to acquire over 10,000 acres of land. Bob Nisbet, Assistant General Manager with the East Bay Regional Park District’s Land Division commented: “The lands that have recently been conserved in the region are spectacular. They connect parkland just south of the City of Pittsburg to Mount Diablo State Park. These properties provide critical habitat for wildlife as well as recreation opportunities.”

“The discovery of this plant population reminds us that there are benefits to our conservation efforts that we don’t anticipate. We work to preserve the species and habitats that we know are threatened. It is a bonus to learn that we have protected other rare species along the way,” noted Abigail Fateman, Interim Executive Director of the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy.  The Conservancy and East Bay Regional Park District are working together to identify appropriate conservation and management efforts to protect the population.

Background information on the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy:

Beginning in 2002, Contra Costa County joined the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley and Pittsburg to develop the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan / Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP) that gives local cities and agencies control over endangered species permitting in their jurisdiction.  Under the plan, landowners and developers fulfill their obligations under the Endangered Species Act by paying a fee or providing their own conservation measures designed to protect listed species and their habitat. In exchange, landowners can proceed with otherwise lawful activities related to land use or economic development.   The County’s Department of Conservation and Development staffs the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy and leads the implementation of the HCP.

www.cocohcp.org

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