Affordable housing approved in Castro Valley despite opposition

This article is originally written by Peter Hegarty on EastBayTimes

Alameda Count supervisors have cleared the way for the construction of a 72-unit affordable apartment building, despite dozens of residents saying the project will take away open space, displace wildlife and was not vetted enough.

Eden Housing, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing throughout California, plans to construct the building at Ruby and A streets near Crescent Avenue on six vacant acres that border San Lorenzo Creek.

The project also calls for a public walking and bicycle path at the edge of the creek, which begins in Castro Valley and flows to San Francisco Bay, as well as 109 parking spots.

The creek borders one side of the parcel, once the site of dilapidated housing and informally named Ruby Meadow by neighbors. The houses were torn down sometime between 2011 and 2014.

An effort to prevent the site from getting redeveloped failed Oct. 20, when supervisors unanimously rejected an appeal by seven local community groups of an Aug. 3 Planning Commission decision approving the project.

“The new Castro Valley project will provide much needed low-income housing in the unincorporated area,” Supervisor Wilma Chan said via a text. “While open space is also important, housing remains the top need in our county.”

Opponents could fight the supervisors’ decision in court, said Ann Maris of the Grove Way Neighborhood Association, one of the groups that filed the appeal. But she admitted a legal challenge is unlikely because of the high cost.

Maris also does not know whether nearby residents would be willing to put up money to continue the fight, especially in these financially uncertain times.

“This has been a huge part of our lives for so long,” she said about the fenced-off vacant plot during an interview. “People can visit and see wildlife, animals, birds or just enjoy the fresh air. We are super devastated. Really, really devastated.”

Wildlife in the riparian corridor can include deer, raccoons and western red bats.

Opponents noted the neighborhood’s history as a place where the Ohlone lived before the arrival of Europeans.

More study was needed, opponents contended, on the environmental impacts of the housing project, plus the potential loss of a cultural resource that could offer insights into the Ohlone and their way of life.

However, a CEQA consultant for the project found no significant cultural resources at the site, according to a county staff report.

“The site has the appropriate land use designations to allow the project, and both the zoning and general plan allow for a multiple-unit residential project,” Chris Bazar, director of the county’s Community Development Agency, told supervisors in a report.

Bazar said the project also warranted approval under the California Environmental Quality Act, the statewide policy for environmental protection.

At least five houses were demolished on the site between 2011 and 2014, according to a consultant’s report. The former Caltrans property is behind a chain-link fence.

Eden Housing currently has housing projects under construction in Alameda, San Leandro, East Palo Alto, Morgan Hill, as well as two in Fremont and others in Tracy and Santa Rosa. The latest that will open, in East Palo Alto, will be completed in January 2023.

“Eden is ignoring the needs of both the neighborhood and low-income people for adequate local parks,” Hayward resident Sherman Lewis said in an Oct. 5 letter to county officials. “Ruby Meadow and its woodland and creek are economically integrated, unique and irreplaceable, while there are many better-located alternatives for affordable housing, documented by the county itself, with far less damage.”

A representative from Eden, which owns the Castro Valley property, did not immediately return a request for comment.

“While California has faced a housing crisis for years, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the need for more affordable housing,” Eden posted on its website. “At a time when social distancing and staying at home is required to ensure public health, more than half of Castro Valley renters are rent-burdened and struggle to pay rent.”

The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District will maintain the walking and bike trail.

Other groups that filed the appeal were the Ohlone Audobon Society, the Cherryland Community Association, My Eden Voice Parks and Open Space Committee, Eden Community Land Trust, Padres Unidos De Cherryland and Friends of San Lorenzo Creek.

“We were let down by our county supervisors,” Maris said.

The future single, multi-story “L” shaped building will have two- and four-story sections and will take up about half the site.

A possible date for when construction will begin and a projected date for the work to be finished was not available.

The site was identified as a spot for potential housing in the 2012 Castro Valley general plan, as well as in Alameda County’s Housing Element, the primary housing policy document for unincorporated portions of the county.

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