The Loma Prietan - July/August 2009

Chapter Fights for Our Urban Creeks

Seeks to Keep Developers from Evading City Ordinances

by Cynthia Denny

Cordilleras Creek in Redwood City is habitat for a variety of wildlife. Photo: Susan Barkan
Cordilleras Creek in Redwood City is habitat for a variety of wildlife. Photo: Susan Barkan

Like many urban waterways on the Peninsula that provide habitat for wildlife, Cordilleras Creek is threatened by unregulated development. One cause: loosely written city ordinances. Though Redwood City requires a 25-foot setback from the top of the bank of protected waterways, when a Planned Development Permit is issued, the City Planning Commission decides whether a waiver will be granted. (The Santa Clara county ordinance, in contrast, does not permit such waivers.)

McGowan Development Company has submitted a proposal to tear down three houses that back onto the Creek where it flows between Finger and Eaton Avenues and replace them with nine residential units. Four of these will encroach within nine feet of the top of the bank, and the developer has requested permission to circumvent the city ordinance. This would create a dangerous precedent.

In May our Chapter passed a resolution asking for support of the creek setback ordinance by requiring that a Use Permit for new construction within the setback zone not be granted unless a hardship can be demonstrated, and unless peer-reviewed studies support Use Permit findings.

It would also instruct the City's Engineering Department to develop unambiguous definitions (in accordance with the model ordinance language recommended by the USEPA) of setback and top of bank for affected watercourses within the City. On behalf of the Chapter, Cynthia Denny gave a rousing speech before the planning commission, asking them to uphold the setback ordinance.

On May 19th the Redwood City Planning Commission rejected the Planned Development Permit but adopted the Mitigated Negative Declaration. The Finger Avenue Pride Committee filed an appeal based on the City's ruling on the Negative Declaration, and McGowan filed an appeal based on the decision to deny the Planned Development Permit. Both appeals are expected to be heard sometime in July by City Council.

As our wild places shrink, our sense of their rarity and value grows. We are grateful for the willingness of individuals like Daniel Ponti and the Finger Avenue Pride Committee to draw a line, in this case a line 25 feet from the bank of Cordilleras Creek, and say, NO MORE!

For more information check the website or contact Daniel Ponti at

Cynthia Denny is the Chapter Wetlands Subcommittee chair. She loves to sail, hike, and dance, and enjoys the company of friends.