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July 6, 2004 > Coyote Hills Regional Park Begins Long Range Planning Process

Coyote Hills Regional Park Begins Long Range Planning Process

Recently, TCV attended a "scoping" meeting held by East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) personnel to begin a long range planning process for Coyote Hills Regional Park. The meeting was well attended by citizens interested in the continued health and use of the park as well as the preservation of archeological sites of the area. The following interview with Brian Wiese, AICP, Chief of Planning and Stewardship answers some questions raised about the process and the future of Coyote Hills.

TCV: A "scoping" meeting was recently held in Newark to discuss growth and preservation issues at Coyote Hills Regional Park. What was the purpose of the meeting?

Wiese: Technically a "scoping" meeting is something that refers to a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process. An environmental review of a project includes a meeting to describe the project and scope out the environmental issues. We ask other agencies and members of the public if they have any issues that fall under the umbrella of CEQA environmental - concerns to be addressed in an environmental document that's to come. We combine that meeting with a planning issues meeting; a plan introduction. We do the plan and the environmental scooping all at once since our planning process is very much tied to environmental issues and management of the park.

TCV: Do you do this for all of the East Bay Regional Parks?

Wiese: Yes.

TCV: Will other parks follow the same process?

Wiese: We're working on three plans now. We are doing a land use plan amendment to Sibley Regional Park in Oakland for an acquisition that we've made call the Stone Property that will double the size of the park. We are not having a scoping meeting for them because there are no major issues. This will be basically operational issues and improvements, so we will have a public meeting to review the plan when we've got a draft plan. That will probably be some time this Fall. We're also working on a plan for Sycamore Valley in Danville.

TCV: With respect to Coyote Hills, this is a long-range plan that you're working on, correct?

Wiese: Yes. All of the land use plans are long-range plans. We say they have about a 20-year scope but it could be more, it could be less.

TCV: One of the concerns voiced at the meeting centered on a grove of trees at Coyote Hills. Can you explain this?

Wiese: Historically, perhaps prehistorically, there was a large, natural grove of willows that thrived on the fresh water drainage from Alameda Creek. One of the things we are looking at is restoring the Willow Grove to create a bird habitat.

TCV: There was discussion of saltwater intrusion versus fresh water in the ponds. Is that something in which the district will take an active part?

Wiese: It's really another agency matter. Alameda County Flood Control District owns about half of the park. It is about five hundred acres in the center of the park. All of the riparian ponds in the park are owned by the flood control district and they use it for water storage. Our cooperative agreement with them says that they manage the water for flood control purposes and we manage the natural resources and interpretation of the resources as part of the park. What they want to do is enhance and enlarge their flood control capacity by dredging the ponds and getting rid of the cattails. We'd like to get rid of the cattails too because they're crowding out everything else; they are blocking people's view and they are a monoculture in terms of the wildlife that they support.

TCV: Does that mean that we're going to see boats or barges in there to drench this area?

Wiese: I think what you are going to see is a big machine called an "Aquamog," basically a large backhoe. I think that's probably what they will be using, but again, that is their project, not ours.

TCV: Is the agreement between EBRPD and Alameda Flood Control District an agreement in perpetuity or is it an agreement for a set number of years?

Wiese: It's an agreement for a set number of years. It rolls over periodically.

TCV: What happens if conflicts arise?

Wiese: We just work them out. I am not aware of any that have come up at Coyote Hills. We have been attending technical advisory meetings and working out this dredging plan to make sure that there are no impacts on park resources or the natural resources. I haven not personally attended these meetings, but as far as I know, it's been very cooperative.

TCV: Is Coyote Hills an unusual situation, or is ownership split at other parks?

Wiese: It is a pretty common situation. We manage a lot of land that we don't own. For instance, we manage Crown Beach for the state. It's actually state land. The same situation exists at Del Valle Park in Livermore.

TCV: What about with Ardenwood?

Wiese: Ardenwood is another good example because that land is owned by the City of Fremont. We have a management agreement with the city.

TCV: So when you look at the East Bay Regional Park District, a lot of the land that is involved is not necessarily owned by the district?

Wiese: That's correct.

TCV: Another group at the scoping meeting represented model glider pilots.

Wiese: There are two kinds of gliders, and this is a new issue to me and the park district. Dynamic soarers, very fast gliders that perform high-velocity aerial maneuvers and loops and spins and things have raised an issue for other park users, trail hikers and so forth.
The regular gliders have been there [Coyote Hills] for a long, long time and I do not believe there have been any problems with them.

TCV: We have gone through the scoping meeting and there were several people that had specific issues that they wanted to include. Where does this process go from here?

Wiese: We had four staff taking notes of the issues so we will address them in the plan and in the environmental document. We will look at input not only from those folks, but from park district staff, operation staff and so on, and eventually reach a conclusion to include in to a draft plan - a draft environmental document - called a mitigated negative declaration under CEQA.

Issues will be addressed as environmental issues, cultural resource issues and so on. A draft will come out, probably some time in late fall or early winter this year, that will be sent to the folks who participated in and expressed an interest. They'll get a chance to review it and send in comments on the draft. We will also hold a public comment meeting on the draft at about the same time that we release it. We will review all comments and address them by making whatever changes seem appropriate to the plan and to the environmental document. In addition, we put out a response to comments that's appended as part of the environmental document and send the final document out again. It is then submitted to our board of directors for a hearing and action on the plan.

TCV: If someone was not able to come to that meeting or wasn't aware of it, is there a way that they can add to the comments that you received at that meeting?

Wiese: Absolutely. They just write to us, to East Bay Regional Park District Planning and Stewardship Department, 2950 Peralta Oaks Court, P.O. Box 5381, Oakland, CA 94605.

TCV: Can you broadly outline what types of comments it is?

Wiese: It's open to anything relating to the park; physical facilities, environmental impacts, basically anything they have to tell us as park users and people who are interested in the park. Obviously with a plan and a park as diverse as the Coyote Hills there are many different areas to comment on, so we're basically having open season on comments from now through the time that the plan is finalized. Generally, we welcome more early comments for scoping to go into the plan. We've probably identified most of the major issues, but we're certainly open to comments. Most of the comments tend to come in after we have a draft of the plan and an environmental document out.

TCV: Is the draft going to be available on the web?

Wiese: We will put the draft up on the park district's website, Generally, we send paper copies out but that's getting to be cumbersome and expensive and what we're thinking about doing is sending out plan summaries to all the folks on our mailing list and we may send the plan out on a disk.

TCV: There was a suggestion of closing the park for part of the year to let it revitalize. Is that possible?

Wiese: Probably not as a practical measure. That's the first time I've ever actually run into that. We certainly do risk specific areas in parks for environmental reasons. For example, we acquired new land, - often land that has been grazed ranch land, sometimes overgrazed and abused, so we'll rest that for a while. In the case of Coyote Hills, that's not the case. I think we'd have to see a pretty compelling reason to close it. I don't see any at this time.

TCV: I heard about an acquisition at Coyote Hills? A quarry site?

Wiese: Yes.

TCV: When is that going to happen and what does that mean to the park in general?

Wiese: I'm not sure of the exact date. I think it's five or six years down the line. It will give folks in that area an additional recreational opportunity. It's really more additional to our Quarry Lakes Park rather than to Coyote Hills because Coyote Hills is a passive recreational facility - we don't have swimming and there is limited turf area for throwing around a Frisbee or volleyball or anything like that. When we add the Alameda Creek Quarry Unit, it's going to take a lot of that demand off of the existing part of Coyote Hills.

TCV: Will there be another entrance?

Wiese: I think what we're envisioning is a totally separate entrance. In other words, there's not going to be any new automobile traffic through the park between the new park and the Coyote Hills Visitor Center.

TCV: Will the quarry property be owned by East Bay Regional Parks?

Wiese: That's my understanding.

TCV: Even though the acquisition is not for a few years, is the planning for it incorporated with the planning that you're doing now?

Wiese: Not really except to anticipate some physical connections with the park. It's really a separate focus of concerns because it is what we call a "staging area," that is an active recreational area. We're going to make sure that there are some trail connections so that folks can walk into the rest of Coyote Hills.

TCV: Is the quarry property going to be looked at as a separate park or part of Coyote Hills?

Wiese: I'm not sure yet because we do things both ways. We add land and do a land use plan and make it part of the same park, but we also do it the other way. We have parks that are physically adjacent that could be called one park but we don't. This one is so different, I wouldn't be surprised if we designated it as a different park, but that really hasn't been looked at carefully yet.

TCV: There was some talk about a long-range look at moving the visitor center.

Wiese: Some of the staff would like to have a larger visitor center. One of the original buildings is from when Coyote Hills was an army base - a Nike missile site. The block building was the headquarters of the site. It's below today's standards in many ways, certainly in space and efficiency. We would like to have a security residence in the park and we will move the corporation yard when we add the new quarry section of the park. We would like more space for interpretation. Those decisions are economic decisions that will be made by the board on a district-wide basis. I know that some of the directors representing other wards of the park district also want their own visitor center and other places, so it's a definite maybe.

TCV: What about the shell mounds?

Wiese: The care of the shell mounds is definitely part of the plan. They are our primary cultural resource at Coyote Hills and it's very, very important to the district to preserve them in an archeologically appropriate and culturally sensitive way. Unfortunately, as you heard at the meeting, there is not a consensus among the different branches of the Ohlone Tribe and representatives of the Native American population.

TCV: This is part of the planning process to be resolved?

Wiese: I hope it will be resolved, and I think it will. We have been managing it [shell mounds] for almost four years. When we took over the land as a park, we stopped the academic excavation that had been going on and to some extent protected the mounds by partially covering the cut face of the mound. That is one of the issues; whether to leave that cut face exposed for interpretation, or to cap and cover it up. Our interest is, first and foremost, to protect the resource.

TCV: You mentioned that Coyote Hills was a former Nike base? Is there more information on the history of Coyote Hills?

Wiese: We will have quite a bit of history in the plan. We generally do quite a bit of background history as part of the plan.

We are really excited about the plan. It is the first plan that the park district has ever done for this land that we've been managing for forty years. It is a spectacular property and really interesting in terms of its diversity, the diversity of both the natural and the cultural resources - it wraps up and contains all of the resources that are in the park district.

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