Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 16, 2019


Stuart Flashman, attorney representing Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, (510) 652-5373,
Jana Sokale, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, (510) 229-7550,
John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416,

Lawsuit Challenges Destructive Luxury Development in Historic Wetland Area on South San Francisco Bay

NEWARK, Calif.— The Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and Center for Biological Diversity today sued the city of Newark for approving a destructive plan to pave over a historic wetland to build hundreds of luxury housing units along South San Francisco Bay. The Sanctuary West Residential Project is planned for Newark “Area 4,” which has long been prioritized by the environmental community for conservation.

Citing harm to endangered wildlife and impacts from sea-level rise, the lawsuit seeks to overturn the city’s November approval of Sanctuary West. The development has been widely criticized by environmentalists, housing advocates and climate experts. It is entirely within a FEMA flood zone, pumped annually to avoid flooding and anticipated to be completely inundated by the rising sea level.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, says Newark violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to prepare a comprehensive study and mitigate for impacts from the luxury housing development proposed on historic wetlands. The suit also faults the city for not properly analyzing the development’s potential to worsen the impacts of sea-level rise on San Francisco Bay wildlife species, including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, and the public.

Endemic to San Francisco Bay’s wetlands, the thumb-sized salt marsh harvest mouse’s population has plummeted in recent decades due to the loss of more than 90% of its habitat.

“It is very sad that the city of Newark has turned a deaf ear to the issues raised by climate change, and particularly accelerating sea-level rise,” said attorney Stuart Flashman, representing the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge. “Developing this area might have seemed sensible when first proposed in 1985. It is now nothing less than a recipe for a slow-motion catastrophe.”

“Both people and wildlife will need room to adapt when waters rise, as we know they will,” said John Buse, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But this development forecloses the options for the salt marsh harvest mouse. The mouse will have nowhere to go when its habitat is submerged.”

“As our region grapples with the serious implications of a rapidly changing climate, we simply cannot allow cities like Newark to pursue a ‘go-it-alone’ approach, approving new shoreline development without properly analyzing the harmful impacts of the project, or fully exploring conservation alternatives that would provide long-term benefits for Newark, the Bay Area and California,” said Jana Sokale, long-time leader with the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge.

Newark approved Sanctuary West on Nov. 14. The development plan 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 called “Area 4” — historic, restorable wetlands, and the former home of the Whistling Wings and Pintail Duck Clubs.

More than a dozen environmental groups have opposed the development of Area 4, calling the project “the epitome of the type of development that should not move forward” in the region, and have advocated that the site be protected, restored and incorporated in the adjacent Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey). Image is available for media use.

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 1974, 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

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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