We are Lafayette residents who have organized to stop development and protect nature in a half-acre city park called Leigh Creekside Park (LCP).

 

The City proposes to cut down trees and build an upscale, gated playground at LCP.  Playgrounds are great, but not here. Two are within walking distance, and more are nearby.

Leigh Creekside Park is the only park of its kind in Lafayette, a quiet oasis in a neighborhood near downtown, enjoyed by visitors of all ages and abilities. Its canopy of oaks and cedars, its creek, and wildlife riparian corridor, define the neighborhood’s semi-rural character.

Nine out of ten park visitors and neighbors say, “LET IT BE!” Many of them donated money to create this quiet park in 1999, when the City promised to “preserve the land in its natural state” for generations to come.

The proposed development would dramatically change the character of this small park. It would pave paradise with concrete walkways and rubberized fall-zone mats. Experts have determined that these surfaces, along with large, heavy play structures (~52 ton concrete climbing structure) would compress the soil, significantly impact tree roots, and initiate a spiral of decline in the upper woodland and riparian zones. Endangered species and wildlife depend upon this small corridor of nature in and near Las Trampas Creek; it’s our goal to protect this healthy habitat for flora, fauna and people.

 

 

HISTORY

10 Nuttall's Woodpecker 2013 063.jpg

Legacy of Love...

The park is named after John and Ethel Leigh, former owners of the property and early Lafayette residents.  After they passed away, a grassroots neighborhood campaign raised money to help the city secure a state grant to purchase the land and stave off development.

It is a gift from residents who entrusted the City of Lafayette to honor the park's history and preserve it as a natural, open-space type of park for future generations.

 

Leigh Creekside Park is habitat for the Nuttall's Woodpecker, shown above. Photo by Beth Branthaver.

 

Leigh Creekside Park (LCP) in Lafayette, CA was born in a grassroots citywide effort in 1999 as local residents worked with City leaders to raise over $35,600 in private donations to help purchase the land once owned by early Lafayette residents, John and Ethel Leigh.

After the Leighs passed away, developers tried to purchase the land from the Leigh estate, to build 5 homes on this ½ acre site. Neighbors, however, had a different vision, as did Lafayette’s City Manager who rode his bike to the property in 1998 and stopped to chat with a neighbor, Lisa Christophe, on her front lawn. “We discussed the fate of the property,” she said, “and the City Manager suggested, that if the neighbors showed interest, the City might be in a position to purchase the property, keeping it as it is and safe from development. I thought it was a great idea, and myself, along with a few like-minded neighbors began a door-to-door petition and fund raising effort.”

Parents rang doorbells, children circulated flyers, residents signed a preservation petition and donated money.  Neighbors said they would support a park if it was simple and if the property was kept in its natural state, as the Leighs had left it. They didn’t want a park that would attract late night parties, or draw strangers into the neighborhood. Preserving the land in its natural state quickly became the axis of the campaign.

The Times [12-19-98] described a “groundswell of neighborhood support and financial pledges to preserve the land.” Under the direction of city leaders, Christophe spearheaded the neighborhood campaign. She sent fund raising letters to residents, appealing for donations “for acquisition of the property and its preservation in its natural state.” [12-2-98] Lafayette’s Parks Director wrote a similar appeal to the East Bay Regional Parks District, saying “The City of Lafayette has a rare opportunity to preserve a piece of property...an overwhelming majority would like the land preserved in as natural a state as possible.” [12-18-98] The Parks Director also stated “Open space is one of the reasons people want to live in Lafayette.” The purchase of the Leigh property “is a unique opportunity since most of the remaining open space in Lafayette is privately owned and could be developed.” [Vistas, Spring 1999] Vistas also reported, “The City plans to preserve Leigh Creekside Park in its natural state….” [Vistas Winter 2000]

The groundswell of support and donations demonstrated serious intent to preserve the land in its natural state. State Senator Richard Rainey cited this sentiment in his Members’ Request for a state grant to the Assembly Budget Committee [May 28, 1999], saying, “The city and the property’s neighbors have made a commitment to acquisition of this land and are raising private funds for the purchase. Everyone involved would like to keep the property in as natural a state as possible.”

In his 1999 letter to the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Subcommittee, Senator Rainey wrote, “If Lafayette acquires the land it will be kept in its natural state for the park.”

The state grant ($344,750) and private donations ($35,600) totaled enough money to purchase the land and create the park.

At the October 23, 1999 Leigh Creekside Park dedication ceremony, major donors and park founders received a framed commemorative plaque, featuring the park’s heritage oak with the inscription, “Generations to come will appreciate your work to permanently preserve this land.” It was signed by Mayor Erling Horn, and carried the City stamp. Clearly, in 1999, City and State leaders shared the same vision as residents, for preserving the land in its natural state for generations to come.

This history was codified in the Leigh Creekside Park’s 2000 Master Plan, which called it a “passive neighborhood park.” The City’s website described it as follows:

“The park provides a shady resting place for people who use the regional trail and an open area for neighborhood kids to play. Picnic tables, benches, a drinking fountain and informal paths make it a great place in which to enjoy the natural surroundings.”

With its canopy of oaks and cedars, its close proximity to the regional trail, and its creek and green riparian corridor, LCP been a habitat for wildlife and a nature oasis for residents of all ages and abilities ever since.

As our city grows, developers will knock on the door. They will come in all shapes and sizes, telling us we aren’t doing enough for our children, or that our creeks and natural settings are underutilized.

It’s not easy to protect nature, but we will persist at Leigh Creekside Park, to permanently preserve the land in its natural state for generations to come, as promised.

 

 
 
 

Q: What changes are proposed for Leigh Creekside Park (LCP)?

A: Efforts are underway to turn this nature oasis into a paved, gated playground with large play structures.

Q: What kinds of play structures are proposed?

A: In the SW area of the park, the play equipment would include a concrete climbing structure weighing >52 tons, suspension bridge and hunting observation platform, doublewide spring rider depicting an upside down pioneer log wagon and an adobe wall with an anvil, cash register and rustic signs. A second play area (for tots) would be located between the central picnic table and Moraga Blvd. 

Q: What else is planned?

A: Rubberized fall-zone mats would be installed under and around both play area structures. Poured-In-Place (PIP) rubber is proposed, usually made of shredded tires, would require excavation and extend 6’ beyond the play structures.

Q: Will the walkways change?

A: The existing natural looking decomposed granite pathways would be torn out and replaced with non-permeable concrete walkways, 4’-6’ wide.

Q: Aren’t there playgrounds down the street?

A: Yes… there are 2 playgrounds within walking distance, others nearby, and more in city plans.

Q: Are more playgrounds needed?

A: The City has not done a professional needs assessment. Empirical data shows that the fastest growing age group in Lafayette is 65+ years, which indicates a growing need for more parks like Leigh Creekside Park. It offers a natural setting to quietly relax, read a book, enjoy a picnic, play a game on the meadow lawn, bird watch, people watch and visit with neighbors. Described in City plans as a "passive neighborhood park," it's the only one of its kind in Lafayette and attracts a wide diversity of visitors of all ages and abilities, from every corner of the City.

Q: Is Leigh Creekside Park currently accessible for people with physical challenges?

A: Yes, the existing walkways are ADA compliant; people in wheelchairs often visit the park. The proposed development would make wheelchair entry/exit into the park more difficult because 1 entry would be eliminated and the 2 remaining entries would be gated.

Q: Why does development at Leigh Creekside Park break the founding covenant?

A: Leigh Creekside Park was born in a grassroots citywide effort in 1999, when City leaders appealed for donations to purchase the Leigh property to create a city park that would “preserve the land in its natural state.” Residents signed a preservation petition because they loved this half-acre with its canopy of trees, creek and wildlife; they donated over $35,000, and stated in public meetings that they wanted a quiet, natural park with picnic tables, benches, and no play structures. A covenant between the City and its residents was established and enshrined in a commemorative plaque to major donors: “Generations to come will appreciate your work to permanently preserve this land.” Mayor Erling Horn signed it and it carries the City’s seal.

Q: Why is this happening?

A: In 2013, some residents supported the idea of a “small, unobtrusive” play structure in LCP, but the idea escalated into a half million-dollar theme park.

Q: What do the neighbors want now?

A: Nine out of ten residents near the park and trails area want to keep the park natural, or “passive” as it’s described in City plans.  Over 1,300 park visitors signed a petition to keep the park passive and "Let it Be". Most of those signatures were from ~500 homes in the neighborhood.

Q: If neighbors are opposed, why does the project continue to move forward?

A: The owner of a private business near the park has gone to great lengths to market the project. She runs a preschool and daycare business out of her home, a block and a half from the park. The City of Lafayette hired her brother as the design consultant for the project, on a no-bid contract. He’s a San Francisco building architect.

Q: How will this development impact the environment?

A: Minimally, two mature native trees would be cut down. Heavy equipment during construction, installation of rubber flooring, concrete walkways and heavy play equipment would compact the soil, cut into tree roots, impact drainage and air/water exchange. The development project would be concentrated in the SW corner of the park, in the upland bank area of Las Trampas Creek. This upland area and the creek’s lush green area comprise the riparian zone, a wildlife corridor that provides habitat for endangered and threatened species.

Q: What is a riparian zone?

A: A riparian zone includes the waterway (in this case, a creek), the banks, the green ribbon of vegetation along the creek, and the upland woods (upper bank) area.

Q: What do experts say?

A: Tree Experts

In preparation for the LCP Master Plan in 2000, Tree Service, Inc.'s certified arborist, Lew Edwards, stated, "As you know, no human activities should be encouraged under the tree canopy and this area kept as natural as possible.” [Tree Service Inc. 3-28-2000]

Regarding the proposed project, InsideOut Design, Inc.'s certified arborist and landscape architect, Pennell Phillips, reported, “Beyond the detrimental effects that excavation may place on the tree’s root systems, additional concerns exist regarding whether adequate oxygen exchange can take place if the top layer of soil is covered with the rubberized flooring material”. [InsideOut Design 11-4-2015]

More recently, consulting certified arborist and urban forester, Steve Batchelder, visited LCP and studied the proposed plan.  He stated, "The proposed development plan is certain to create significant adverse impacts for Leigh Creekside Park’s existing trees, due primarily to soil compaction and root damage, during and after construction. The project has the potential to substantially degrade the quality of the environment, both short-term and long-term, in that the overall health and lifespan of existing trees will be compromised.

"It is our recommendation that this site not be developed as proposed. Instead, we recommend that energy be put into improving the trees’ rooting environment in order to extend the life of the trees and the natural ambiance of the park." [SBCA Tree Consulting report, May 4, 2017]

Mr. Batchelder also expressed concerns about paving , saying,  "The design documents indicate that the rubberized flooring material will be made of pervious materials, and will be located under the canopy of Valley Oaks and Incense Cedars. Both pervious and impervious surfaces have similar negative impacts to tree roots because both require soil compaction when installed. Therefore, SBCA Tree Consulting advises against the installation of these surfaces." [SBCA Tree Consulting report, May 4, 2017] 

B: Wildlife Expert

Dr. James Hale, a local wildlife biologist, warned about loss of wildlife habitat:

"In Contra Costa County, wildlife habitat is rapidly disappearing, particularly in suburban areas and urban areas and in our cities.
In Lafayette and Walnut Creek, the only available habitat that’s left for wildlife are these little ribbons of habitat, known as our creeks, rivers and tributaries. They are very important, particularly to me, as a wildlife biologist, because they are used for migration for a lot of our larger mesopredators, the mountain lion, coyotes, and the grey fox. They all use these creeks in these urban environments for their movements.
If it wasn’t for these creeks, these little ribbons of habitat environment, they would not be able to get from one area to another, to forage and breed and allow for that genetic drift which keeps healthy populations viable."
[Wildlife Biologist, James Hale, Ph.D., 6/24/17, Interview – Lafayette Community Garden].

Q: Is the City doing a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?

A: No, the City is only doing a “focused EIR” to evaluate noise and traffic.

Q: Isn’t a complete EIR required under CA state law?

A: Yes, when an issue is controversial and has met the “fair argument” standard, cities should do a complete EIR.

Q: What does “fair argument” mean?

A: It means that fact-based concerns from nearby residents (non-expert evidence) can trigger EIR study. In other words, if neighbors make reasonable arguments that there could be significant environmental impacts, such as safety, noise, traffic, parking, creek bank stability, aesthetic impacts that would substantially damage scenic resources like trees, vistas, etc., the City must study those issues in a complete EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

Q: What can I do to make a difference?

A: Go to "How to Help" at the top of the page.