The Coastal Post - February, 1996

Black Point: More Than You Know At Stake!

It wasn't enough to threaten wildlife with pesticides and herbicides, to destroy over 7,200 trees, or move 25,000 dump trucks of hillside. it wasn't enough to infiltrate the City Council and Planning Commissions with their own hand-selected people. The City and Speiker were not satisfied until they negotiated away our right to vote! So why does any of this matter to you?

BY STEVE KNECHT, LOUIS NUYENS AND PHIL PETERSON

Many of you, no doubt, are already familiar with one of the most unique locations in the entire Bay area—the site of the Black Point Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Here, for over 20 years, millions of people have immersed themselves in a world of imagination and magic, thanks in large part to the compelling charms of one of California's largest remaining old growth oak forests. You may not, however, know that over half of this 240-acre parcel is an historic diked bay wetlands, thereby playing a significant role in providing habitat to numerous species of wildlife. The San Francisco Bay is a vital leg on the Pacific Flyway, one of the three main paths for migrating birdlife. With only 5% of the bayshore remaining undeveloped and suitable for such a stopover, the Black Point forest and the adjoining 200-acre Day Island Wildlife Refuge are especially important since they comprise the last significant contiguous oak forest in the Bay wetlands area. As you might conclude, any sizeable development could devastate these habitats. And that's exactly where we are today.

The Black Point Forest and Wetlands Rescue Project represents a broad cross-section of concerned citizens, including business owners, contractors, property rights advocates, homeowners, environmentalists, politicians, and many Black Point residents who share a common goal; the proper stewardship of the Black Point forest and wetlands. We do, however, favor and support land owner's rights to develop their property—under the law.

Marin and other Bay Area counties are under a full tilt offensive by real estate developers and speculators who are building as never before. Speiker Partners, a New York Stock Exchange mega-developer, bought the Renaissance property in 1990. At the time, it was zoned agricultural/recreational, an unsuitable designation for a "Speiker size" project. They were nonetheless confident that with time and money, they could influence Novato's small town government to accommodate their ambitions. Their most recent project calls for the destruction of more than 7,200 native oak trees and the importation of over 200,000 cubic yards to fill to dump on top of this historic bay wetlands in order to build 53 luxury estate homes and an 18-hole golf course!

Although their overtures have been repeatedly rejected by both the Council and residents of the area, last year Speiker helped elect a pro-growth Novato city Council (see "Novato: The Growth Slut of Marin" in December's Coastal Post). To the amazement of those who keep an eye on political conflicts-of-interest, the developer even hired the Chairman of the Novato Planning Commission as the environmental consultant for the Black Point project. In case this wasn't enough political manipulation, they sued the City of Novato for $16 million last year, saying the City was unfairly blocking the project. The lawsuit gave the City and developer the chance to go into a closed door negotiation, "in order to save the Novato taxpayers dollars." They came out of the back room with a signed Agreement that significantly changed elements of the project, which in turn should have had further EIR review. This maneuver allowed the developer to avoid essential public review required by municipal code and state law.

In essence,the developer and City pulled a bait and switch, which took away the promised 64 acres of dedicated open space, gave the developer the right to turn the golf course private rather than public and incredibly, wrote into the Agreement that any future referendum related to the project would be superseded by their Agreement.

It wasn't enough to threaten wildlife with pesticides and herbicides, to destroy over 7,200 trees, or move 25,000 dump trucks of hillside. it wasn't enough to infiltrate the City Council and Planning Commissions with their own hand-selected people. The City and Speiker were not satisfied until they negotiated away our right to vote! So why does any of this matter to you?

First, the obvious loss of wildlife and habitat is unacceptable. The diked wetlands represent the last potential reservoir of lands which may someday be reclaimed and restored to their original purpose. The Black Point Forest is a remarkable oak woodland, a rare example of pre-colonial terrain, with trees as old as the discovery of gold in California. These resources should not be subordinated to the reckless pursuit of short-sighted profiteers. It should be incumbent upon the owners of these lands to conform to overall strategies intended for their enhancement and preservation. The following groups have spoken out against the Black Point Golf Links Project, citing the major devastation to the environment that would ensue: U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Marin Sierra Club, Marin Countywide Planning, Marin Parks Commission, Black Point Action Committee, California Fish and Game, Golden Gate National Parks Association, Marin Audubon Society, Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Environmental Forum, Bay Area Ridge Trails Council, The San Francisco Bay Association, California Oak Foundation, Marin Conservation League, S.F. Conservation and Development Commission, Marin Relief, Save the San Pablo Bay Lands.

Secondly, the methods being used by the developer and City for the Black Point project, if successful, can be used against other cities throughout California and other states. Developers are rapidly testing loopholes in state law, and if this proves successful, lawsuits, not EIRs, will become the primary method for "paving paradise." Did you see the IJ last week? Another developer wants to buy an adjacent wetlands are on the Sonoma side of the Petaluma River, give it to a Hopland native tribe, obtain Federal Native land designation to avoid Sonoma County EIR and project review, then lease back the land to build a casino and golf course! Developers are testing every loophole they can. Black Point is our line in the sand!

So what have we done, and what do we need to do to stop this project? We have stopped the project via a lawsuit filed by the BP Rescue Project. In December of 1995, Judge Thomas of Marin Superior Court threw out the City's EIR and zoning changes, and told them not to implement their Agreement, until a proper EIR and zoning review was done.

In a second legal victory, Judge Peter Allen Smith has acknowledged that the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and Marin Conservation League have a vested right to formally join the Rescue Project in another lawsuit. If successful, the second suit would extend the setbacks dealt to Speiker even further.

The City appears intent on ignoring the court order to stop activities related to Black Point. Ned Lagin, Chairman of the Novato Planning Commission, and consultant to the Developer, is already guiding new land use designations to ensure that "golf courses and other uses may be appropriate in some rural residential areas." To continue fighting this unconscionable project, our lawsuit must continue to be funded. We are asking for your help. Our lawsuit was successful on a shoe-string budget. And now we are readying ourselves for an appeal by the developer.

Your assistance is needed if the environment is to win in Novato. If you want to rescue one of the keystones of the Bay Area's natural environment. If you want to say "NO" to development corporations determined to exploit the North Bay for their own short-term gain, if you want to help expose a corrupt Novato City Council, and limit the damage their misguided precedent may set for other cities, then help us continue fighting this large-scale propaganda campaigns. We would also welcome donations of information, time or skills that might be helpful. Send $10, $20 or whatever you can afford to: The Black Point Rescue Project, P.O. Box 624, Novato, CA 94948.

The Rescue Project voice mail is (415) 721-1936. We will also relay your written comments to the appropriate Novato city officials.