Shenanigans on the Boulevard
That'll Be $1,050, Please: Planning Commission Flushes Citizens' Money Down PeraltaCreek


by Dennis Evanosky


On December 15 the Planning Commission delivered early Christmas presents to residents of Rettig Avenue. One group unwrapped a nugget of gold, the other a lump of coal.

Gold went to property owners along Peralta Creek who say the issue is only the repair of an almost seven-year-old landslide. The lump of coal went to neighbors and preservationists who see the protection of the creek corridor from harmful development as the issue. On October 29, 2004, the city had decided in the property owners' favor. The neighbors appealed. On December 1 the Planning Commission denied the appeal, charging the appellants $1,050 in costs.

In overturning the neighbor's petition, the commission voted to exempt all phases of the landslide project from review under California's Environmental Quality Act and to allow work to proceed during the wet-weather season.

For Metro readers not familiar with Rettig Avenue, one neighbor describes it as "a little creek road between Wisconsin Street and Jordan Road that hasn't been the same since El Ni?o [in 1998]."

Residents from surrounding neighborhoods joined together to form the Friends of Peralta Creek (FOPC) to work toward the "preservation and natural restoration of Rettig Avenue green space," the organization's Web site (www.peraltacreek.org) says. According to FOPC, because vehicle traffic hasn't been through the creek corridor since 1998, "the creek habitat has rebounded and wildlife has reclaimed the area."

For one year, FOPC has petitioned the city to evaluate the impact the landslide project and subsequent development would have on the creek corridor, the roadway, and the community. They have followed the city's guidelines to submit public comment regarding the future of Rettig Avenue.

Some say the city has listened not to the majority of neighbors who have voiced opposition to the exempting the landslide project and possible future development, but to the better-connected few property owners.

The Oakland General Plan, the state-mandated document that serves as a blueprint for the city, calls the Peralta Creek Corridor from Wisconsin Street to Monterey Boulevard "the only natural open space in the area" and "a wildlife corridor for habitat management purposes." (Open Space Conservation and Recreation Element.)

Even if one views the Planning Commission's decision as proper, the way the commission rendered that decision must come into question.

For example:

Neighbors say that the city violated Planning Commission protocol, the City of Oakland's Sunshine Ordinance, and the State of California's Brown Act, which all require proper public notice of meetings and public availability of meeting materials. (For more, go online to www.macarthurmetro.org and read the September 2004 "Shenanigans" article.)

When the Planning Commission heard the Rettig Avenue case on December 1, Mayor Brown was at City Hall hosting a town hall meeting about the new police chief. Just before the Rettig appeal hearing, I was told that Brown met one of the neighbors who was active against the city's position in the City Hall lobby. He chastised his constituent for "daring to appeal the city's decision about Rettig Avenue." Brown also criticized California'sEnvironmental Quality Act, the neighbors told me.

If you watched the December 1 Planning Commission meeting that aired on KTOP Sunday evening, December 5, you did not get the whole story. "KTOP edited the Rettig Avenue hearing and deleted (among other sound bites) the chair of the Planning Commission yelling out at one of the appellants," one viewer told me. By the way, yelling out at anyone from a commissioner's seat particularly yelling out from the chair violates the Code of Ethics.

KTOP tapes fail to show some commissioners ignoring the appellants who paid $1,050 for the privilege of having the floor. Some commissioners left the room for coffee. Others talked to each other and busied themselves, the appellants told me. Maybe the camera operator should turn the camera on the commissioners occasionally. That way the commissioners might pay better attention. The decision was a foregone conclusion, the appellants thought. If that was the case, then the city might as well have flushed the appellant's $1,050 down Peralta Creek.

In a matter of months, neighbors say, 60,000 cubic yards enough to fill an entire football field shin-deep with earth will be excavated from the hillside of Rettig Avenue just feet from the bank of Peralta Creek. "The experts all agree that this method of landslide repair is extremely risky," one neighbor told me. "It literally digs away a landslide from a slope."

The neighbors fear that immediate development could get pushed through the city, too.

Those on the other side deny this: "The slide repair plans that have been submitted to the city deal only with the repair of the slide and nothing else," a letter the property owners sent to the neighbors said. "Even though there was a driveway in one of the two undeveloped lots, it is not being recut or resurfaced. These plans are only for the stabilization of the hillside and the safety of our homes."

"Visit Rettig Avenue soon, before excavation begins," said one community member.

Mayor Brown's behavior, City and Planning Commission procedures, and KTOP's editing policies all make grist for my mill.

Stay tuned.