Alameda County

Specific Plan for Areas of Environmental Significance

Adopted by the Board of Supervisors
November 4, 1976
(Resolution 169590)

I. Purpose

Pursuant to California Government Code, Section 65450, this Specific Plan is to implement environmental and natural resource policies of the Alameda County General Plan and its elements by designation and management of areas of environmental significance. The Specific Plan serves to add precision to General Plan policies, and to specify regulatory standards which apply to private and public actions alike.

II. General Objectives

The overriding objective of the Specific Plan is the management of County lands of environmental significance in a manner consistent with the policies of the General Plan and its Elements to:

1. Preserve distinctive, natural features of the county;

2. Preserve areas of scenic beauty and cultural significance;

3. Minimize pollution of the environment of all kinds, including air pollution and water pollution;

4. Ensure that natural resources remain in abundant supply for future generations;

5. Minimize risk to life and property;

6. Understand and work within environmental limitations;

7. Maintain wildlife in the County through sustaining their habitats;

8. Consider those areas of environmental significance as high priority in any County-wide acquisition, lease, regulatory, or enforcement programs;

9. Generally guide the decision-making process toward harmony with, rather than dominance of, the natural environment.

III. Implementation Procedures

A. Zoning

The process of Site Development Review (SDR) is to the major implementation method of this Specific Plan. Performance standards for Designated Areas of Environmental Significance will follow from the policies of this Specific Plan. Minor projects determined to be consistent with the policies of the particular Area of Environmental Significance may be approved as to zoning and would not need to undergo SDR. Projects subject to other review, such as Subdivision Regulations, Variances, Conditional Use Permits, or EIRs, would also not undergo SDR.

SDR involves input (through referral of project plans) from appropriate agencies, coordinated by the Planning Department. For projects in riparian corridors, mandatory referrals would include the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, the Health Department, and other concerned agencies with appropriate expertise.

B. Subdivision Regulations

The policies of the Specific Plan will apply to proposed subdivisions and will be implemented through the Subdivision Ordinance, rather than Site Development Review.

C. Building Permits

Specifications for structures in Areas of Environmental Significance will be guided by the Specific Plan policies.

D. Public Project Review

As mandated by State Law, the Planning Commission will consider applicable Specific Plans for Environmental Significance in referrals of public projects to determine consistency with the General Plan.

E. Environmental Impact Reports

Significant projects in Areas of Environmental Significance will require Environmental Impact Reports because of their significant location. The EIR will analyze the impacts of the proposal based upon the management objectives and policies for the appropriate Area of Environmental Significance.

F. Easements, Development Rights, Acquisition, Purchase, and Other Means May Also be Used to Implement the Specific Plan

The adoption of this Specific Plan and the necessary ordinance changes described above shall constitute the County Open Space Zoning Ordinance, as required by California law for implementation of the Open Space Element of the General Plan. The Areas of Environmental Significance shall be mapped according to explicit criteria and shall become a part of the official Zoning Map. The Zoning Map may show special regulatory notations.

IV. Areas of Environmental Significance

A. Riparian Areas

1. Environmental Significance; Need for Management

The natural watercourses of Alameda County are valuable but endangered resources. The riparian vegetation associated with them encompass a wide variety of plants which provide living conditions for a great number of wildlife species, including fish, waterfowl, songbirds, and small game.

The shade provided by trees along watercourses helps maintain cooler water temperatures and thus retard algae blooms and enhance fish habitat. Dense tree growth protects stream banks from erosion. Lush strips of trees and ground cover help purify the air and provide an aesthetically pleasing variation to the ye, and in so doing preserve the scenic character of unincorporated Alameda County.

Natural riparian areas are of great ecological importance by providing valuable topsoil, groundwater recharge, sandy beaches, and wildlife habitats. Such areas are particularly valuable in the semiarid climate characterizing much of unincorporated Alameda County.

Riparian areas are beneficial for agriculture and ranching operations by providing water for irrigation and livestock and trees to shade livestock during summer heat. They also help to recharge groundwater, the primary source of water for most farms.

State-wide surveys establish that riparian habitat has suffered greatly under expanding development. Thousands of acres have been inundated by reservoirs and stripped for channels, ditches, housing tracts, and highways. The California Fish and Wildlife Plan predicts an additional fifteen percent loss of this resource by 1980.

The steady loss of riparian environments in Alameda County is found to be a problem needing wide management and regulation to check. Once lost, such areas cannot be recovered, thus the need for this Specific Plan to ensure the protection of these Areas of Environmental Significance and their preservation for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

2. Designation of Riparian Areas

The riparian areas of the County will be studied jointly by the staff of Alameda County Planning Department and the Alameda Flood Control and Water Conservation District and the location and limits of Riparian Areas of Environmental Significance delineated subject to adoption by the County Planning Commission and County Board of Supervisors. Selection will be based on the following criteria:

(1) The riparian area is designated as Primary Open Space on the Open Space Element of the Alameda County General Plan.

(2) Large portions of the riparian area are still in their natural state.

(3) The existence and area extent of riparian vegetation and woodland is evident.

(4) The watercourse, though not entirely natural, is of such value because of its scarcity (such as in an urbanized area) as to make its management desirable.

(5) The riparian area is important for groundwater recharge.

(6) The riparian area is scenic.

(7) An expressed desire by local residents to protect a natural watercourse.

(8) The riparian area is important to fish and wildlife.

(9) The riparian area is important to public health, safety, or welfare.

(10) The riparian area is subject to periodic inundation.

(11) The riparian area has significant recreation potential.

(12) The riparian area is important for agricultural and ranching operations.

(13) No corridor studies will be performed in areas zoned Agricultural without prior approval of the Board of Supervisors.

For purposes of the Specific Plan, a Riparian Area is defined as any area for which a watercourse, intermittent or perennial; pond; lake; marsh; or any other wetland; or the vegetation or wildlife dependent on or associated with any of the above, forms the environmental focal point. The limits of a Riparian Area of Environmental Significance will normally be considered the demarcation line between the vegetation zones of wetland and upland; but for administrative convenience, riparian corridors will be established adjacent to watercourses and other bodies of water extending a sufficient distance from it such that all riparian vegetation is included. Policies and administrative procedures will apply to all development totally or partially within these corridors.

3. Management Objectives

(1) The protection, conservation, and promotion of the water resources of Alameda County.

(2) The preservation of fish and wildlife habitats.

(3) The protection of natural riparian environments.

(4) The protection of life and property.

(5) The protection of watercourses from pollution and sedimentation by unsuitable development in riparian corridors.

(6) The recognition of the limitations and potentialities inherent in the riparian environment and its management.

(7) The preservation of the scenic character which natural watercourses provide the County.

4. Policies

(1) Private property rights are to be respected in all cases.

(2) Where possible, development inimical to riparian area management objectives is to discouraged in those areas.

(3) Development in riparian Areas of Environmental Significance is to be reviewed to assure the minimum possible impact on the riparian environment and to conform to any regulatory notations on the official Zoning Map.

(4) If the environmental limitations warrant, most development may be prohibited in certain areas.

(5) In the case of development permitted in riparian Areas of Environmental Significance, design and construction standards will be formulated if needed for watercourse protection. Setbacks from the watercourse may be required.

(6) Development by the various agencies of Alameda County shall be consistent, when possible, with the management objectives for riparian areas.

(7) Changes in the hydraulic characteristics of watercourses which may result in alteration of the watercourse so as to conflict with riparian area management objectives should not occur unless a clear public advantage outweighing such conflict can be demonstrated. The burden of proof shall be on those proposing the changes. Hydraulic characteristics are the features of a watercourse which determine its water conveyance capacity, including (but not limited to) size and configuration of cross section of watercourse; alignment of watercourse; gradient of watercourse; texture of materials along the watercourse; size, configuration, and other characteristics of structures within the watercourse.

(8) The long-term preservation of natural and seminatural riparian areas and their wildlife habitat shall be a guiding criterion in public decisions.

5. Corridor Study Priorities

Priority for the order in which watercourse corridor studies are to be carried out will depend on the degree of threat of destruction of the particular watercourse and its riparian area. Higher priority will be accorded riparian corridors for which this threat is the most pronounced and for which the riparian area is richest in terms of woodland development, diversity of fauna and flora, and uniqueness in its context. Lowest priority would be assigned riparian areas in isolated areas of the County with little urbanization pressure.

Corridors for watercourses in areas covered by quarry permits will not be studied until completion of the Reclamation Plan now being prepared for sand and gravel extraction operations in the Livermore-Amador Valley.

Adoption of the Specific Plan would commence application of the Policies contained in Section 4 in existing regulatory procedures. Site Development Review implementation would not occur until the riparian corridor study was completed for any specific watercourse.

B. Scenic Routes [omitted]