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For Immediate Release, May 31, 2007


Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Ralph Kanz, Friends of Oakland’s Endangered Species, (510) 482-3979

Developments Are Eliminating Rare and Endangered Plants in Oakland Hills
Mitigation Measures for Development Projects Routinely Ignored

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Oakland Planning Commission is preparing to give final approval to a development project on Crestmont Drive in Oakland that will further decimate Oakland’s vanishing population of the endangered plant Presidio clarkia (Clarkia franciscana). Presidio clarkia is a beautiful, lavender-pink native flower that grows only on serpentine soils in the Presidio of San Francisco and the Oakland Hills.

One year ago the Center for Biological Diversity sent the City of Oakland a warning letter regarding ongoing destruction of endangered plant species in the Oakland Hills during vegetation management and development projects — destruction that violates both state and federal Endangered Species Acts. Development on sensitive habitats and careless vegetation management activities in the Oakland hills are destroying some of the last populations of rare plants like the Presidio clarkia and the pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida).

“The city of Oakland ought to be proud to host unique plant species and should be championing their conservation, rather than promoting development that eliminates irreplaceable plant populations,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The planning department must comply with environmental laws that mandate protection of endangered species. We intend to hold the city accountable.”

The Environmental Impact Report for the Crestmont Drive project fails to disclose that the city has not enforced mitigation measures to protect this state and federal endangered species during construction of two previously approved projects. The city continues to allow development in sensitive habitats in the Oakland hills without any consideration for cumulative impacts to listed species, and has failed to implement mitigation measures that are required by law under the California Environmental Quality Act. California law requires lead agencies for projects to ensure the implementation of mitigation measures to reduce environmental impacts. Unfortunately for threatened and endangered species residing in Oakland, the city rarely obeys the law.

“We demand that the city of Oakland cease any activities or approvals for projects that impact rare and endangered species or their habitats until all previous mitigation measures for special status species have been implemented,” said Ralph Kanz with Friends of Oakland’s Endangered Species, which formed in response to the city’s mismanagement of endangered species habitats in the Oakland hills.

The city has illegally allowed housing development and subdivisions in the Crestmont Drive area near Redwood Road to proceed without adequate environmental review of the impacts on special-status plant species occurring there, particularly Presidio clarkia. The city has not obtained permits to destroy the plants under the California Endangered Species Act, failed to review the impacts under the Act, ignored recommendations of the Open Space, Conservation and Recreation element of the city’s General Plan, erroneously determined there were no impacts on special-status species at the site, and failed to perform adequate surveys for special-status plants.

The nearby Oakland Hills Tennis Club expansion project, approved in 1988, required that the Presidio clarkia on the site be protected. The mitigation measures provide that “the project sponsor shall develop a management plan for the ongoing protection of the plant population and its potential habitat.” Although the project was completed and the building is occupied, no management plan was ever prepared; some of the land with potential habitat was sold, and homes have since been constructed on it. An adjacent site also supports a population of Presidio clarkia, as well as a population of the state endangered San Francisco popcornflower (Plagiobothrys diffusus). Again the project approval from 1997 required the preparation of a management plan for the endangered species, including the removal of a stand of invasive French broom. The broom was never removed, continued to grow and thrive, and today both threatens the endangered species and creates a serious fire hazard.

Twenty-one pallid manzanita plants lived on the site of the Chabot Space and Science Center in 1994, where development was approved by the City of Oakland in 1995. The mitigation measures for the project required preparing and implementing a pallid manzanita habitat conservation plan “to ensure the continued existence of this endangered species at the project site” prior to the issuance of a grading permit. Today only 11 plants survive — the result of being shaded out by trees that were required to be removed under the conservation plan. Failure to remove these trees as required by the Environmental Impact Report also creates a fire hazard on the site.

The Leona Quarry Project, approved by the city of Oakland in 2004, was acknowledged to impact coastal scrub habitat for the federally threatened Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus). The Alameda whipsnake mitigation measure for the project required a conservation easement protecting approximately 70 acres of open space, including 37 acres of newly created habitat that “shall be recorded with or concurrently to the recording of the last final map.” The last final map for the project was recorded in December 2005, but no conservation easement has been recorded.

Careless vegetation management activities by the city of Oakland also continue to needlessly destroy endangered and threatened plants without securing legal permits, in violation of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts. In 2006 the Old Redwood Road population of Presidio clarkia was cut by the owner in response to city of Oakland demands. This was the third consecutive year this population was cut before the plants could set seed and reproduce. As an annual species, the plant’s long-term survival is threatened by these poorly timed activities. Numerous pallid manzanitas have also been destroyed by the city despite thorough mapping of the location of all manzanita plants.

Pallid manzanita grows only in chaparral habitat in the East Bay hills. There are only 13 known occurrences of pallid manzanita in the East Bay, 10 within or adjacent to the upper Sausal Creek watershed in Oakland. The plants are found near Skyline Boulevard in or adjacent to Huckleberry, Sibley, Redwood and Joaquin Miller parks. Recent surveys show that the overall population is 75 percent less than the estimated population counts from 1985. The Oakland Hills population has been reduced, largely due to the destruction of plants by city operations and lack of proper management.

Only seven remaining fragmented populations of Presidio clarkia have been documented in the Oakland Hills, in the Crestmont area near and in Redwood Regional Park.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and wild places.

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