October 9, 2008

Judge Denies Request to Stop Alhambra Creek Bank Work

By Lisa P White

MARTINEZ -- The beavers had their day in court Wednesday, but they didn't win.

Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga denied a request from a group of beaver supporters to stop a project to shore up the Alhambra Creek bank.

In a four-page ruling, Zuniga acknowledged community support for the beaver family and the unique nature of an urban beaver habitat. But she ruled that the record shows the city had "substantial evidence" the creek bank needs immediate repair. She also agreed with the city's assertion that putting in sheets of steel is the method least likely to hurt the beavers or the creek environment.

"It's disappointing but not unexpected," said Linda Meza, spokeswoman for the group Worth A Dam, which sought the temporary restraining order.

"We knew that going into this that the city had pretty much covered its bases in terms of pushing ahead its agenda to get this individual's property shored up and had reviewed the law to be able to bypass environmental safeguards."

Martinez fast-tracked the creek bank project, in part, to avoid a threatened lawsuit from the Dunivan family, who own property next to the creek.

Workers will begin setting up a crane and trimming trees this week, said Dave Scola, city public works director. On Tuesday, the contractor will start driving the interlocking sheets of steel into the creek bed to stabilize the bank between Escobar and Marina Vista streets. The job is expected to take about 10 days.

At a hearing Wednesday morning, the attorney for Worth A Dam argued the city should not be allowed to sidestep the requirements of the state Environmental Quality Act because it has failed to prove that a retaining wall at 611 Escobar St. is in imminent danger of collapsing.

Attorney Michael Graf contended the engineer the city hired to survey the creek bank had relied on speculation -- and not on concrete evidence the beavers have burrowed under the retaining wall -- to declare the wall could give way in a moderate rainstorm.

"There's no evidence that the beavers' activity has precipitated some emergency," Graf said.

Last month, engineer Phillip Gregory discovered that a narrow gap between the retaining wall and the creek bank had widened to two to three feet over a five-month period.

Gregory told the City Council last week it needed to take immediate action to stabilize the creek bank between Escobar and Marina Vista streets to prevent the wall from falling.

Such a collapse could make Martinez liable for millions of dollars in damages because the city is responsible for maintenance of that section of Alhambra Creek.

The petitioner would have you believe this case is all about the beavers," city attorney Veronica Nebb said during the hearing Wednesday. "What this case is about is, it's about public safety."

Nebb said the work to stabilize the creek bank posed little harm to the beaver family. However, she argued that failing to do the project would endanger public safety and adjacent property owners, as well as put the city at risk of a costly settlement.

Meza said Worth A Dam members were not sure if they had any other legal remedies available to them. But they are buying a heat- seeking laser device. "We want to make sure before they start driving in sheet piles that there aren't beavers napping," Meza said.

Lisa P. White covers Pleasant Hill and Martinez. Reach her at 925- 943-8011 or [email protected]

Originally published by Lisa P. White, Contra Costa Times.

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