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We are witnessing an unprecedented collapse of moral authority on the part of our city officials, especially City Attorney, Barbara Parker. Her willingness to subvert the law (the Brown Act) and to abandon a fundamental commitment to the public is a measure of how low this city has sunk. One would have thought that had she been committed to fair play, she would have given notice from the get-go to the many people who were out collecting petitions that--in her opinion--they were doing so in vain because she believed that the action taken was not subject to referendum. Instead she planted a land mine designed to blow up in the faces of the referendum seekers at the end of their campaign. Why? To exhaust and demoralize them? To let them know just how powerless they are to effect change? What does this message say about the relationship of the City Attorney to the people whom she serves--I don't mean the Zoo execs whom she clearly defines as her clients--but the ones who have elected her and pay her salary? The zoo would never have been able to get this far in the process had the City Attorney and City Planning Department with the assistance of the City Council been unwilling to abandon the public trust. A dark dark day for Oakland.
Whether it's the million dollars the East Bay Zoological Society sank into its failed A1 campaign to grab millions of dollars of public money or the millions they've sunk into the environmentally wasteful California Trails exhibit, what's abundantly clear is that EBZS has money to burn on foolish extravagant ventures that are clearly out of touch with public sentiment. Bad projects are always costly, and the public has every right to protect its own precious resources--dollars or public park land--from being wasted. That's what's happening here. The City and EBZS repeatedly turned a deaf ear toward the public's clear message that it wants Knowland Park protected. The referendum gives the public a voice and a choice. And it's about time.
Ronzoni, I hate to break it to you, but the people who showed up to speak on behalf of the park represent every district in Oakland, other Bay Area cities, and representatives from several statewide organizations, including the California Native Plant Society, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Native Grasslands Association, and others. So, if the backyard you're referring to is California, then calling everyone a NIMBY might work. Otherwise, it's just another lazy throwaway term that doesn't apply.
Mr. Dehejia claims that "the conservation easement does not deny public access to the 22 acres outside the perimeter due to the terrain and steep slopes of the area." So, here's the thing about "spreading misinformation": no matter how far and wide you try to spread it in the hopes that people will believe it, it just never succeeds in becoming truth.
Here's the truth: the 22 acres outside the perimeter fence that the zoo wants to use as part of its conservation easement would be required to be off limits to the public as part of the condition of the easement. There will be signs posted to that effect, also required as part of the easement.
As to whether the land itself is too steep and inaccessible for public access, I'm in my late 60s and have hiked it a number of times with others, including the East Bay Express reporter who wrote about this back in September. Much of it is beautiful closed canopy oak/bay woodland which is not high quality Alameda whipsnake habitat. It's a nice place to walk in the summer when it's hot up in the highlands, and I've enjoyed looking at the native plants that occur in abundance in the understory. As to the claim that the public will have hundreds more acres to hike, not all acres are equal. 100% of the maritime chaparral will be permanently off limits to the public, for instance. The California Native Plant Society has been taking docent-led trips into the chaparral responsibly for the past few years to learn about this extraordinary plant community which is part of our natural heritage. Zoo management spent the same years arguing with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that the chaparral isn't really a rare plant community. Eventually they had to stop making this claim.
Bottom line: Don't be distracted by false claims of how public access has hurt the park when the zoo is proposing to grade, pave, and fence the most sensitive areas in the park. If Zoo management moved the proposed project off the ridge and off of the sensitive habitat down next to the vet hospital and/or within the existing zoo footprint, we would not lose public access and the Alameda whipsnake wouldn't suffer the impacts of development. And that's the truth.
This is some of the best and most hopeful news of the entire election. It's been a long hard slog for the progressives in Richmond to be able to begin to reform the city sitting in the giant shadow thrown by Chevron. Enormous credit has to be given to Gayle McLaughlin who has provided courageous leadership and integrity as mayor and who has swapped jobs with Tom Butt, former longtime City Council member and new mayor. Together with Beckles, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and the Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate and with help from the environmental community and a coalition of African American churches (and yes, of course, the card rooms played a role), the City turned down the huge megacasino complex planned for Point Richmond i 2011--a victory no one thought possible. Earlier this year the City was able to reopen the public shoreline park that had been closed for a long time. This year's election rejected the power of Chevron money and its candidates, and clears the way for a better solution to the fate of Point Molate, one of the richest remaining shoreline sites along the Bay. Congratulations to these hard-working politicians and to the people who pounded the pavement to get them elected.
It's a shame that Oakland will miss out on the marsh restoration which sounds like it would have been a good thing for the city and good for the shoreline. I have the greatest sympathy and gratitude for activists Threlfall and Schiff who clearly have worked hard to get a good win for the environment. Yet, the problem that they face illustrates the murky, messy aspects of what happens when public land is being developed by a private entity. In another part of the city, we have a case that provides an interesting counterpoint--the Oakland Zoo's attempt to expand into Knowland Park. The park and the zoo belong to the public, but the zoo operator--the East Bay Zoological Society--is a private non-profit corporation that has a management agreement with the City that includes a 30-year land tenure provision--the zoo is the designated steward of Knowland Park. The EBZS wants to develop 56 acres of sensitive park land (see the East Bay Express article"Zoo Gone Wild_ Sept. 3, 2014). Because there is a a population of Alameda whipsnakes, a threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (US Army Corps of Engineers is involved also) would have preferred that the project stay off sensitive habitat--eminently possible because there is a good deal of degraded land within the zoo's footprint. But the zoo refused.
The agencies have to require some form of payback for impacts if a developer refuses to avoid the impacts as is the case here. So the current proposal which will face a vote by the City Council on Nov. 18 includes a so-called "conservation easement" which is actually an additional 22 acre-set-aside of more park land to protect the snake. Yet, it neither protects the snake--because it's double-dipping which means a net loss of habitat-- nor serves the public interest since public access would be removed. The entire mitigation rests upon the decision to place a permanent easement on the park land but the EBZS has only the 30-year land tenure agreement (actually the City's normal land tenure limit is 20 years but the City Council granted a special extension so that EBZS could get a $7 million state parks grant for part of the development). SO, bottom line: it appears that in the Brooklyn Basin case, the Army Corps and the water board don't like the idea of the impermanence of leased land and the 66-year limit as a site for mitigation. But in theKnowland Park/Zoo case, the agencies have apparently ignored the fact that the permittee (EBZS) has land tenure for only 30 years.
Why the inconsistency between the two cases? The answer probably lies in the fact that wetlands enjoy much greater regulatory protection than uplands, so it's easier for developers to get the permits they need. Of course, the real issue is that often the regulatory agencies get backed into a corner by pressure from developers behind closed doors and when the resulting agency decisions are revealed, they don't make a lick of sense, at least not from an environmental perspective. In these two cases, common sense appears to be entirely lacking. I wish Ms. Schiff and Ms. Trelfall good luck.
Upon re-reading the article, I'd like to make one correction. The article states that zoo officials and representatives of regulatory agencies were present in the closed session of the City Council meeting last Tuesday, Oct. 7. To the best of our knowledge, only the City Attorney and staff, Planning Department staff, the Mayor, and City Council members were present at the closed session.
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