A trial is set to begin Nov. 14 in Superior Court on the Greenbelt Alliance's bid to prevent the Oakley City Council from proceeding with its East Cypress Corridor Specific Plan.
Oakley officials just received the OK last week from the Local Agency Formation Commission to annex and allow major residential and commercial development on 2,546 acres along Cypress Road.
City officials envision the development of up to 5,759 homes, 90 acres of commercial use, three elementary schools, one middle school, 150 acres of man-made lakes, 200 acres of parks, a six-acre beach club and the construction and repair of flood control levees.
"It's not a safe project," said Elizabeth Stampe, communications director for Greenbelt Alliance in San Francisco. "It's not a good idea to build in a floodplain, particularly when the land is below the Delta water level. We've seen what happened in New Orleans and at the Jones Tract in the Delta. Those levees are old."
Oakley Mayor Brad Nix called the lawsuit "nonsense."
"This is a very bad lawsuit that actually would hurt the environment if they should win," said Nix. "Their contention that we're using agricultural land is not at all true. The land has historically been used solely for cattle grazing. It isn't suitable for agriculture. Too much water and not enough sand."
One of the lawsuit's most serious charges is the contention that Oakley could be setting up a potentially deadly situation.
"The project will effectively result in the creation of a new city in the middle of a floodplain currently protected only by a series of patently inadequate levees constructed almost a century ago," the lawsuit states.
But Nix countered that the levee situation will actually improve if the development plan is allowed to go ahead. He said construction is under way on an 8.1-mile levee, the southern portion of which is already complete. Also in the works is a plan to reinforce existing levees with steel sheeting.
"We're actually making it safer out there than it's ever been," Nix said. "We're showing we're being responsible. The new levee isn't a 100-year levee. It's not even a 200-year levee. It's a 300-year levee."
Nix added that this increased safety and security will be at no cost to the taxpayers, unlike many such projects.
"It's all private money," he said. "We didn't ask the state or the county to build a new levee. We didn't go out and get the Army Corps of Engineers to come in and build. We're doing it ourselves."
The $7 million levee construction and improvements are being indirectly paid for by the developers from home sales, as part of the original agreement with the city.
The environmental groups' concerns also focus on the potential harm to the environment from the development. The lawsuit argues that Oakley officials have illegally approved the project by violating the California Environmental Quality Act.
It states that by certifying the environmental impact report, city officials "failed to adequately analyze, disclose, and mitigate the project's significant adverse direct and cumulative impacts on traffic, water resources, biological resources, geologic resources, loss of agricultural lands and other environmental resources."
But Nix argued that the development will actually help the environment by providing $12 million for the Habitat Conservation Plan to purchase sensitive wildlife habits in the Bay Area.
"If Greenbelt wins, this will really hurt the environment," Nix said, "Habitat Conservation would end up losing about 40 percent of its budget."
Nix said that 10 to 15 years ago, a similar lawsuit was filed on behalf of numerous environmental groups, including Greenbelt Alliance, which lost in court.
"We've addressed all of the concerns in the first lawsuit," said Nix. "We made sure all safety issues were included in our general plan. We put together a very comprehensive environmental impact report."