Successful communications with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) through the Safe Trails, Environmental Protection (STEP) alliance

Efforts to preserve narrow (single-track) hiking trails on EBMUD land for just hikers and horse riders has produced a strong alliance group with a clear platform. The STEP (Safe Trails, Environmental Protection) alliance of environmental organizations and equestrians formed in August 2016, and includes EBCNPS, the Sierra Club, and the Audubon Society as the major environmental players. We originally gathered in response to a proposal to open four specific trails to mountain bikes. (Bikes are currently not allowed on EBMUD property except for a few paved paths.) Our clear advocacy for safe trails has influenced the EBMUD Board and staff. We all agree that a trial program for introducing mountain bikes requires robust analysis and preparation in order to avoid significant environmental damage.

Without our attention and advocacy this mountain bike addition proposal would have passed as a benign addition to EBMUD’s scheduled Watershed Master Plan update. Our group’s “statement of goal” focuses on “supporting the continued safe and enjoyable use of EBMUD trails… while protecting water quality and the watershed’s diverse plants and wildlife.” You can read our organization’s September 2016 comment letter, under Conservation Analyst Reports: <https://ebcnps.wordpress.com/conservationanalystreports/ >. We encouraged the district to examine impacts of trail use changes as part of this two-year trial proposal allowing mountain bikes, as well as to perform baseline studies, which may include analysis in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Connecting narrow trail segments into protected areas like El Sobrante Preserve and Huckleberry Regional Botanic Preserve was proposed originally but seems to be off the table now.

Regular stakeholder meetings between EBMUD and STEP will continue considering the pilot program if it moves forward. Within STEP, we are also outlining suggested enforcement recommendations and sensitive species protection guidelines for presentation to the district. Another major concern has been for the importance of establishing guidelines able to evaluate the proposed pilot project, clearly defining markers of success or failure of the pilot. STEP reported on difficult experiences we heard of from Marin Municipal Water District and Mount Tamalpais State Park, where creation of rogue trails has caused major adverse environmental impact.

Esteemed volunteer Glen Schneider has been leading regular hikes at Skyline Gardens, a stretch of trail starting near Tilden Park Steam Train in Oakland. Glen is the leader of a restoration project along this trail, including regularly removing nonnative plants and even rebuilding trail, all of which encourages native plants in the area. Sometime soon we hope to establish a designation with EBMUD to recognize the uniqueness of Skyline Gardens. Blooming now in January and February are Western leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis, CNPS RPR 1B.2), currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.), and Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla). Many grasses will probably continue to leaf out after the recent storms.

Next time you go for a walk, hike, or trot on EBMUD lands (with a permit, of course, https://www.ebmud.com/recreation/buy-trail-permit/), you can relax into your preferred nature-loving routines, knowing that a mountain biker will not barrel around that blind curve ahead, crushing vegetation and maybe even you.

Involved from EBCNPS: Glen Schneider, Jim Hansen, Karen Whitestone, Peter Rauch

New 2017 Richmond City Council favors open space, adopts General Plan Amendments

At the City Council meeting on January 24, 2017 two agenda items favoring open space in Richmond received unanimous Council approval as additions to the city’s General Plan. Our organization delivered a letter as well as spoken comments on both items. Council heard from more than 20 public speakers for each item during the Study and Action Session. Did you know that Richmond has more than 30 miles of shoreline, the most of any San Francisco Bay Area city?

Passing the Richmond Hills Initiative, preserving 430 acres near Wildcat Canyon

We received news in late 2016 from the Richmond Registrar of Vters that the Richmond Hills Initiative had enough verified signatures (out of more than 6500) to qualify it for the 2018 General Election ballot. EBCNPS contributed to natural resource knowledge for initiative language and both our Conservation Committee and Board endorsed the final text as early as April of last year. The Richmond Hills Initiative Area is 430 acres partly overlapping with our Sobrante Ridge Botanical Priority Protection Area (BPPA), located between San Pablo Dam Road and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.See <https://ebcnps.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/sign-the-richmond-hills-initiative/>.

Rare plant species and communities exist within this ridgetop native plant landscape between Richmond and El Sobrante. There are seasonal wetlands there and west of San Pablo Ridge, with vernal pool species such as small rusheses (Eleocharis) and little white buttercups (rare Ranunculus lobbii) blooming now in Wildcat Regional Park. Federally threatened and state endangered pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida) are also found here within pockets of maritime chaparral. All these resources would be affected by urbanization. Others have found that the initiative area touches multiple watercourses and is geologically unstable for building.

Initiative organizers submitted the “sufficiency of the petition” to the City Council, which quietly accepted the pettiion with its certification at the January 17 meeting with the promise of further discussion. At the January 24 Council meeting it was a pleasure to witness the Councilmembers’ eagerness to adopt the initiative.

Successful communications with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) through the Safe Trails, Environmental Protection (STEP) alliance

Efforts to preserve narrow (single-track) hiking trails on EBMUD land for just hikers and horse riders has produced a strong alliance group with a clear platform. The STEP (Safe Trails, Environmental Protection) alliance of environmental organizations and equestrians formed in August 2016, and includes EBCNPS, the Sierra Club, and the Audubon Society as the major environmental players. We originally gathered in response to a proposal to open four specific trails to mountain bikes. (Bikes are currently not allowed on EBMUD property except a few paved paths.) Our clear advocacy for safe trails has influenced the EBMUD Board and staff. We all agree that a trial program for introducing mountain bikes requires robust analysis and preparation in order to avoid significant environmental damage.

Without our attention and advocacy this mountain bike addition proposal would have passed as a benign addition to EBMUD’s scheduled Watershed Master Plan update. Our group’s “statement of goal” focuses on “supporting the continued safe and enjoyable use of EBMUD trails… while protecting water quality and the watershed’s diverse plants and wildlife.” You can read our organization’s September 2016 comment letter, under Conservation Analyst Reports: <https://ebcnps.wordpress.com/conservationanalystreports/ >. We encouraged the district to examine impacts of trail use changes as part of this two-year trial proposal allowing mountain bikes, as well as to perform baseline studies, which may include analysis in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Connecting narrow trail segments into protected areas like El Sobrante Preserve and Huckleberry Regional Botanic Preserve was proposed originally but seems to be off the table now.

Regular stakeholder meetings between EBMUD and STEP will continue considering the pilot program if it moves forward. Within STEP, we are also outlining suggested enforcement recommendations and sensitive species protection guidelines for presentation to the district. Another major concern has been for the importance of establishing guidelines able to evaluate the proposed pilot project, clearly defining markers of success or failure of the pilot. STEP reported on difficult experiences we heard of from Marin Municipal Water District and Mount Tamalpais State Park, where creation of rogue trails has caused major adverse environmental impact.

Esteemed volunteer Glen Schneider has been leading regular hikes at Skyline Gardens, a stretch of trail starting near Tilden Park Steam Train in Oakland. Glen is the leader of a restoration project along this trail, including regularly removing nonnative plants and even rebuilding trail, all of which encourages native plants in the area. Sometime soon we hope to establish a designation with EBMUD to recognize the uniqueness of Skyline Gardens. Blooming now in January and February are Western leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis, CNPS RPR 1B.2), currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.), and Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla). Many grasses will probably continue to leaf out after the recent storms.

Next time you go for a walk, hike, or trot on EBMUD lands (with a permit, of course, https://www.ebmud.com/recreation/buy-trail-permit/), you can relax into your preferred nature-loving routines, knowing that a mountain biker will not barrel around that blind curve ahead, crushing vegetation and maybe even you.

Involved from EBCNPS: Glen Schneider, Jim Hansen, Karen Whitestone, Peter Rauch

New 2017 Richmond City Council favors open space, adopts Geentneral Plan Amendments

At the City Council meeting on January 24, 2017 two agenda items favoring open space in Richmond received unanimous Council approval as additions to the city’s General Plan. Our organization delivered a letter as well as spoken comments on both items. Council heard from more than 20 public speakers for each item during the Study and Action Session. Did you know that Richmond has more than 30 miles of shoreline, the most of any San Francisco Bay Area city?

Passing the Richmond Hills Initiative, preserving 430 acres near Wildcat Canyon

We received news in late 2016 from the Richmond Registrar of Vters that the Richmond Hills Initiative had enough verified signatures (out of more than 6500) to qualify it for the 2018 General Election ballot. EBCNPS contributed to natural resource knowledge for initiative language and both our Conservation Committee and Board endorsed the final text as early as April of last year. The Richmond Hills Initiative Area is 430 acres partly overlapping with our Sobrante Ridge Botanical Priority Protection Area (BPPA), located between San Pablo Dam Road and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.See <https://ebcnps.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/sign-the-richmond-hills-initiative/>.

Rare plant species and communities exist within this ridgetop native plant landscape between Richmond and El Sobrante. There are seasonal wetlands there and west of San Pablo Ridge, with vernal pool species such as small rusheses (Eleocharis) and little white buttercups (rare Ranunculus lobbii) blooming now in Wildcat Regional Park. Federally threatened and state endangered pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida) are also found here within pockets of maritime chaparral. All these resources would be affected by urbanization. Others have found that the initiative area touches multiple watercourses and is geologically unstable for building.

Initiative organizers submitted the “sufficiency of the petition” to the City Council, which quietly accepted the petition with its certification at the January 17 meeting with the promise of further discussion. At the January 24 Council meeting it was a pleasure to witness the Councilmembers’ eagerness to adopt the initiative.

Changing the North Shoreline land use designation from Industrial to Open Space

Since at least 2011 the North Shoreline area between Point Pinole and Point Molate has been a concern to our organization. Encompassed by the Richmond Shoreline BPPA, this overall span contains 500 acres of tidal marshes, 800 acres of mudflats, several estuaries of local creeks, and coastal prairie grassland, as well as extensive alkaline soils. The Richmond shoreline is known for eelgrass beds (Zostera marina) in subtidal zones, healthy shoreline mudflat flora, and as a California Audubon Society Designated Important Bird Area. Our archive showed continued EBCNPS recommendations for better General Plan protections during the update process, to no avail until now.

Potentially recovering some lost time by re-zoning the land as open space, the Council combined this with an emergency ordinance “temporarily prohibiting land uses conflicting with the contemplated General Plan Amendment.” This item passed, which means conservation for maximum area acreage and removal of worst-case industrial land use scenarios from the North Shoreline equation. Study of tte current state of the uplands here may reveal a need for restoration. Protection of wetlands and uplands areas as open space land would ensure that the natural communities of these dwindling ecosystems remain protected. Council took strong action in line with their existing policies for natural habitat protection.

We hope that native habitat protection and restoration in this area create opportunities for even greater public shoreline access.

Involved from EBCNPS: Karen Whitestone, Gregg Weber, Barbara Leitner, Jim Hansen.

Karen Whitestone, East Bay Chapter Conservation Analyst