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Hayward City Council Approves Zoning Changes for Wetlands Project

Keely Wong

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Behind metal gates lie acres of wetland property
slated for development.

Hayward City Council approved zoning changes on Sept. 25, allowing parts of Hayward’s wetlands to be constructed into industrial warehouse use, where burrowing owls are found to live.

Off Hayward’s Industrial Boulevard, behind metal gates, lie acres of wetlands owned by John Webber, who received the approval to develop 31.5 acres of wetlands located in the eastern parts of Hayward.

“The zoning of the project has been set for a long time,” said Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency (HASPA) member Barbara Halliday.

She explains the project, Webber Property Wetland Mitigation Plan, requested zoning changes from a Light Manufacturing District to Planned Development, which is similar, with the exception of now being able to build warehouses. According to the city of Hayward’s website, light manufacturing is the development of technology products, assembly of clothing or manufacturing headquarters, amongst other industrial type jobs.

Halliday said the main complaint at the meeting was people wanting to keep the space open. She said she approved the final decision because it would improve and preserve parts of the wetland, while possibly creating jobs and revenue for Hayward.

With this approval being finalized, construction cannot start until all burrowing owls have left the construction zone.  Surveys will be conducted, flagging areas where burrowing owls are found, in a project called Burrowing Owl Resource Management Plan. This survey will be conducted 30 days prior to construction, recorded Hayward City Council’s agenda.

According to Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, the burrowing owl is protected from permanent removal under the Migratory Treaty Bird Act and in California, is considered a “species of special concern.”

CSU East Bay’s Geography and Environmental Studies professor Ellen Woodard said, there were sightings of burrowing owls in Hayward’s wetlands in 2006, 2007, and 2012.  She explains the “physical removal” or coercion of leaving using “artificial burrows, suitable perches and burrowing owl decoys,” could be used in the removal of burrowing owls.

Woodard says, “burrowing owls exhibit site fidelity,” meaning if they are removed, they may come back to the original site. Although, she says, “This project has substantial adjacent appropriate habitat including nesting and foraging habitats.”

Furthermore, Woodard confirms other “species of concern include the salt marsh harvest mouse and the western snowy plover,” and there is “no suitable habitat for these species [that] currently exists on the site.”

Project manager Tim Koonze explained relocation of burrowing owls could start at any time, because nesting time has not been observed in Hayward’s wetlands.

Of the project’s 86.5 acres in total, 55 acres are permanently being set aside for burrowing owls. The project will destroy .23 acres of wetlands in the U.S Army Corps Engineers jurisdiction, while adding an adjacent .76 acres in the process. Webber plans to restore another .38 acres of existing wetlands stated in the Hayward City Council agenda.

The mitigation process plans to eliminate concerns regarding wildlife habitants and flooding.  Koonze is working alongside a respected biologist from California’s Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) for concerns regarding wildlife habitants. To eliminate flooding, the plan proposes building the site above flood level.

“The project is in the 100 year flood plain,” said Woodard.  “Fill will be added to decrease risk of flooding of buildings, [and] drainage from the site will be directed to an existing system of sufficient capacity.”

A non-profit, called Wildlife Heritage Foundation was approved by a few government agencies, to look over the land.

Koonze said Webber has owned the property somewhere between 30-40 years and also said it was once a duck-hunting club. The property is currently surrounded by housing, commercial and industrial development, alongside California Department of Fish and Game Eden Landing Ecological Reserve.

The project has gained the approval of all required agencies including United States Army Corps of Engineers, State of California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), and Alameda County Flood Control, Water Conservation District and HASPA.

The burrowing owl is not on the Endangered Species Act therefore CDFG was not a required agency for development approval.

After the council’s approval, a 90-day deadline is set for people who want to legally contend the project.

Koonze mentioned the project has three years to be developed, before the plan expires or needs to be renewed. He also confirmed there is no set date for construction to start.

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California State University East Bay
Hayward City Council Approves Zoning Changes for Wetlands Project