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Residents rally to save endangered hillside

Source: ECHO


EL CERRITO, Calif.-­May 9, 2006 -- A luxury-home builder is seeking to buy the largest remaining area of unprotected open space in the El Cerrito hills. The El Cerrito Hillside Organization has other plans for this unique site bordering the Hillside Natural Area, with its open grasslands, rock outcrops, and wooded swales.

ECHO was founded in early March, soon after local residents and nature lovers learned that Emeryville developer Anne Koenig was planning to excavate two roads and up to 30 housing lots on the steep 15-acre parcel that slopes between Arlington Blvd. and Potrero Avenue. Consisting largely of fill soil and landslide debris, the hillside sits near the Hayward earthquake fault and has been classified as a slide zone. Construction of any sort risks ground failure and landslides, especially after a severely wet winter like the one we just experienced.

"This hillside is just not suitable for development," said ECHO co-founder Martie Conner. "The area is steep, heavily wooded in part, and prone to landslides. There are two creeks, natural springs, and a wide variety of native plants. The impact of development on wildlife would be devastating."

To address residents' concerns, ECHO invited Koenig to meet and discuss her development plans, but the group was put off. Koenig is reportedly still working to attract investors before closing escrow in June.

The City of El Cerrito has been inundated with letters and inquiries from residents concerned about the hillside. More than 70 people attended an April 23, 2006 ECHO meeting, where Planning Manager Jennifer Carman explained to the group that the City will scrutinize any project carefully, but cannot involve itself until the sale of the land closes, and the City receives an official development proposal.

ECHO isn't waiting for that to happen. The black-tailed deer and red-tailed hawks can't risk it, and neither can the families living along the slip line.

In addition to continued efforts to alert Koenig and potential investors to the hazards involved in development, ECHO has formed a Yahoo discussion group called ElCerritoHillside and a website at echopenspace.org. In just a few weeks, membership and support have grown quickly. More than a hundred strong, the group enjoys the backing of the local Sierra Club group.

"We are opposed to any development on this land," said Norman LaForce, former mayor of El Cerrito and Chair of the Sierra Club's West Contra Costa group. "We can't afford to lose these last remaining acres of native oak woodland and riparian habitat."

El Cerrito's 1999 General Plan makes clear the city's intent "to preserve oak woodland, riparian vegetation, creeks, native grasslands, wildlife corridors, and other important wildlife habitats." ECHO is relying on this policy to support its efforts to preserve the open space as a natural extension of the Hillside Natural Area.

"As El Cerrito becomes increasingly urban, this hillside is a treasure we need to preserve for the benefit of present and future generations," said Lori Dair, an open-space advocate who has lived in the city for 12 years. "We all need to take a walk on the wild side from time to time."



Martie & Chris Conner

El Cerrito Hillside Organization

6970 Fairview Drive, El Cerrito CA 94530

(510) 234-3344 x3




Ralph Willis, Orinda


Anne Koenig

1480 66th Street

Emeryville, CA 94608

(510) 830-7999


Sheila Emery


5069 Appian Way

El Sobrante, CA 94803



Aaron Vitale

Vital Building

10835 San Pablo Avenue #200

El Cerrito CA 94530


Run dates: 2006-05-14 - 2006-05-31

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