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Environmentalists appeal the approval of a housing development on landfill along Newark wetlands

Newark Area 4 marsh / Photo by Carin High
By Laila Weir - Published on February 09, 2021.

Two environmental groups have filed a legal appeal in the latest bid to stop a housing development around wetlands in Newark that area volunteers have been working to protect for decades.

On Dec. 24, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch had denied the groups’ lawsuit challenging Newark’s approval of the 469-unit Sanctuary West development.

The Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and the Center for Biological Diversity announced the appeal this week, saying that "the city of Newark failed to study the environmental harm of filling restorable Bay wetlands adjacent to a national wildlife refuge."

In denying the suit, Roesch ruled that an environmental review that the city had completed in 2015 for a larger project was sufficient to proceed with the current Sanctuary West plans, the Mercury News reports.

But the environmental groups say the city’s review failed to account for projections about sea-level rise that have “dramatically increased” in recent years, or “how the development would contribute to the loss of Bay wetlands and wildlife habitat.”

“With rapidly increasing rates of sea-level rise, the Bay’s wetlands and wildlife are at risk of being drowned, and communities are facing increasing risk of flooding,” commented attorney Stuart Flashman in a statement. “Unfortunately the trial court misunderstood this new information, making this appeal necessary.”

Newark city officials hold that the 2015 review, plus an updated environmental impact checklist completed since, are adequate to go forward, per the Mercury News, while a representative for the developer told the paper he wasn’t prepared to comment on the appeal.

The paper also reports that members of the city council differed when they approved the project in 2019: Councilman Michael Hannon said the developer had shown “a real sensitivity to the environment,” while Councilman Mike Bucci said more review was needed, citing “significant changes” since 2015.

“Saving these wetlands and contiguous uplands could be the last chance at survival for endangered animals like the salt marsh harvest mouse,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The impacts of the current plan, to build towering fake islands for luxury housing that will only put residents in a dangerous flood zone, has never been properly reviewed. We hope the court agrees that development cannot go forward without additional environmental review.”

The groups say the development would bring in more than 100,000 truckloads of fill to build 469 housing units along a shoreline site that’s inside a FEMA flood zone and is pumped annually to avoid flooding. The site is “anticipated to be near completely inundated by sea-level rise,” the groups stated.

“As cities around the region grapple with how to adapt to sea-level rise, the Newark City Council is squandering our best opportunity to protect residents, San Francisco Bay and the many species that are dependent upon wetland habitats,” said Newark resident and Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge member Jana Sokale. “We deserve to see a full accounting of the impacts of this baylands fill development project.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Greenbelt Alliance and San Francisco Baykeeper in January launched a petition aimed at stopping the development.

The petition asks the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to refuse permits for the project. Both bodies have sent letters to the city expressing concern about the project’s impact on wetlands and wildlife, according to the groups.

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