OAKLAND -- An Alameda County Superior Court judge heard arguments Thursday in an environmental lawsuit regarding plans to renovate Albany Beach and the area around it.
The lawsuit concerns whether the environmental impact report complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Judge Evelio Grillo gave no timetable when he would rule on the case. During arguments, he seemed very responsive to arguments by Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund attorney Kelly Smith that the East Bay Regional Park District failed to properly assess the current impacts of illegal off-leash dogs at the beach as a baseline in calculating what the future impacts of dogs at the beach would be.
The environmental report made no distinction between the impacts of on-leash and off-leash dogs.
Attorneys for the park district argued that on-leash dogs have little or no environmental impacts so, therefore, all of the impacts discussed were implicitly caused by the off-leash dogs. Grillo didn't appear to be buying that.
"If the analysis had made it clear all of these impacts were based on the dogs being off leash, the court might agree with you," Grillo said. "What I see is dogs including unleashed dogs. There's nowhere in this report I see what the baseline is. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that might be significant."
Park district attorney Tamara Galanter responded: "CEQA allows the court to make inferences. The impact would not have changed. It's not dependent."
Earlier in the hearing, Galanter had asked rhetorically, "Did it result in some kind of underreporting of impacts" which misled the public or decision makers? She insisted it had not.
Smith argued that the environmental report is "supposed to lay out impacts." He spoke of "the doggy dilution principal," which he said the district was pushing -- the idea that the dogs would be spread out and therefore have little to no impact.
"Unleashed dogs run around everywhere," Smith said. "They're not going to be restricted to so much per square foot."
The environmental group had also argued that a launch for nonmotorized watercraft, such as windsurfers, would impact eel grass, but Grillo was dismissive of the claim.
Plans to renovate Albany Beach include cleaning up the beach area as well as the "neck" which leads to the Albany Bulb, removing concrete rubble, rebuilding the bank to combat erosion, making the trail accessible to people with disabilities, adding a 20-car parking lot and constructing the launch site.