For Immediate Release, December 28, 2020

Contact:

Jana Sokale, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, (510) 229-7550, janaslc@aol.com
John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416, jbuse@biologicaldiversity.org
Zoe Siegel, Greenbelt Alliance, (510) 367-4464, zsiegel@greenbelt.org

Groups Step Up Efforts to Protect San Francisco Bay Wetlands After Court Setback

Environmentalists Push Regulatory Agencies to Protect South Bay Habitat

NEWARK, Calif.— In response to the Alameda County Superior Court’s disappointing denial late last week of a lawsuit challenging the city of Newark’s approval of the Sanctuary West luxury housing development, environmental groups are escalating their campaign to protect more than 500 acres of restorable wetlands in South San Francisco Bay. The groups are calling on state regulators to step in and stop developers from paving over Newark “Area 4.”

Citing the rapidly increasing rates of sea level rise that’s expected to drown bay wetlands and the urgent need to protect critical wetland migration corridors for both wildlife habitat and flood buffers, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Greenbelt Alliance and San Francisco Baykeeper launched a Change.org petition campaign (www.change.org/SaveNewarkWetlands) that urges state regulators to “exercise their full regulatory authority” to protect Newark Area 4.

The campaign’s targets include the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, both of which have been on record expressing concern to the city of Newark regarding the proposed development.

In response to the court ruling and campaign launch, Jana Sokale, Newark resident and long-time leader with the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge said, “Ever since developers bought up our baylands and shut the duck clubs over 30 years ago, we have worked tirelessly to protect these wetlands. The best use of these lands, for all Bay Area residents, is the restoration of these historic marshes. Rather than place more housing in the path of sea level rise, the restored wetlands could help to fight climate change by storing carbon and providing an area for tidal wetland expansion. The time is now for our state regulators to step in and do what the City of Newark has failed to do: protect our baylands, wildlife and areas important for the health of San Francisco Bay.”

Lisa Belenky, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “This ruling doesn’t change the brutal truth that coastal species will be wiped out by sea-level rise if we don’t rein in sprawl development. It’s now incredibly urgent that state regulators step in and protect this crucial wildlife habitat. Developers and coastal communities must leave room for wetlands to move inland as waters rise and coastal species’ former habitat vanishes beneath the waves.”

Attorney Stuart Flashman, representing plaintiff Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, said, “We’re disappointed with the court’s decision. This outdated development on our baylands is inappropriate for the challenges the Bay Area is facing. Times have changed and with climate change causing more and more rapid sea level rise, it’s clear that the best use of Area 4 is for protecting wildlife habitat and buffering against the impacts of sea-level rise — not a luxury development that would only imperil both Newark residents and the bay ecosystem.”

"Building luxury homes in a 100-year floodplain doesn't solve our housing crisis, and it certainly doesn't solve the climate crisis. The time for bold action and leadership to direct growth away from places like Newark's Area 4 and towards urban centers is now," said Zoe Siegel, director of climate resilience at Greenbelt Alliance.

The proposed Sanctuary West development would import 1.67 million cubic yards of fill (more than 100,000 truckloads) to build 469 luxury units atop an undeveloped 559-acre shoreline site in Newark called “Area 4” — historic, restorable wetlands and 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 completely inundated by sea level rise.

The development has been widely criticized by environmentalists, housing advocates and climate experts. More than 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.

The court loss on December 24 comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and Center for Biological Diversity on December 16, 2019 in Alameda County Superior Court. The lawsuit was in response to Newark City Council approval of the Sanctuary West project on November 17, 2019.

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, both of whom have written letters to the city expressing concern about the proposed development and its impact on Bay wetlands, waters and wildlife.

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.

Greenbelt Alliance educates, advocates, and collaborates to ensure the Bay Area’s lands and communities are resilient to a changing climate.