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Media Coverage
Castro Homes Project Gets OK
October 17, 1996



Thursday, October 17, 1996
Section: news
Page: A01

RICHMOND Turning aside objections from environmentalists, the City Council has taken action that allows development of 56 single-family homes off Castro Ranch Road in the El Sobrante Valley.

The council Tuesday night also removed the requirement that the developer put up bonds to pay for landslides on or near the site.

The idea of using bonds for such insurance was "creative but untested," said Councilman Alex Evans.

"For my part, I would like to go with something that I've seen work," he said.

Evans and four others voted for a "geologic assessment district" to be formed and administered by the city. Richmond will collect money from homeowners through property taxes, and the developer will chip in $2,500 per home.

That fund will be used to repair problems resulting from shifting soil in the hilly area.

For years, residents of the nearby Carriage Hills and Countryside developments have been plagued by such problems.

"The only way you can force the (repair) work to be done is to have a bond," said Bill Bigley, a resident of Carriage Hills South. "In my mind, (the council's vote) was a most absurd demonstration of selling out to a developer."

Evans said the assessment district accomplishes more than a bond, since it would function beyond the 10 years the bond would have been in effect.

"To say that if I voted for the bond I was Thomas Jefferson and if I didn't I was evil is just ludicrous," he said.

Councilman Tom Butt agreed with Bigley. "I think we have an obligation to protect our citizens, and this is the only way it can be done," he told his colleagues.

City staff warned that the assessment district will put the city "in harm's way," making it liable for repair costs if the funds collected were not sufficient.

The issue before the council Tuesday was whether to uphold appeals by the El Sobrante Valley Legal Defense Fund and Sun Country Development of the Planning Commission's approval of the subdivision.

Sun Country is taking over the project from Dame Construction.

The council voted to deny the appeal of the Legal Defense Fund and uphold, with some minor changes, the appeal of Sun Country, which wanted to get out from under what it considered onerous requirements, such as the bonds.

Voting to deny the environmentalists' appeal and uphold the other were Vice Mayor Richard Griffin and council members Nat Bates, Lesa McIntosh, Irma Anderson and Evans. Voting no were Mayor Rosemary Corbin and council members Donna Powers, John Marquez and Butt.

A proposal by Powers would have denied both appeals and allowed the project to go forward with the landslide bonds intact. It failed with four votes: those of Powers, Butt, Corbin and Marquez.

The Legal Defense Fund was against the development as proposed because it involves moving a wet-weather creek that runs through the 35-acre property.

Relocating the creek could harm the wildlife that lives there, activists said.

Council members eliminated the requirement that the developer put up a $500,000 bond to make sure wildlife are attracted to the "new" stream if initial attempts to attract them are not successful.

Michael Valley of Sun Country said Wednesday the project will "definitely" go forward if it was approved as he understands it.

He estimated that the homes would run in size from 2,500 to more than 3,000 square feet, and be priced from the high $200,000s to $350,000.

"We definitely are building an upscale project in that area," he said.

Project engineer John Compaglia estimated builders could break ground next spring and have models ready by the summer.

Under the plan approved by the council, the developer will have to landscape the front yards of all the homes and pay for a four-way stop sign at Castro Ranch and Amend roads.

A homeowners association will be formed to pay for maintenance of common areas.