|SF Chronicle - "Richmond Hopes to Protect 5
Miles of Wetlands"
March 2, 2009
Richmond hopes to protect 5 miles of wetlands
Monday, March 2, 2009
The north Richmond shoreline has seen its share of blasts and explosions - from the dynamite factory, shooting range, oil refinery and a century of political fireworks.
But negotiations are under way to make the 5-mile stretch of wetlands - among the last undeveloped swaths of San Francisco Bay shoreline - a much quieter, calmer place.
Developers, city officials and park advocates are working to transform three parcels of private property into permanent open space, most likely part of the Eastshore State Park.
"We see it as inevitable, let me put it that way," said Robert Cheasty, former Albany mayor and head of Citizens for East Shore Parks. "People are finally getting it. They're seeing what this space can be. It's going to happen."
The land, a marsh that's home to egrets, herons and 15 threatened species, stretches from the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill, just north of the Chevron oil refinery, to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. The Richmond Rod and Gun Club occupies the southern portion, and the rest is zoned for light industrial uses. The Giant Powder Co., which made dynamite, and the town of Giant, both now vanished, once occupied the northern end.
The area has remained mostly undeveloped because, until the Richmond Parkway was built 10 years ago, the land was almost completely inaccessible. City leaders and developers had once envisioned office parks and warehouses along the shoreline, but those dreams ended with the dot-com bust in 2001.
Developers now hope the city will change the zoning to allow housing, despite the abysmal housing market, but also are open to selling the land to the East Bay Regional Park District or another open space agency.
"Right now we're working on a price," said Josh Genser, a lifelong Richmond resident who owns one of the shoreline parcels. "Although I'm not as convinced as they are that they'll come up with the money."
Cheasty and other park supporters said they're close to securing ample funding to purchase the land, and are also working on deals to swap development rights and possibly seize the land through eminent domain.
"We can do this without harming the developers' financial interests," Cheasty said. "We're not out to crush anyone."
More meetings are scheduled and city staff is working on possible zoning changes - to residential or open space - as part of revamping the city's general plan.
Not everyone thinks open space is the best use of the shoreline. Richmond City Councilman Nathaniel Bates says the city already has too many parks.
"We need jobs and economic development," he said. "Instead of just buying more land, I'd like to see the park district spruce up the parks they already have."
Point Pinole, which is an undeveloped expanse of eucalyptus forest, grassland and marsh, should have a skate park, soccer fields, horse stables and more paths, he said.
"Richmond is a deprived city," he said. "We need jobs, taxes and large-scale development more than we need the park district to just grab a bunch of land and sit on it."
But Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt says that open space is exactly what the city needs. He's been working with developers and park advocates to arrange a deal.
"A city is defined by its parks and open space," he said. "What would San Francisco be without Golden Gate Park and Crissy Field? The value of land in San Francisco would be a lot less without parks."
Because so much of it is privately owned, the north Richmond shoreline is a critical piece in possibly expanding a continuous shoreline greenbelt from San Jose to Crockett, Cheasty said.
Maria Rivera, a San Pablo attorney who was walking her shih tzu Leo at Point Pinole Thursday afternoon, said she'd love to see the park expanded south toward the refinery.
"It would be fabulous," she said. "It's such a lovely resource. I just can't imagine this wonderful shoreline wasted on buildings."
E-mail Carolyn Jones at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle