Did you get a chance to stop the FOV booth at the 2023 Livermore Downtown Street Festival and chat with our Board Members, Tammy Reus and Patty Bias? Word has it, they really enjoyed chatting with new and old friends at the booth. They are a wealth of knowledge and passion for the work and programs we offer to permanently protect Livermore Valley's open space, agricultural lands, and sustainability of our local wine industry. Are you interested in learning more about FOV? Feel free to contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and ways to support. We look forward to hearing from you!
We are happy to announce that, after many years of working to protect Tesla Park from being turned into an off-road vehicle park, an agreement has been reached between the legislature, Governor Newsom’s office, and State Parks to preserve Tesla as a non-motorized vehicle park. The agreement was part of a budget trailer bill that allocated $18.5 million from the state general fund to repay the Off-Highway Fund for the land value plus $2.4 million for costs associated with planning the former Carnegie Park expansion into Tesla. An additional $11.5 million will be allocated to develop another, more suitable, property as an off-road park, with another $1 million going toward transitioning Tesla into a non-motorized vehicle park. This is a huge win-win for all! The legislation is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
FOV has worked closely with Friends of Tesla Park to realize this goal. Numerous letters were submitted, board members participated in many legislative committee hearings, made calls and sent emails urging passage of legislation to preserve Tesla. Thanks to all of our supporters who joined in this effort. Special thanks are due to Celeste Garamendi and former FOV Board member Nancy Rodrigue, who spearheaded the fight to save Tesla. Thanks also to Assemblymember, Rebecca Bauer- Kahan and State Senator Steve Glazer, our local state representatives, for carrying legislation to protect Tesla and for their hard work behind the scenes to make this agreement a reality.
Earlier this year, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan introduced AB 1512 and State Senator Steven Glazer introduced SB 799 with the goal of protecting Tesla. Tesla is home to threatened and endangered species and is part of an important wildlife corridor. These bills would direct the State Parks Department to permanently preserve the Tesla area and specifies that $9 million will be provided to the Off-Highway Vehicle Division. The funds have been committed through the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee in Alameda County and no state funds will be required.
Tesla includes at least 42 threatened, endangered and special status wildlife species, designated critical habitats, 13 special status and over 20 locally rare plant species, 7 sensitive vegetation communities, unusual vegetation assemblages, and a critical linkage habitat corridor along the Diablo Range. Tesla’s unique biodiversity is related to its location at the intersection of biotic zones. These factors make Tesla vital for climate resiliency in a time of rapid climate change that threatens species and habitats. This fact was confirmed again by a 2019 UC Berkeley study identifying the area of the northern Diablo Range where Tesla is located, as a top conservation priority for the entire state. Tesla Park’s irreplaceable natural features are matched by its equally important cultural resources from exceptional Native American archeologic and sacred ceremonial sites to the historic Tesla town site.
In January 2021, a court ruled against State Parks and in favor of the County of Alameda’s challenge to the CEQA approval to open Tesla Park to off-highway vehicle recreation and ordered the State to set aside its EIR and General Plan. With this ruling in place, now is an opportune time to pursue a legislative solution.
FOV joined with many other organizations to send letters and voice support for the bills at the legislative committee hearings. SB 799 (Glazer) and AB 1512 (Bauer-Kahan) were passed out of their respective Appropriations Committees the week of May 16 and sent to the floor for a vote. We do not have the date of the floor vote yet, but bills have to pass out of their house of origin by June 4, 2021 to continue to the next house this session. In the meantime, here is what you can do to help. It is important that the Governor understand that there is strong support for preserving Tesla so that he will sign the bills once they are approved. If you have not yet done so, please sign the petition to the Governor NOW to urge him to protect Tesla. We need as many signatures as possible by mid-June. Your support is critical to this effort!
As you may recall from past newsletters, FOV was actively involved in the environmental review and hearing process for the 100 megawatt, 300 acre Aramis Solar Project in North Livermore. The board concluded that the Aramis Project was inappropriately located, violating Measure D and the East County Area Plan, and harming important habitat for threatened species. Analysis of the environmental impact report found it to be deficient as a matter of fact and law. The board also felt strongly that no solar projects should be approved without a comprehensive county solar policy in place. FOV submitted written comments on the environmental impact report, and board members participated in numerous public hearings culminating in the approval of the project by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. FOV was one of three organizations that filed appeals of the decision, and submitted a detailed brief identifying and analyzing the flaws in the findings and conditions. Attorney Stephen Cassidy represented FOV at the appeal hearing and provided a formal presentation to the Board of Supervisors. Unfortunately, the Supervisors voted to uphold the project despite the evidence presented in support of the appeals.
Twenty years ago, FOV was a strong advocate for the passage of Measure D, intended to protect unincorporated East Alameda County from runaway development and to preserve and enhance agriculture and open space. The Supervisors’ approval of the Aramis Project opens the door to further commercialization of North Livermore and represents a major threat to the aims of Measure D. FOV has concluded that we must continue the fight to protect North Livermore. Consequently we have joined with Save North Livermore Valley and the Ohlone Audubon Society in a lawsuit to challenge the Supervisors’ decision. We believe there are strong legal grounds for overturning the approval, and while we cannot guarantee how the Court will rule, we believe it is important to continue to fight for what we stand for. To support this effort, Save North Livermore Valley has set up a GoFundMe account. All money collected goes to the litigation. To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-north-livermore-valley/
We have good news to share regarding the 6 megawatt, 60 acre Sunwalker Project, also in North Livermore. FOV opposed this project for many of the same reasons we opposed the Aramis Project. In addition, the project would violate the Williamson Act restrictions against covering more than 10% of agricultural land with solar panels and would create cumulative environmental impacts when combined with the Aramis project. The Williamson Act allows landowners to receive reduced property taxes in exchange for keeping their land in productive agriculture. The County staff maintained that the project did not violate the Act. FOV again appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustment’s approval of this project, along with Save North Livermore Valley and Friends of Livermore. The Board of Supervisors heard the appeals on April 22. Karen Swaim, a professional biologist, presented on behalf of FOV. The Supervisors had questions about the Williamson Act and other elements of the project and continued the hearing to June 3. On May 19, we were informed that the applicant has withdrawn its application. This is a significant victory. If we had not continued to fight this project by appealing to the Board of Supervisors and raising the Williamson Act and other issues, this project would have gone forward, further undermining agriculture and open space in North Livermore. If the applicant wants to pursue the project in the future, it will have to file a new application with the county and start the environmental review process all over again. Hopefully, this will not go forward at least until the County adopts a solar policy that specifies the appropriate locations for solar, a process that is currently underway.
The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) is expected to hold a hearing on the Sunwalker Energy Solar Project in North Livermore on October 22nd at 1:30 p.m. This will be a Zoom meeting with public comment permitted. The Final Environmental Impact Report for the project is expected to be released on October 12th.
Your attendance at this meeting will go a long way to show the BZA that the community is opposed to moving forward with this project. We need to make a strong showing of opposition if we are to have a chance of prevailing. This is the only hearing that will occur on this project unless it is appealed. There will be no opportunity to vote on it.
The BZA's formal agenda for 10/22 has not yet been released. It is possible that the hearing date could change. If this happens we will send you an email. We will also send some talking points before the meeting with the Zoom link. However, you do not have to speak. Your attendance will also speak volumes to the board!
For more information about solar in North Livermore, please go to SaveNorthLivermoreValley.com, our partner organization in this effort. Read the joint statement issued on behalf of FOV, Save North Livermore Valley, and Friends of Livermore here.
by Dick Schneider
The Bay Area’s shelter-in-place orders and the recent increase in COVID-19 case numbers have revealed something nature lovers have known for a long time: Local open space for walking, hiking and nature contemplation is at a premium.
One place that easily could be opened soon to provide more hiking and walking space is known as Tesla Park. It’s 3,100 acres of pristine land located outside of Livermore, in eastern Alameda County.
Tesla is beautiful, with panoramic views of Mount Diablo, the Central Valley and the Sierra mountains. It has abundant wildlife, including a variety of rare, threatened and protected species (the California red-legged frog, Alameda whipsnake, and Golden eagle are three examples, in addition to many rare native plants).
Tesla is so rich and biologically diverse that, for decades, it was a nature study area for University of California professors. Some of California’s earliest naturalists, including John Muir and Joseph Grinnell, recognized the conservation value of the area.
It’s also already owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. So why isn’t it open to the public?
Unfortunately, since the late 1990s, Tesla has sat unopened behind locked gates. The state parks department is hanging tight to irrational plans to open Tesla to damaging off-road vehicle recreation, a plan that faces intense local opposition. Such use would destroy Tesla’s ecological value and limit its recreational value to all but a relatively limited group of off-road vehicle enthusiasts. Anyone else trying to enjoy the area would be assaulted by noise, dust, vehicle exhaust and the destruction of natural scenery.
An increase in air pollution is a significant and unavoidable impact of opening the area to off-road vehicle use. In our new normal of physical distancing, that likely will require park officials to offer access to the park only on a limited basis. Not that this will matter for those seeking a hiking respite — the last place where most people will want to recreate is in a hot spot for air pollution, with visibly scarred hills.
The COVID-19 crisis has presented an opportunity to rethink how we do things and reveals what is most important.
The state parks department can re-designate Tesla as a non-motorized park and preserve. This decision would solve two problems at once: The department could end the ongoing dispute over Tesla’s future, and provide more hiking and walking space close to the Bay Area population. This would increase access for a much larger number of people, and preserve a biologically rich and scenic gem for all time.
Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed AB1086, a bill that would have allowed the sale of Tesla to a local agency for conservation. The parks department opposed losing any of its acreage.
But Newsom has the power to act without legislation, and with full reimbursement to the state. With the stroke of a pen, he can — and should — administratively designate Tesla as a non-motorized park and preserve within the state parks system.
The coronavirus pandemic will ease eventually. But designating Tesla Park as non- motorized open space now ensures that it will always be here when we need it.
Dick Schneider is chair of the Sierra Club Tri-Valley Regional Group, which covers eastern Alameda County. He co-authored Measure D, the Save Agriculture and Open Space Lands Initiative, passed by Alameda County voters in 2000.
Your Friends of Open Space and Vineyards Board of Directors hope you are all staying safe and healthy as we continue to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Special Giving Efforts
During the extraordinary time we are facing, FOV recognizes the impact of COVID-19 in our local communities and the need to serve in different ways. We are committed to our regular mission to preserve and protect open space and vineyard lands, as circumstances permit. In addition, we are supporting the Las Positas College COVID-19 Giving Initiative (#LPCTogether). This program provides equipment and materials to students who need assistance due to distance learning requirements. The pandemic has impacted our ability to provide our regular scholarships this year for students in the Viticulture and Winery Technology Program at Las Positas College. We believe that that supporting all students in need right now, regardless of program, is critically important.
We will continue to support our regular scholarship program. We hope to be able to see you at our annual Twilight Tasting at Page Mill Winery in October to raise funds for the students studying Viticulture and Enology at Las Positas College. No one knows yet when tasting rooms will be open, but we will adapt our event to any restrictions in effect at that time so that we can continue to provide scholarships that promote winemaking and viticulture in our region.
Call to Action for Tesla Park
The pandemic has stalled efforts to pursue legislation to save Tesla during the current legislative session. Nevertheless, the fight continues. One way you can help is to join the social media campaign to Save Tesla. Our partner, Friends of Tesla Park, has shared easy ways that you can help:
Please re-tweet, follow, share, and post with the hashtag #SaveTeslaPark
on Twitter and SaveTeslaPark on FB.
The Tweets and posts are coming from the Sierra Club's SF Bay Chapter account, @SFBaySierraClub, and the Friends of Tesla Park Twitter account, @tesla_park. Please follow us and share with your circle of contacts with the hashtag #SaveTeslaPark on Twitter and SaveTeslaPark on Facebook. Here is link to a recent #SaveTeslaPark tweet.
NOTE: There may be some OHV user attacks in response to your posts. Please ignore the trolls and do not engage with them. We only want to post positive comments about Tesla.
Please help spread the word about Tesla and build support for its preservation. This will help us gain support when we are able to work with the legislature and governor again.
Support Local Wineries
Our local tasting rooms are still closed due to the pandemic. Please support them if you can. Many wineries are offering curbside pick-up and deliveries, as well as virtual tastings. If the wineries don’t succeed it will affect the long-term stability of the South Livermore Valley Area Plan. For information about what’s available check your favorite wineries’ websites. For a list of options, click here.
The Tri-Valley Conservancy's (TVC) Valley Trail Connections initiative is nearing completion. The installation of the Edward R. Campbell Bridge over the Arroyo del Valle in Sycamore Grove Park began this last July and will officially open on December 12. The pedestrian bridge is the final step in connecting 44 miles of trails through Sycamore Grove Park, Del Valle Regional Park, Ohlone Regional Wilderness, Sunol Regional Wilderness, and Mission Peak Regional Preserve. The Grand Opening will take place on December 12th from 1-2 pm at the Arroyo entrance to Sycamore Grove Park (5049 Arroyo Road in Livermore).
The Friends of Open Space and Vineyards is a proud supporter and partner with the Tri-Valley Conservancy. Tammy Reus, the FOV appointee to the TVC board, along with past and present FOV members, were on hand for the Valley Trail Connections bridge ground breaking ceremony in July.
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