Developers' Plans Draw a Stony Reception 

Oakland Considers New Plan for Leona Quarry

The scene: Oakland City Hall; the issue: The DeSilva Group, a Pleasanton-based developer, has proposed building 564 homes on the notoriously shaky Leona Quarry site in East Oakland. Oakland's planning commission had invited community members to an evening "scoping session" to determine what should be investigated as part of the Environmental Impact Report that must be prepared before the city can consider the proposal.

The crowd: tough as nails. Members of the Leona Quarry Community Coalition, or LQCC, stepped to the mike and read from a whopping twenty-page booklet of questions about how the proposed development would impact their neighborhood's air quality, noise level, transportation, and seismic stability. That's not counting the dozens of individuals not affiliated with the LQCC who also had queries about everything from traffic on the 580 freeway to the fate of the Alameda whipsnake.

Nevertheless, the tone was polite and orderly, not only because the meeting was, after all, only an information-gathering session -- no vote was to be taken-- but also because LQCC organizer Nancy Sidebotham had instituted a firm "no griping" rule. Over the past several years, the quarry's neighbors have become known for the tremendous resistance they've raised to various development plans. They went head-to-head with Gallagher and Burk, the quarry's owner, in 1998 over a proposal to fill the site with "big box" retail stores including the Home Depot and a Lucky grocery store; in 1997 they fought the city's proposed widening of 73rd and Edwards avenues, which would have involved seizing hundreds of homes through eminent domain.

The neighbors, seasoned and determined, have made developers very careful about what they propose for the quarry site. "There is a lot of distrust we have found with the government, previous owners, and previous proposals. That's something we understood coming into this -- it's very strong," says DeSilva Group project manager David Chapman, who made his own presentation to the commission with the help of blow-up aerial photos of the property. Still, the chance to transform a prime hillside location from a rocky gash in the scenery into a housing tract was too promising to pass up. The plan calls for the construction of nineteen luxury homes at the top of the site near Campus Drive, and another 545 townhomes, apartments, and live/work units to be built near the base. The proposal gives nods to several issues quarry neighbors have broached: The developer promises to look into building affordable senior housing; constructing a hiking trail system; and, most strikingly, including a much smaller retail component envisioned by earlier big box proponents -- about 10,000 square feet of shops. Indeed, DeSilva's proposal to the city contains a list of concerns raised by the public during six community meetings the developer held this summer. The list runs a full eleven pages.

"The community out there is very savvy," says Sidebotham. "A lot of homework's been done. A lot of people were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for something to happen, [especially] with the election." Sidebotham is referring to last April's special election to fill the City Council's District 6 seat, in which four contenders, including Sidebotham herself, vied to take Nate Miley's spot after he moved up to the county Board of Supervisors. The victory went to carpenters union leader Moses Mayne, who was supported by pro-development pols like Mayor Jerry Brown and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (a labor man, himself). While the neighbors are powerful, the DeSilva Group has plenty of its own muscle -- Ed DeSilva is a top donor to county politicians who played a key negotiating role in the Raiders' return to Oakland.

Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA) now expects to take about six months preparing the EIR draft, and it will probably be a year before the city's full review process is complete. But don't think that the fight is over just because the DeSilva Group has ceded some ground to community concerns. The LQCC still has plenty of worries; in fact, its biggest concern is with the ground itself -- why build homes on a site where everything might come tumbling down?

Leona Quarry has been in operation since 1904, mainly producing the rocky material used in roadbeds. Gallagher and Burk's permit calls for the quarry to be "reclaimed" once mining operations cease -- the slopes must be revegetated and stabilized, which is especially pressing since the quarry is located close to the Hayward fault. But exactly who is responsible for doing this, how long it will take, and what it will entail, remains fuzzy. The quarry's most recent permit, granted in 1988, states that the owner, Gallagher and Burk, are responsible for the reclamation. The DeSilva Group is currently leasing the site; Chapman says that if the deal goes forward, they'll continue their lease and assume responsibility for the reclamation. They estimate that it will take one or two years to regrade the slope, and anticipate the housing project will be completed in six to ten years.

Irwin Luckman thinks this is nuts.

Luckman is a quarry expert -- an architect and planner who worked in the mid-'80s as a consultant for Gallagher and Burk, coordinating a team of specialists to develop a reclamation plan for Leona Quarry. Their reclamation plan called for the owners to remove millions of tons of rock to smooth the angle of the slopes, starting at the top and working down. The process would take an estimated forty years, although Luckman says the timeframe could be reduced to 25 years if the owners mined less deeply into the bottom of the quarry. While the team admitted their plan would be enormously expensive, they suggested that the reclamation effort be rolled into the mining operation itself so that profits made from selling the excavated material would balance the costs of digging it out. The plan also called for very specific measures to stabilize the site, including revegetating the hillside to secure the topsoil, and cutting "benches" into the surface every 25 feet to catch runoff water -- to prevent it from building up, adding weight to the rocks, and causing landslides.


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