Friends of Wildcat Canyon
1961 At $2 million taxpayers’ expense Richmond bulldozes through Alvarado Park, culverts Wildcat Creek and builds a 2 mile-long “high-speed road to nowhere” with a sewer line in preparation for 3000 houses, including schools, stores and churches in the canyon to the Tilden Park border. Though nothing was ever built, Richmond spent an estimated $2.1 million (average of $100,000/year) between 1961 and 1982 maintaining the unstable roadbed.
1977-8 250-300 condominiums proposed by two developers on San Pablo Ridge initiating huge community response. Friends of Wildcat Canyon (FWC) founded as an environmental community-advocacy organization fights proposals in City of Richmond.
Despite the 50 year old Olmsted Report plan for the Park District to acquire Alvarado Park, EBRPD staff refuses to consider acquisition of the “Taylor and McCosker (T/M)” properties citing their desire not to acquire Alvarado. EBRPD General Manager Richard Trudeau was quoted as saying: “It’ll be over my dead body that the District acquires Alvarado Park.” Ass’t GM, Chief of Planning & Design, Lew Crutcher voiced agreement with his boss, “Alvarado Park is too urban and too historic.”
1979 FWC begins massive campaign to purchase the T/M properties. State Senator John Nejedly agrees to carry FWC-sponsored legislation at state level to raise $800,000, half of the funds needed to acquire the T/M ridgeland properties (162 acres). Director of California Department of Parks and Recreation, Russ Cahill commits $500,000 of federal L&W Conservation Funds supported by Congressman George Miller. FWC eventually raises $1.6 million from 5 federal, state and local agencies including the City of Richmond and Contra Costa County.
1982 The EBRPD Board, with the help of Directors Mary Jefferds and Harlan Kessel, overrides staff and purchases the threatened T/M ridgeland parcels, the vital “missing link” to Alvarado Park. Massive slides throughout Wildcat Canyon due to “100+ year” storm event in January destroys road in several major stretches. Heavy siltation does $2 million damage to San Pablo storm drains when a raging Wildcat Creek jumps its banks.
1985-9 EBRPD completes Land Use Development Plan (LUDP) for Alvarado Park and Richmond transfers ownership to the District. No community stakeholders’ input sought by EBRPD staff on its interpretation of the broad policies approved in the LUDP. In the next four years this repeatedly leads to several major embarrassing public confrontations at board meetings regarding staff’s unsupportable and ill-conceived efforts to begin implementing their unilateral design “solutions.” A most egregious example follows:
Staff proposes to “restore” Wildcat Creek by lining it with concrete. Plan called in the press, “a Disneyland approach to creek restoration.” FWC engages famed U.C. hydrologist Professor Luna Leopold to comment on the futility and danger of such an approach. Board eventually rejects staff’s approach.
After 4 years of community confrontations the EBRPD Board decides to hire a outside consultant ($50k) to work with all community stakeholders including local agencies, environmental, neighborhood, and equestrian groups as well as individual park users. Hulet Hornbeck, retired EBRPD AGM/Chief of Land Acquisition, spent 1-1/2 years gathering data, soliciting comments and ideas, accessing consultants, analyzing the controversial issues and developing a consensus on well reasoned solutions to many of the tough problems.
1990 After a number of community input meetings and field trips, Hornbeck presents his report of recommendations to the Board in a crowded meeting on June 5th. After listening to many comments from the public the Board unanimously passes the new plan incorporating all of Hornbeck’s Community Consensus Plan. It was a time to celebrate by all and they do.
As Mr. Hornbeck underscores, the main and most difficult issue is parking. He recommends that the obvious solution was most appropriate, namely for the District to purchase the southernly McPoil properties, a majority of which was already a parking lot. Because the property was located directly across from the entrance to Alvarado it was logically the most safe and convenient parking solution, especially for picnicking families with children, carrying ice chests and pushing strollers, as well as visitors with disabilities.
Hornbeck’s report calls for all parking to eventually be removed from inside Alvarado Park. The area on the “road to nowhere” scar, east of the 1961 culverts, was described to the Board as “possible, temporary overflow parking” including a small area for an equestrian trailer. There are allusions to exploring “opportunity purchases” for a proper equestrian staging area, i.e. the Clark Road trail head in El Sobrante (which was discussed informally).
The other important action taken by the Board is to accept Hornbeck’s recommendation to hire experienced hydrologist engineer David Rosgen, a nationally known stream rehabilitation/restoration specialist to do a complete stream-bed restoration downstream of the 1961 culverts through the rest of Alvarado Park. Funding would be sought later to remove the 1961 fish-impediment culverts and to restore the creek banks to its natural contours.
Current Wildcat Creek Restoration Status
By June of 2011, 21 years (!) will have elapsed since the EBRPD Board unanimously approved the Alvarado Park Rehabilitation & Restoration Community Consensus Plan. Though the Rosgen creek restoration project was masterfully accomplished soon after its approval, other serious creek issues remain unaddressed. EBRPD staff has never reported to the Board any attempt to identify funding sources for the removal of the fish-impediment culverts and the restoration of the creek’s natural banks and streambed. The remaining dangerous culverts nearly completely plugged with winter debris carried by extreme creek flows several times in the last two decades, endangering park and adjacent county and private property.
Staff’s proposed reversal of the planning directives and policies approved in the Community Consensus Plan includes a new declaration that the restoration of Wildcat Creek is “economically infeasible.” Park planners are also proposing an astonishing “Negative Declaration” under CEQA law be approved by the Board, thus declaring the project will have an “insignificant effect on the environment.”
Current Parking & EBRPD Planning Proposal Status
Following the 1990 Board approval of the Community Consensus Plan, EBRPD staff quickly developed the roadway east of the 1961 culverts as an apparent permanent parking lot, contrary to Board direction.
The McPoil property, with no explanation sought by the EBRPD Board or volunteered by staff, was never purchased, and the vital main parking lot was never designed, let alone built.
The 1990 existing parking was removed from the main picnic area as well as from an archeologically sensitive site next to Park Avenue. For 2 decades park users have been forced to walk through traffic on the street from staff’s “temporary” parking lot, down Park Avenue back to the entrance of the park.
In 2008, without any public process or stakeholder input, staff attempted to do a major expansion of the roadway parking further up the hill. Only when community objections were lodged did they consult the Board approved plan which prevented such a project. Placing more parking within Alvarado Park was contrary to Board approved policy.
Early in 2010 District staff began in earnest with yet another try at the illegal parking lot, this time using a LUDP Revision proposal approach. Most of the year was consumed by staff designing and engineering a major expansion of parking up the steep hill on the roadway even further away from the entrance to the main use area of the park. The public and Alvarado Park stakeholders were completely in the dark as to what was going on prior to an announced public meeting at Riverside School where EBRPD staff unveiled its unvetted plans to the concerned public. Many valid objections were lodged at the meeting including the completely unacceptable lack of obvious alternatives being studied. Even though the park planner Brian Wiese concluded the meeting by saying “we’re going to go back to square one” it is now quite clear that staff continues to move to implement the same disastrous proposal, only now modified to also accommodate six horse truck-trailer rigs including a large turnaround road necessitating excavating into a slide-prone hill while incorporating retaining walls.
Wildcat Canyon’s Future Vision & Opportunities
Friends of Wildcat Canyon, now also a Working Group with Contra Costa County’s San Pablo/Wildcat Creeks Watershed Council, has begun a new Community Initiative – Wildcat Canyon 2.0, an effort to further identify planning issues and sustainable solutions relative to the restoration, development, interpretation and stewardship of Wildcat Canyon and its environs.
We endeavor to partner with relevant supportive community organizations as well as local, state and federal agencies to identify planning expertise and financial resources for the restoration of this magnificent resource.
FWC solicits your valuable input as well as endorsement and support for an environmentally sustainable alternative planning approach.
Please help us in any way you can to defeat EBRPD staff’s environmentally insensitive and disastrous staff proposal.
Alan La Pointe, Chair
Friends of Wildcat Canyon
alerts [at] friendsofwildcatcanyon.org