For Immediate Release, February 8, 2021

Contact:

Stuart Flashman, Attorney representing Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, (510) 652-5373, stu@stuflash.com
Lisa Belenky, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5694, lbelenky@biologicaldiversity.org
Jana Sokale, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, (510) 229-7550, janaslc@aol.com

Appeal Challenges Housing Development on Restorable San Francisco Bay Wetlands

469-unit Luxury Development Threatens Wildlife, Sits in FEMA Flood Zone

NEWARK, Calif.— The Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal appeal today challenging the approval of the “Sanctuary West” housing development that would fill restorable San Francisco Bay wetlands and construct 469 luxury housing units in a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone.

The groups said the city of Newark failed to study the environmental harm of filling restorable Bay wetlands adjacent to a national wildlife refuge. The threat of rapidly increasing sea-level rise creates an urgent need for protecting essential wetland “migration” routes for endangered species and other wildlife to move upland to survive.

The city of Newark’s environmental review for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act, the groups asserted, was flawed. It failed to consider the dramatically increased sea-level rise projections of 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,” said attorney Stuart Flashman, representing plaintiff Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, “the Bay’s wetlands and wildlife are at risk of being drowned, and communities are facing increasing risk of flooding. Unfortunately the trial court misunderstood this new information, making this appeal necessary.”

“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.”

“As cities around the region grapple with how to adapt to sea-level rise,” said Jana Sokale, Newark resident and long-time leader with the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, “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. We deserve to see a full accounting of the impacts of this baylands fill development project.”

The court case is Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge et al. vs. City of Newark. The appeal comes in response to a Dec. 24 court decision by Alameda County Superior Court judge Frank Roesch denying the groups’ lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act. The appeal was filed today to the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

The proposed “Sanctuary West” development would import 1.67 million cubic yards of fill (over 100,000 truckloads) to build 469 luxury units atop an undeveloped 559-acre shoreline site in Newark called Area 4. The site is made up of historic, restorable San Francisco Bay wetlands and is the former home of the Whistling Wings and Pintail Duck Clubs. The site is entirely within a FEMA flood zone, pumped annually to avoid flooding and anticipated to be near completely inundated by sea-level rise.

The development has been widely criticized by environmentalists, housing advocates and climate experts. Over a dozen environmental groups have called the project “the epitome of the type of development that should not move forward” in the region, advocating that the site be protected, restored and incorporated in the adjacent Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition to approval by the city of Newark, the developers will need permits from numerous regional, state and federal agencies, including the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

In January five conservation organizations launched a “Save Newark Wetlands” petition campaign, urging BCDC and the Water Board to exercise their full authority to protect Newark Area 4 as the developer pursues potential permits from the agencies. As of today the petition has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

Newark Area 4 marsh
Wetlands in Newark Area 4 (Photo by Carin High). Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge is an all-volunteer organization that for over 50 years has championed the creation, expansion and protection of San Francisco Bay’s National Wildlife Refuge - the first urban national wildlife refuge in the country. Since leading successful efforts to create the Refuge in 1972, and expand it in 1988, the organization has tirelessly fought to protect the Refuge and potential Refuge lands and promote the recovery of the diverse ecosystems that make San Francisco Bay the ecological heart of our region.