Sierra Club Opposes Tidelands Swap at Encinal Terminals

The Encinal Terminals Project is a planned development on an old shipping site along the Oakland Estuary behind the Del Monte building.  The project proposes to construct 589 residential units with commercial buildings, a park, a shoreline promenade, and a marina.  A sizable part of the proposed project would be on land that is currently state tidelands.

The project has been approved by the planning board and comes before the city council on October 17.

The San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club has taken a position opposing the tidelands property swap.  The Club says the land swap is a bad deal for California, is contrary to the state’s Public Trust Doctrine, undermines climate action potential, and creates an encumbrance on state tidelands.

Residential construction along with many other types of uses, such as government, schools and retail, is prohibited on state tidelands.  The project developer is seeking permission from the City of Alameda (trustee of the tidelands) and eventually the California State Lands Commission to reconfigure the tidelands boundaries in order to allow for the housing and commercial development there.

In exchange for giving up most of the existing tidelands, the state would receive land and water around the perimeter of the site, along with a narrow strip of land through the center of the project.  In addition, the developer expects the state to grant the right to build sea walls on the tidelands to protect from sea level rise at some undetermined future date.

The Sierra Club has not called for the elimination of development from the Encinal Terminals Project, only that the tidelands swap be excluded and adaptive natural shoreline design be added.

Below is the full text of the Sierra Club’s letter sent to the Alameda City Council.

Dear Mayor Spencer and City Council Members:

The Sierra Club maintains that in any proposed public land exchanges the purpose should be to promote the protection and restoration of biological and ecological values.

We oppose the state tidelands property exchange in the Encinal Terminals Project Master Plan and do not support the plan at this time for the following reasons:

  • Bad deal for California – The tidelands exchange would give up most of the existing tidelands in exchange for land and water around the perimeter of the site that is already protected by the San Francisco Bay Plan. It also creates a narrow strip of tidelands trust land through the center of the project that serves only to benefit the new neighborhood.
  • Contrary to California Public Trust Doctrine – The benefits of the project, which would be facilitated by the tidelands exchange, are primarily municipal in nature: New housing and completion of a city street.  Neither of these benefits are public trust allowable uses.  Public trust land is held in trust for all of the people of California, not local municipalities.
  • Undermines climate action potential – The tidelands exchange fails to appreciate the value of living shorelines to mitigate extreme climate events and offset the loss of marshland habitat as sea level rises. The proposed land exchange dices up the existing parcel making it unusable for creating marshland.
  • Creates an encumbrance on state tidelands – The Master Plan seeks the right to build sea walls on part of the new proposed tidelands as a future sea level rise mitigation measure for protection of this residential development.

The Sierra Club opposes the project with the tidelands exchange.  Once it is removed from the project, the Sierra Club will evaluate the project without that component to determine whether it can support a revised project.  The Sierra Club urges you to pursue a different vision for the site that incorporates a naturally resilient adaptation of our shoreline to rising sea level.

Sincerely yours,
Norman La Force, Chair
East Bay Public Lands Committee

The proposed project forfeits an opportunity for adapting to climate change and sea level rise on Alameda’s shoreline.  Rather than engineering the existing site as a living shoreline, the project would introduce new real estate that will require its own protection with sea walls.  This is creating a problem in need of a solution–namely sea walls, which is far from certain to ever materialize.

Converting state tidelands into a housing and commercial development fails to appreciate the value of living shorelines to mitigate extreme climate events and offset the loss of marshland habitat as sea level rises.  For example, projected sea level rise will eventually inundate and degrade the marshland on Alameda’s south shore at the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary.  Retaining the tidelands at the Encinal Terminals site in the state’s inventory of tidelands will preserve the opportunity to re-think shoreline land use policy in Alameda in light of climate change impacts.

Utilizing the living shoreline model as a climate change adaptation measure has been recognized by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) as a potentially important tool for addressing the impending impacts of sea level rise around San Francisco Bay.  On July 20, 2017, BCDC initiated a process to amend the San Francisco Bay Plan to include new climate change adaptation policies.  The staff report called attention to the value of marshes.

Below is an excerpt:

As climate science has improved and advanced, and as adaptation measures have been discussed and developed, the Commission has recognized that some of its current policies may unnecessarily restrict or delay actions needed to address rising Bay waters. As noted in the 2015 Baylands Habitat Ecological Goals Project Update, the region faces many challenges to restoring bayland habitat to tidal marsh in light of climate change. While sedimentation and vegetation in existing and some restored marshes currently are keeping pace with rising seas, this ability likely will decline over time and result in an increasing loss of wetland habitat by approximately 2030, depending on the rate of sea level rise. These marshes provide several benefits, including wave dampening during storms, reduced flooding, and necessary habitat for listed species, migratory waterbirds, and commercially and recreationally important fish species – maintaining and increasing marshes makes the region more sustainable.

The reduction in benefits over time caused by rising seas may require regional action to augment the marshes’ natural ability to accrete sediment and, in many areas, to build transitional habitat and high tide refugia, both features that are limited in current marsh topography. To enhance the marshes’ ability to keep up with rising seas, the Commission may need to consider allowing fill for habitat-based projects on a regular basis beyond what may be allowable under the current Bay Plan policies. Further, adaptation measures are being developed and proposed, such as living shorelines and various types of nature-based infrastructure that could substitute for hard infrastructure such as sea walls. [Emphasis added.] These newer techniques can provide wave and flood protection while providing biological benefits that improve the Bay ecosystem, but have not been widely used or vetted in the Bay, which will affect the manner in which the Commission will be able to permit such fill. For example, these types of projects may necessitate increased monitoring to determine both their potential effects and benefits.

The council will be considering the Encinal Terminals Project and whether to authorize the tidelands swap at its October 17 meeting.

In an unrelated matter, the Sierra Club weighed in on the city’s inclusionary housing discussion, as shown below:

Dear Mayor Spencer and Members of the City Council:

The Sierra Club welcomes the effort of the Alameda City Council to examine opportunities to increase the amount of affordable housing in Alameda. We have a history of supporting robust and meaningful inclusionary housing requirements, and we are open to evaluating any proposals to the existing ordinance to determine whether we can support them.

For the time being, we agree with and support City staff’s recommendation to examine options for increasing the City’s resources for affordable housing, and we further recommend that the City Council direct City staff to bring back proposals that include a local affordable housing bond that could help underwrite affordable housing projects. With the newly-available funding source of the Alameda County affordable housing bond, which the Sierra Club proudly endorsed, and the potential funding source of the 2018 statewide affordable housing bond, Alameda would be well-positioned to expand its affordable housing stock if the City had a local fund to serve as matching funds.

Taking local initiative to fund new affordable housing, rather than waiting for the housing marketplace to satisfy affordable housing needs, would be stepping outside the status quo that has failed to curtail the rampant displacement and hardship we are currently faced with.

We appreciate the opportunity comment on this matter. We look forward to continuing to work with you in increasing affordable housing in Alameda.

Sincerely yours,
Luis Amezcua
Chair, Executive Committee
Northern Alameda County Group

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