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April 16, 2008 > Letter to the Editor - A reply to Mr. Grindall's interview about Newark's Area 3/4

Letter to the Editor - A reply to Mr. Grindall's interview about Newark's Area 3/4

Thank you for bringing this issue to your readers' attention. Unfortunately there are a number of errors in the story due to misinformation and confusing statements made by Mr. Grindall.

Newark's general plan did not have four so-called "opportunity areas." My husband and I participated in numerous committee meetings updating Newark's general plan. There were seven study areas plus the Historic Newark Area Plan and the Four Corners Area Plan.

During the land use committee meetings John Sobrato made it clear he wanted his property on Area 3 general planned for housing. He included his concerns in a letter to the city in 1992. Mayor Smith was firm in his belief that high tech was moving from Silicon Valley to Newark and refused Mr. Sobrato's request. As years went by the mayor refused to reconsider housing for Area 3. In an effort to bring about a rezoning, Mr. Sobrato entered into an MOU with the city stating that his part of Area 3 would be rezoned for housing if he (Mr. Sobrato) would bring a golf course to Area 4. Area 4 was owned by Richard Peery and John Arrillaga, billionaire land developers in Silicon Valley, Mike Siri, Boyd Smith and included various trusts. Auto dismantlers Peery and Arrillaga are not farmers and have never been. There were charged by the Corps of Engineers with illegal filling of wetlands and destroying endangered species habitat in Area 4; a result of their efforts to destroy wetlands and drain their property. Planting hay was not their cash crop.

Newark has a sad history of low voter turnout. One election in the late 1990's had scarcely 15% turnout. The 1999 election for mayor, council and Measure C had a whopping 34% turnout. Yes on Measure C earned 2,089 votes; No on C earned 3,309. For the city to claim voters were solidly in favor of development in Area 4 is misleading. Over 63% of registered voters didn't even bother to go to the polls.

TCV asked Mr. Grindall what were the major differences between the primary scenarios for Area 3 and 4. He answered only for Area 4. Major differences include Area 3 not having the serious development constraints that Area 4 has. It is adjacent to an area that already has housing. Mr. Sobrato wants to sell his land to a housing developer. All the pieces are in place except the mayor is holding Area 3 hostage for a golf course in Area 4.

Area 4 has high voltage towers and power lines that must be accommodated due to the massive amounts of fill needed to build houses and a golf course complex. Area 4 needs an overpass at Stevenson that will also impact the high voltage towers and lines. Area 4 is surrounded by the Union Pacific mainline, levees along Mowry Slough, the old Durham landfill and Flood Control property used as a sediment drying and recycle area. Large sections of wetlands and springs along with high water table areas made housing problematic at best. Simply stated, constraints on Area 3 are much less than on Area 4.

Who will own the golf course is a question with no answers. Whether it makes economic sense to the city is another matter. All around the country, golf courses are losing popularity. Even in the bay area golf courses are not immune from redevelopment into housing. The golf course planned for Area 4 is not prime location; adjacent to Cargill Salt ponds, located near busy railroad tracks, no easy access and bordered by an old Oakland Scavenger landfill in Newark and Flood Control mud drying area. I do not see the word "championship" anywhere near this concept plan.

Housing type in Area 3 and 4 is a moving target. The city's vision of executive homes on large lots (Measure C opponent brochure) for Area 4 is unrealistic. With housing in Area 4 expected to pay for the golf course there could be a long wait. And if it turns out wetlands cannot be filled for housing and/or other housing constraints what happens to hopes of a golf course?
I believe it is important to note that a better solution of Area 4 would be as wetland restoration. As the site of two former duck clubs, Area 4 has a very high water table, natural springs and year-around ponded water. If it wasn't constantly drained and pumped wetland vegetation would thrive. With cooperation from area schools and colleges, students would have a hands-on outdoor education lab. Harbor Seals in Mowry Slough would be protected. The largest slough complex in the South Bay area would become a heritage for future generations.

Finally, may I add that Area 2 has absolutely nothing to do with Areas 3 and 4. Area 2 is the site of at least six former chemical plants; FMC, Ashland, Romic, Foster Chemical, Jones-Hamilton, Baron Blakeslee plus assorted pits dug for disposal of chemicals and residue from Cargill Salt. It is zoned for general and light industrial. The Department of Toxic Substance Control and the Regional Water Quality Control Board have been working for years with landowners to stabilize soil and groundwater contamination. Clean-up is ongoing but whether it meets the requirements for public exposure (housing) is another matter. Newark envisions very high density housing and a train station at this location. I think any normal person would shudder at the thought.

Margaret Lewis

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