The Center for Biological Diversity, Alameda Creek Alliance and an organization named "Safe Streets Pleasanton" delivered a detailed letter to Pleasanton city officials yesterday of their intent to file a suit against the city to force a reversal of the City Council's approval of an Environmental Impact Report.
That report, approved in a 3-2 vote by the council, allows a multi-million-dollar commercial, retail, sports and senior residential development to move forward on Staples Ranch.
Staples Ranch is an undeveloped, unincorporated 124-acre parcel currently owned by Alameda County at the southwest corner of I-580 and El Charro Road.
Last month, after several years of public hearings, the council agreed to develop the land in concert with an agreement with the county and at the same time to allow the extension of Stoneridge Drive through Staples to connect to El Charro and Livermore.
If built in conjunction with the overall Staples Ranch project, the county has agreed to pay for the roadway, which could cost $5 million to complete.
The letter from the environmental organizations follows the disclosure by the Pleasanton Weekly a day earlier of the groups' strategy to work with Pleasanton environmentalist Matt Morrison, a tax research specialist and Sierra Club activist and what Morrison described as an "inner circle" of environmental advocates to nullify the council's action.
At one time, Morrison was part of a citizens' group coalition, Pleasanton First and Friends of Pleasanton, which submitted a joint statement earlier defining their "common interest in acquiring and constructing community park amenities on the Staples Ranch property, and to request a community process to plan what will be Pleasanton's fourth largest park."
Stating that their organizations plan to seek an order in the Alameda County Superior Court under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Ralph Kanz, director of the Alameda Creek Alliance, and Jeff Miller, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, contend that the Pleasanton council and staff failed "to properly assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of the proposed Staples Ranch development and Stoneridge Drive extension. The letter states that the city that the environmental impact report certified by the City Council on February 24 did not adequately assess the environmental impacts of the project.
"The groups are concerned about potential impacts to habitat for sensitive species at the site, species such as the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, western pond turtle, San Joaquin spearscale and steelhead trout," the letter states.
The letter adds:
"The EIR fails to meet the legal requirements to reduce environmental impacts to less than significant levels and does not adequately address the biological impacts of the development
and proposed road extension. This site is adjacent to important aquatic habitat in Arroyo Mocho that needs to be protected and have adequate stream buffers.
"Two tributaries of Alameda Creek, Arroyo Las Positas and Arroyo Mocho, flow together adjacent to the project site. The arroyos provide important wildlife habitat and corridors. In 2003, when the Arroyo Las Positas/Arroyo Mocho realignment project was completed by Alameda County, fish ladders were installed in the arroyos as part of the project to allow for the future passage of steelhead trout and riparian vegetation was planted to improve wildlife habitat. The impacts of the Stoneridge Drive extension on the arroyos and the riparian habitat created by the arroyos project must be analyzed to insure that sensitive plant and wildlife populations will continue to survive in the area."
The organizations argued that the environmental impact report approved by the council did not analyze the Stoneridge Drive extension.
"The Stoneridge Drive extension was added to the project at the last minute by the city of Pleasanton," the groups' letter states. "Impacts of Stoneridge Drive on nearby residential neighborhoods and the environment were not analyzed, nor were potential mitigation measures that would have reduced the impacts of the project on neighborhoods, traffic, and the environment. The failure of the report to analyze these impacts is a direct violation of the California Environmental Quality Act´s mandate to mitigate the impacts of the project to less-than-significant levels."
The letter adds: "The environmental impact report also fails to adequately address biological impacts to the steelhead trout, California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, western pond turtle, and San Joaquin spearscale. San Joaquin spearscale is a rare plant that occurs on the Staples Ranch site.
"The city incorrectly asserted in the environmental impact report that the mitigations for spearscale implemented during the 2003 Arroyos project were adequate mitigation for the Staples Ranch project, even though plant habitat on the site would be destroyed."
Kanz added: "The city´s own consultant admitted that the project must mitigate for species currently found on the site, but instead they (the City Council and staff) refused to do what CEQA requires and left out mitigations for the spearscale."
He said that the Center for Biological Diversity and Alameda Creek Alliance are concerned that California red-legged frog habitat will be degraded by the project.
"There have been no frog surveys in the project area since 2002, prior to construction of the Arroyos project, but red-legged frogs are known to occur nearby," he said. "If invasive predators are removed from the creek and suitable upland habitat is available, the red-legged frog could again occupy this area."
The groups also claim that an environmental impact report for the adjacent city of Livermore´s El Charro Project contains a mitigation measure requiring the control of bullfrogs in Arroyo Las Positas, Cottonwood Creek, and the golf course ponds.
"Mitigation measures for the Staples project should include protection of a significant creek
corridor and buffer along the arroyos as wildlife habitat, maintenance of adjacent upland
habitat, and removal of nonnative predators from the creeks," added Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity.
According to that organization, Steelhead trout in the Bay Area were listed as a federally threatened species in 1997, and last year steelhead spawned in Alameda Creek for the first time in 46 years.
It claims that there are 15 local, state, and federal agencies cooperating on fish-passage projects in Alameda Creek, including dam removals and the construction of fish ladders and fish screens. These restoration projects will make up to 20 miles of Alameda Creek and its tributaries, including the arroyos, accessible to ocean-run fish as early as 2011 or 2012.
The potential impacts to steelhead habitat from the Staples Ranch project were not analyzed in the environmental impact report.
"The Staples Ranch project should ensure that adequate riparian habitat and buffers will be
maintained to support the future restoration of steelhead and provide quality habitat for all
aquatic wildlife," Kanz added. "Western pond turtles, a state species of concern, have been documented on the Staples Ranch site during the Arroyos project and observed in the Arroyo Mocho since completion."
During some of the public hearings, Miller, Morrison and environmental advocate Richard Pugh told both the council and the Planning Commission that the environmental impact report did not address how the Staples Ranch project will provide for the upland habitat requirements of this species so that it will continue to survive at the location.
However, those arguments were determined to be irrelevant by both a majority on the council and by attorneys representing Pleasanton and Alameda County.