Over the past 70 years, development has had a profound impact on the El Cerrito landscape. Perhaps no natural feature has been more radically changed than the miles of creeks that course through our city. Longtime residents can remember the days when open creeks were prolific and surrounded by rich riparian habitat.
By the close of the last century, precious few of these valuable natural resources remained that weren't constrained in an underground pipe or otherwise marginalized to a shadow of their former glory. Still, we are wiser/luckier than some communities and have stopped short of completely annihilating our creeks and natural open spaces. As a result, there are some fine remaining examples to enjoy.
These revered remnants helped inspire a robust sentiment to reverse the errors of the past regarding development near creeks, as codified in city policies including the 1995 Joint Watershed Goals Statement, and the Creek Protection Overlay District in the 2008 Zoning Ordinance. These documents establish a strong city policy to go beyond merely protecting the remaining creeks as they are today, by explicitly calling for high quality enhancement and restoration of creeks as future development moves forward. There have already been prominent projects bringing previously piped sections of creek back into the daylight at the north and south gateways to our city, and there are further examples of daylighting and restoration coming soon as part of new development projects.
It is with this history and policy trajectory in mind that there has been such a strong opposition to the proposed development at 1715 Elm St. This condominium project includes 14 new units and the relocation of the historic house on a 0.4 acre site that stands as the last remaining glimpse of the bucolic days of early El Cerrito.
With the third oldest home in El Cerrito and the site context, including over 100 feet of rare daylit creek running across the property, this farmstead site is an irreplaceable historical and environmental community resource. It is completely inappropriate to add a dense housing development with setbacks as tight as 3.5 feet from the creek, instead of the 30 feet called for in the creek ordinance, as this robs the potential for meaningful restoration.
Clearly the city has a strong commitment to adding high quality transit oriented developments with nearly 500 units in the works as part of other projects. However, unique resources like creeks and historic structures need to be carefully considered in the context of these developments. Indeed, it is preserving and enhancing these valuable features that make living in dense infill near transit more attractive. It is imperative that we maintain the city's existing restorative zoning standards regarding creeks instead of compromising them to accommodate a mere 14 new units. That type of shortsighted planning is how we got here. We need to do better.
The San Pablo Specific Plan calls for daylighting and restoring creeks, and observing the guidance in the Creek Overlay District, despite being a plan for intentionally dense areas of development.
El Cerrito planners and the City Council should keep the following question in mind: Do you want to merely provide future generations with a place to live, or a place worth living?
El Cerrito resident Howdy Goudey is a member of the City's Environmental Quality Committee, but the views expressed here are his own.