Preserve Lamorinda Open Space

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MORAGA TOWN COUNCIL TO VOTE ON REVISED RIDGELINE & OPEN SPACE DEVELOPMENT REGULATIONS

Your help is needed to preserve Moraga’s scenic beauty, protect wildlife, and prevent more traffic!

TOWN COUNCIL MEETING:
WEDS. APRIL 11, 2018
7:00 PM



Moraga Town Council Chambers at 335 Rheem Blvd



The Town of Moraga has reached the final stage of updating its open space regulations, a process which began in 2013. It has spent nearly five years gathering community input through a series of public meetings, workshops, study sessions, and focus groups, and the public input it received overwhelmingly favored stronger protection for open space, ridgelines, scenic views, and hillsides.

As a result of this input, the Town Council and Staff developed a set of revisions to the General Plan, Municipal Code, MOSO Guidelines, and Design Guidelines that will clarify and strengthen the rules governing development on steep slopes, grading of “high risk” areas, viewshed protection, and ridgeline protection. On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, the Council will at last call for a vote on the adoption of these important new policies.

If adopted, the new rules will accomplish the following:

  • Ridgelines: New ridgeline regulations will protect visually significant undeveloped ridgelines that are not already protected by the Moraga Open Space Ordinance (MOSO). These include the ridgelines on the “Painted Rocks” parcel which currently have no protection from development.

  • Viewshed Protection: New hillside regulations will protect views of ridgelines by preventing new hillside development from blocking the ridgeline views behind them. Also, the maximum size of new houses visible from a scenic corridor (such as Moraga Rd., Moraga Way, etc.) will be capped to prevent “mega-homes” over 5,500 square feet from being visible from the scenic corridors. Currently, no such regulations exist to protect public views.

  • Steep Slopes: In 1986, Moraga voters adopted the “Moraga Open Space Ordinance” (MOSO) which prohibited any development on designated open space slopes steeper than 20%, but loopholes have allowed this prohibition to be skirted for years. Proposed revisions to the MOSO Guidelines will at last meaningfully enforce this prohibition.

  • Development of “High Risk” Open Space Land: MOSO says that “high risk land” (i.e., land with landslides, unstable soils, and/or other geologic hazards) may not be developed with more than one house per 20 acres. Over the years, the interpretation of this law was watered down to allow developers to build on high-risk lands at higher densities by conducting massive grading operations to reduce geologic hazards (such as that which occurred along Rheem Blvd. over the past several years). The result has been damaging grading and more development in open space, precisely what MOSO was intended to prevent. The proposed revisions to the MOSO Guidelines will eliminate density increases for massive remedial grading projects, enabling the Town to implement faithfully MOSO’s prohibition on densities greater than 1 home per 20 acres in high-risk MOSO lands.

  • To review the proposed revisions to the regulations, see the staff report for the upcoming meeting on April 11, 2018.

    Please show the Town Council that you support these revised regulations by attending the April 11 public hearing if you can. Even if you don’t speak, your presence in the audience shows decision-makers that this issue is important to you.

    Letters to the Town Council are also very helpful; for information on writing a letter click here



    DOES MORAGA REALLY NEED STRONGER DEVELOPMENT RESTRICTIONS?

    For years, developers have said Moraga’s open space and ridgelines are well protected by existing regulations…but is this true?

    Moraga’s open-space protection policies were put to the test in 2011 when the Rancho Laguna II proposal came before the Town Council. The Council approved 27 houses in designated “open space” along Rheem Blvd.’s “protected” scenic corridor. You’ve likely seen this project’s massive grading operations along Rheem Blvd. between Moraga Rd. and St. Mary’s Rd. during the past three summers. An approximately 1,500-foot section of the ridgeline was cut out to create a road and house pads on the eastern shoulder of the ridge, and grading for the pads near Rheem Blvd. put the total grading volume far beyond the 358,000 cubic yards approved by the Town. In fact, relatively little grading was actually approved on the slope that runs from the pads near Rheem Blvd and stretches up to the ridgeline, yet early on, the developer cut two expressly prohibited “haul roads” up the face of the slope, and eventually graded most of the hillside above the pads, citing unforeseen soil instabilities.

    The net result was many months of additional grading and a completely re-constructed hillside, contrary to the original scope of the approved project. Such departures from approved grading plans are common in areas with steep and unstable soil conditions. For example, grading also far exceeded its approved extent on the Vista Encinos project near Larch Dr., again due to steep and unstable soils. (Scroll down for more information on the poorly conducted grading operations at Rancho Laguna II.)

    Is this meaningful protection of hillsides and ridgelines?

    These are not isolated projects. Under existing regulations, 167 future houses have already been approved on open hills & ridgeline areas, and another 367 are either proposed or could be allowed under current zoning densities. In addition, 673 new downtown or in-fill units are approved or possible, so that Moraga faces up to 1,207 additional residences--a potential 21% increase in Moraga’s total housing1 --in coming years. Some of this future development is already irreversible, but current update to the Town’s hillside and ridgeline regulations can help protect remaining open space much more effectively.



    MORAGA'S APPROVED AND POTENTIAL HOUSING UNITS:
    Development Project# Housing Units Status
    Open Space, Hillside and/or Ridgeline Areas:2
    Palos Colorados (along Moraga Rd; NE of Campolindo) 123 Approved
    Rancho Laguna II (along Rheem Blvd.) 27Under Construction
    Hetfield Estates (off Sanders Dr.)7 Approved
    Vista Encinos (near Larch Dr.) 10 Approved
    Bollinger Valley (near Bollinger Canyon Rd.)3 152 Proposed
    Painted Rocks (along Moraga Rd. & Rheem Blvd) 15 Proposed
    Indian Valley (Canyon Rd, by Valle Vista Staging Area)Up to 200 No application yet
    Moraga Center Specific Plan (MCSP) Area:
    Camino Ricardo Subdivision (along Camino Ricardo) 26Nearly Complete
    Moraga Town Center Homes (Moraga Way by Fire Stn.) 36 Approved
    Remaining Additional Units Allowed Under MCSP4 Up to 528 No application yet
    Other In-fill Developments:
    Augusta Dr. Extension (Moraga Country Club) 65 Approved
    Via Moraga (old bowling alley site on Moraga Rd.) 18Completed
    TOTAL POTENTIAL FUTURE UNITS UP TO 1,207
    1. There are 5,754 housing units in Moraga according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
    2. Denotes open space, hillsides, or ridgeline areas along scenic corridors or surrounding residential zones.
    3. Bollinger Valley figure includes 26 proposed second units.
    4. The approved Moraga Center Specific Plan (MCSP) covers the Safeway Center & surrounding orchards & lots. So far two MCSP development (Camino Ricardo & Moraga Town Center Homes) are approved. MCSP densities allow up to 528 more units in remaining MCSP areas.

    For now, Moraga still has stunning open spaces that we drive by every day, as well as a surrounding greenbelt rich with wildlife, creeks, and forests. Some amount of new development will come to Moraga, but major housing increases, particularly in open space areas, would bring huge changes to the feel of Moraga and its quality of life.


    BOLLINGER VALLEY FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT STILL PENDING.

    In Spring of 2013 the Town of Moraga circulated a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed 152-unit “Bollinger Valley” development on 186 acres of open space adjacent to Las Trampas Regional Wilderness.

    If approved, this project would add nearly 1,400 daily car trips to Lamorinda’s roads, bulldoze an astonishing 1.5 million cubic yards of soil, cut down more than 300 mature native trees and line a pristine ridgeline with rooftops. Precious habitat for raptors and songbirds, foxes, coyotes, deer, and bobcats, as well as threatened species such as the California red-legged frog and Alameda whipsnake, will be lost forever.

    The Town received extensive public comments on the DEIR including a detailed legal and technical analysis by PLOS. The next step is for the Town to prepare a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) responding to those comments. The release date of the FEIR is unknown.

    To see photos of Bollinger Valley click here.
    The Draft EIR is available at: http://www.moraga.ca.us/dept/planning/Major%20Projects/BollingerValley .


    RANCHO LAGUNA II GRADING

    In 2011, by a vote of 2-1, the Moraga Town Council approved the 27-house Rancho Laguna II development on the scenic corridor along Rheem Blvd just north of St. Mary’s Rd, and last July Summerhill Homes broke ground on this project (now re-named “Bellavista”).

    Construction got off to a poor start: within the first few weeks of grading, the construction crew accidentally cut down a tree that was to be preserved in the scenic corridor, graded haul roads up the hillside that were expressly prohibited by the conditions of approval, and neglected to install required construction fencing and erosion control measures. PLOS and local residents objected, and the Town has since hired an inspector to conduct monitoring and enforcement on this and other development projects. Additionally, the County Grading Inspector issued a temporary stop work order while the violations (some at least) were addressed. This project illustrates the stunning and destructive impact of mass grading operations, and the serious challenges of enforcing required conditions and mitigation measures.

    FUTURE OF “PAINTED ROCKS” OPEN SPACE UNCLEAR

    The “Painted Rocks” area consists of the hills at the intersection of Rheem Blvd. and Moraga Rd., extending southeast on Rheem nearly to its crest (across from the Woodminster/Rancho Moraga complexes) and extending north on Moraga Rd. to Buckingham Dr. This land falls within two designated scenic corridors and the entire property is zoned “open space” in the Moraga General Plan.

    In 2014, a major development was proposed for the “Painted Rocks” open space including 15 houses, a performing arts center, “hospitality center,” athletic fields, and winery. Last year, however, the project proponent/landowner passed away unexpectedly, and the project application is not currently active.



    PHOTO--Rheem Blvd. Scenic Corridor Looking North. This area was previously proposed for a performing arts center, winery,"hospitality center" and athletic fields.

    HETFIELD SUBDIVISION STATUS

    In July 2013 the Moraga Planning Commission approved the Hetfield Estates subdivision on a 58-acre open space parcel near Sanders Drive. This approval came after several years of sustained public testimony and technical input by neighboring residents and PLOS, and the project was ultimately reduced from the proposed six 6,000-square-foot houses on 7 acres, to seven 4,000-square-foot houses on 3 acres. The applicant is now preparing the final building plans for Town approval.

    PLOS can be contacted at:

    Preserve Lamorinda Open Space
    P.O. Box 6632
    Moraga, CA 94570-6632
    925-878-9682

    Email PLOS
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