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A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Creating great communities for all

Newark residents wonder why the city plans to develop against a rising shoreline

By Ezra David Romero, KQED, December 13, 2021

“Newark — a Bay Area enclave of fewer than 50,000 people — is located on the east side of the Dumbarton Bridge near Fremont in Alameda County, a place that has struggled mightily to build new housing even as costs have skyrocketed.

“Sanctuary West could help by adding hundreds of new tract homes, but the project is controversial because they would be built within a federal flood zone along fragile wetlands on the city’s western shore.

“After the city approved the project, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and other environmentalists sued, arguing the sea level rise protections weren’t strong enough; the lawsuit created the latest wrinkle in the circuitous planning process.

“Newark Mayor Alan L. Nagy said the city is committed to protecting its shoreline from sea level rise. Their planning documents consider a 50-year life for Sanctuary West, and say it will have ‘sufficient protection from 100-year flood events’ within that time frame.

“Sanctuary West could help fill in the gap for much-needed housing in the Bay Area, but scientists like Mark Lubell, who studies sea level rise and governance at UC Davis, say the proposed site ‘is a terrible place to put a development.’

“Only about 10 percent of the original marsh area remains in San Francisco Bay, [but Sanctuary West would be built alongside one of the Bay Area’s last wetlands, a natural flood protector]. In a recent study, [SPUR] concluded that by maximizing infill, converting homes into duplexes, triplexes and adding accessory dwelling units, the Bay Area could address the housing crisis without building in areas vulnerable to flooding.

According to Larry Goldzband, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Sanctuary West is strategically located outside their regulatory jurisdiction. However, “officials at the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board say they will make it difficult for developers to build on the wetlands in Newark … [since] the dirt needed to raise the potential homes out of the floodplain will impact the wetlands and ‘alter the existing wetland hydrology.’ ”

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