Residents Rally for “Rarest of Mosaics”

Fremont residents have unofficially weighed in against the development of open space next to Coyote Hills Regional Park, which houses gray fox, deer, native willow groves, more than 170 bird species, and a series of Native American burial mounds.
The 1,064-acre park, just west of privately owned ranchland targeted by a developer, “is the best freshwater marsh in the whole East Bay,” said San Francisco Bay Area naturalist and ornithologist Dr. Howard Cogswell.
In a February 2002 survey of registered Fremont voters for Friends of the Ridgelands, more than 80% told San Francisco-based David Binder Research that they would like to restrict development on the 427-acre Patterson Ranch. It insulates the park from a large industrial center and dense residential section to the east.
“The ranch serves as a buffer to Coyote Hills,” said Meg Gleason, co-chair of Friends of Coyote Hills and Fremont. “Development (would) irrevocably degrade the integrity and quality of the park both for recreational users and for wildlife.”
In December 2001, San Mateo-based Frisbie Planning Co. targeted the ranch for a commercial center, major sports park, elementary school, and 1,800 units of housing — up from 1,200 units in a February 2000 plan.
Developer Richard Frisbie said the proposal would protect against threats to the “beautiful area.”
The Friends of Coyote Hills’ website disagreed: “The development will cause more noise, traffic, air pollution, and a large influx of domestic cats and other domestic animals. Cats will endanger the already fragile California quail population.”
At least 173 bird species, including such uncommon ones as tricolored blackbirds, golden eagles, and white-tailed kites, have been observed in the park and ranch area, Cogswell said.
Developing the ranch would gobble up prime “herb-covered hunting space for open-space birds,” Cogswell said. Losing habitat, he said, would affect meadowlarks, pheasants, winter-foraging ducks, migrating shorebirds, and especially raptors, including hawks and owls that forage in the open grassland.
One of the Bay’s last pre-European habitats runs through the ranch and park, according to a 1999 study sponsored by the US EPA and the regional water quality board. “The diked wetlands east of Coyote Hills [Patterson Ranch Property] support the largest remaining willow groves in the baylands ecosystem,” said the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat report. Seasonal and diked wetland and a permanent freshwater pond also dot the site.
“It is the rarest of all mosaics left in the Bay Area,” said Josh Collins of the San Francisco
Estuary Institute. “The particular blend of riparian, willow grove, seasonal wetland, and tidal marsh preferred by indigenous peoples is almost completely gone except [at] Coyote Hills.”
In studying the extensive Native American use of the site, archaeologists like Alan Leventhal of San Jose State University have found Ohlone graves on Patterson Ranch and in the park. “The chances of hitting cemetery sites are very high,” he says. “It was a densely occupied locality with a variety of mortuary sites that spanned thousands of years.”
In December 2001, Frisbie applied to change the ranch’s open-space zoning to residential. City officials could not say when the plan would undergo an Environmental Impact Report, which would precede a city council vote expected as early as mid-2003.
Amid pressure from local environmentalists, the council in February excluded the Patterson Ranch plan from its “Housing Element,” a state-mandated plan to build 6,700 residences before 2006 to keep commuters near Fremont’s new jobs.
As early as April, the US Army Corps of Engineers was planning to rule on how much of the ranch constituted “wetlands,” which could curtail the land available for building.
But the Corps ruling, the council vote, and the survey won’t bind the council to stop the project — or stop the developer from suing the Corps, or the council, over unfavorable rulings or claims of “taking of the property,” said councilman Bob Wasserman.
“Will [the voter survey] influence us?” asked Wasserman. “Certainly. Ultimately, the council is going to have to make some very very tough decisions.”

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