On Tuesday June 21, the Oakland City Council denied the appeal filed by the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, The California Native Grasslands Association, and The Friends of Knowland Park against the Planning Commission’s approval of the existing Subsequent Mitigated Negative Declaration/Addendum (SMNDA) for the Oakland Zoo’s Expansion into 50 acres of Knowland Park.  The Council then voted unanimously to approve the SMNDA, thereby allowing a project for which the environmental impacts have not been fully considered.  These impacts include irreparable damage to one of the last remaining native grass stands in the Oakland Hills and for that matter California, without valid mitigation measures, as well as improper consideration of impacts such as traffic which the city has disregarded.

As we have struggled to make our voice heard by the Planning Department, The Oakland Zoo, the Planning Commission and then finally the City Council, it has become abundantly clear that the issues at hand are not understood at all by any of the planning bodies and furthermore, there is no desire by the city to understand and fix the issues.  EBCNPS, CNGA, and The Friends of Knowland Park have provided the City with everything it needed to make the right decision and they have ignored it in order to force through and approve a poorly planned expansion for the politically connected Oakland Zoo.

The Friends of Knowland Park made an excellent point in a recent e-mail summarizing Tuesday night’s Council Meeting:

“The issues here are bigger than just Knowland Park, much as we are passionate about protecting it. As we delved deeper and understood more about how the environmental review has been handled on this project, we began to see that the Zoo began way back in 1996 by proposing a really sensitive plan, one that took much less land from the park and sited development on already-disturbed ground, and got their Mitigated Negative Declaration (saying the project had no significant impacts, and meaning a full EIR was not required). Then, with each successive plan, the Zoo has added more and larger features that dramatically ratcheted up the impacts, but has still been allowed to keep the MND instead of having a full Environmental Impact Report. If this is allowed to stand, this will become a template for every developer to follow.”

This flagrant abuse of the CEQA process will not be tolerated.  EBCNPS is committed to this project and reminds its members that this is not the last you will hear on this inadequate planning process.  We will continue to explore our options for ensuring that this destructive project that the Zoo is falsely (and ironically) labeling as a “conservation exhibit” is not allowed to continue.

Our most recent set of documents to the City can be found below.  This set of documents includes a historical context of the Zoo’s and the Planning Department’s disregard for the public review process, discussion of the inadequacy of recent lowering of mitigation standards for California Valley Needlegrass Grassland at the site, and overall inadequacy of the environmental analysis for this project.  Also included is testimony from several experts in the field of grassland restoration proving that the Zoo’s existing mitigations for native grassland at the site are not only inadequate, but also infeasible.  We will keep you updated on CNPS’s next step in this challenging process.

Documents:

Attorney’s Letter to Oakland City Council

EBCNPS letter to Oakland Planning Commission 6_21_11

References for above letter

Attachment A, Claassen letter

Attachment A, Eviner CNGA letter

Attachment B, Financial Concerns Relating to Ability to Fund Mitigations

Attachment C, EBCNPS’s letter regarding inadequacy of native grassland mitigation in SMNDA

Friends of Knowland Park June 21 Letter to Oakland City Council

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