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Issues | Environment

North Shore Development?

Shoreline cartoon

North shore MapWhile the discussion of the General Plan is supposed to be about zoning the whole area, debate at Tuesday's Council meeting will likely focus on two parcels, marked on the map as Freethy and Murray. Here are the reasons why I oppose commercial development of the North Richmond Shoreline


The Richmond Core

Richmond suffers from the legacy of development determined by the greed of speculators and developers only interested in the quickest buck and who, in the past, found a receptive and pliable political leadership. The Hilltop project helped gut our core commercial areas.


In response, Richmond has adopted a strategy of redeveloping its core areas, restoring them to vitality and thereby, attracting investment and development that will benefit all of our residents, especially those who have been most heavily impacted by unemployment, drugs and crime.


Development on the North Shoreline is a loser because it will divert scarce investment resources from the core, increase the GHG footprint and will stretch already thin governmental infrastructure, public safety and street maintenance resources even further. And development will result in the loss of resources available to us from an ecological and aesthetic point of view that is in easy reach by bicycle and could be a draw for people to visit Richmond from any place reachable by BART, AMTRAK or car.



Freethy PropertyThe North Richmond Shoreline is an extremely important natural resource because it provides habitat to a large variety of flora and fauna that make their homes in its sub-tidal (areas always covered with shallow water), tidal marsh and marsh upland/coastal prairie. In addition, the area serves as a "refueling" station for migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway.


The marsh areas are where the tidal/bay, land and air are in constant interchange. Marsh areas are important incubators of all sorts of life, from the flora that anchors it to the bacteria and fungi that feed on the decaying eelgrass and reeds, to the little critters that feed on the bacteria and fungi and in turn supply food for the larger critters that depend on the marsh for that food source and shelter. These are the spawning grounds for commercially and recreationally important species of shell fish, fish and fowl and the feeding way stations for those migratory species.


We can quantify the cost of the loss of habitat on commercially important species. We don't know what the ultimate outcome of the loss of those migratory species would be. But we do know that biological diversity is tremendously important and many scientists suspect that our ultimate survival as a species may depend on the conservation of robust diversity.



Human beings need beauty in their lives. Study after study has shown the linkages of the outdoor experience to human mental and physical health.

Escape from the built environment and the opportunity to revel in the natural environment, lies just beyond our doorsteps in the North Richmond Shoreline. We have now been granted this opportunity to preserve the shoreline, not because of any grand schemes on the part of environmentalists, but because the area has been abandoned by the same forces that abandoned the core area of Richmond


Open space advocates have been trying preserve the shoreline as well as the bay it surrounds, since the founding of the Save the San Francisco Bay Association in 1961. Today, an offshoot of the Save the San Francisco Bay Association (now known as Save the Bay), Citizens for East Shore Parks, has taken on the task of preserving the Richmond Shore Line.


The North Richmond Shoreline offers marvelous views of both the natural world and the built: sunset over the Bay, the last rays of the sun fading behind Mt. Tam and Mt. Hamilton; a flight of Brown Pelicans, swooping in low over the water to settle in after satisfying themselves on anchovies; the antics of the Coots and Cormorants  in sharp contrast to the refined decorum of an Egret stalking the near shore shallows; the evening fog creeping over the east side of the West Bay hills; tufts of fog, rolling like huge cylinders of fluffy cotton under the Golden Gate Bridge; fog claiming the bridge itself, until just the two suspensions towers poke out of the undulating white mass; and the smell of salt water mingling with  the scent of the Blue Gum Eucalyptus, Bay Laurel and Coastal Sage.


All of this is accessible for the members of Richmond's communities, many of whom may never have the opportunity to jet off to some exotic island locale. Just beyond our doorsteps lies an opportunity for our children to learn about the complex, interconnected web of life and to understand that they are part of it. This is there for the people of Richmond, if we act now to preserve the shoreline.


Sea Level Rise

I think it is imperative that any zoning ordinances, written to guide future development, must take into consideration the implications of sea level rise. First, all coastal environments are dynamic; although the interior of the Bay is relatively sheltered. We got to see drama unfolding on our TV screens, of apartment complexes falling into the Pacific Ocean as the coastal bluffs on which they were built were eroded by storm wave forces hammering the San Mateo Coast in Pacifica. We will not have such high drama. Once the North Shore properties are built on, there will be tremendous pressure exerted on future decision makers in Richmond to preserve the value of those properties and protect them from the encroaching Bay, at tax payers' expense. It is time for this generation to show some responsibility and not bequeath more problems onto our heirs through our short sightedness.


In the consideration of sea level rise, we must take into account, that the three phases of the Bay shoreline environment will move inland and upland. What today is sub-tidal may be too deep to support eel grass and the habitat the eel grass anchors. What today is salt marsh, will be constantly inundated and  become sub-tidal; what today is dry most of the time will become salt marsh; what will be marsh upland areas will be pushed much further upland than what exists today. These three distinct bands represent important, unique, interdependent habitat areas that need to be preserved for the health of the entire ecosystem by allowing enough room in our zoning planning for these changes to take place.


I don't say that all shoreline development is improper. I think that large scale development and the infrastructure to support it, is improper. What might be OK? Low cost structures that support recreational use and access to the shoreline. Responsible community agriculture can be conducted on lands that are today dry enough to be tilled and away from sensitive upland habitat areas.


The General Plan is about zoning and must be done cautiously.  Zoning should not be determined for the allowance of a specific project as that sets a precedent for developers to promote anything that fits in that zoning classification. We don't need more Hilltop projects which help gut the core city.  We need to rebuild the city.  For projects, there are large vacant tracts in several places east of the Richmond Parkway. There is a large vacant tract just above the former temporary Richmond City Hall on Marina Way. In fact, the warehouse that used to house city offices is probably available.

Tony Sustak

Richmond Progressive Alliance Treasurer

Member of the Board of Directors of Citizens for East Shore Parks

and it's Expand the Park Committee

CESP website.