The El Cerrito Hillside Organization (ECHO) was formed in 2006 by a group of El Cerrito residents in response to a proposed development on the 15 acre parcel known as the Fairview Open Space. This Open Space, which can be accessed at the end of Fairview Drive in El Cerrito (where Fairview meets Tamalpais Avenue), is located on the slope above and to the east of Ganges Avenue, and below and to the west and south of Arlington Boulevard. To the immediate south of the Fairview Open Space is a portion of El Cerrito’s Hillside Natural Area.
The Fairview Open Space is the largest undeveloped parcel of privately-held land in El Cerrito. This hillside is visible from much of El Cerrito and the north-central Bay Area (including San Francisco). Although privately-owned, this land has always been in a natural state, and has several features that make it particularly unsuitable to development. These include:
1. The parcel includes two streams, which are upper tributaries of Baxter Creek. One of these streams, named Fossil Creek, flows through a deep canyon. Each of these streams hosts a vibrant riparian habitat.
2. The existence of the two streams, and the parcel’s location next to a section of the Hillside Natural Area, makes it a significant wildlife habitat, for animals such as deer, skunks, opossums and coyotes, and numerous bird species, such as owls and red-tailed hawks.
3. The hillside is located less than ½ mile from the Hayward Fault, and is a designated slide zone. In light of the soil and seismic conditions of this unstable slope, any development poses significant risks to neighboring homeowners, as well as to the two creeks.
In 2006, a developer acquired the property and proposed to construct more than 30 homes in the Open Space. Members of ECHO sought to make the City of El Cerrito, and the prospective developer, aware of the risks, costs and community sentiment regarding development of the Open Space. Ultimately these development efforts were abandoned.
However, in 2016 a new risk to the Open Space has arisen. Once again, a massive development was proposed for the hillside, including two roads and 38 houses. This proposal included burying one of the two open creeks, so that the developer could put houses and a road on top of it. The development proposal acknowledged that “mass excavation and grading” of the hillside would be necessary for the development.
See the developer's plans here:
After concerns were expressed by the El Cerrito planning department, the developer withdrew its application with the City. However, the owner and developer continued to seek a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the development, referring to the creeks as “ephemeral drainages”.
See the US Army Corps of Engineers letter here:
Members of ECHO have written multiple letters to the Corps pointing out the problems with this proposed development. Over 40 letters were written. Here are samples of letters to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Although the immediate proposed development has been withdrawn by the owner, as long as the property remains in private hands, with developers willing to destroy the natural habitat and ignore the effects of building on a slide zone, this property remains at risk. The members of ECHO believe that this land should be preserved in its natural state, both for the animals that make their home there, as well as the residents of El Cerrito and the greater Bay Area.