Like many people worldwide, nature was my refuge during the early days of the pandemic, when much was in lockdown. Every evening, I would walk along the shoreline trails to catch the tidal breath, unwind, and be inspired by the beauty and life that resonates in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Newark has been a home for my family for more than 15 years now, and to be part of this awe-inspiring landscape of marsh, wetlands, and booming life has become a keystone thread of freedom, grounding, and connection for us, for which I am incredibly grateful.
With a limited number of parks and open spaces in the Newark area, the Refuge attracts people from near and far. On my evening walks, I noticed trash piling along the side of trails, entrances, and parking lots. My beliefs have propelled me to love, respect, and keep the environment pristine from early childhood. I started bringing a trash bag and picker. Still, it was overwhelming, so I worked with our local community to organize multiple significant clean-up events where residents, scout groups, and other concerned folks helped in our efforts. Together, we were able to make a difference.
Then I heard about plans by developers to build hundreds of houses on the Baylands right next to the Refuge, and I had to get involved. This area, called “Newark Area 4,” is more than 500 acres of undeveloped open space that contains large areas of existing wetlands and low-lying uplands that San Francisco Bay scientists say will be incredibly important for the Bay’s wetlands to have a place to go when sea levels rise. It’s also an area that for decades has been identified for potential inclusion in the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Developers are proposing to build over 200 bay-front houses here at the site of the Pick-n-Pull auto yard at the end of Mowry Avenue. Replacing an auto yard might, on paper, sound like a good idea – until you look into it. The auto yard is on land zoned for parks and open space, surrounded on three sides by wetlands, creeks, and the bay, and is almost entirely in a FEMA flood hazard zone, expected to be inundated by rising sea levels. It simply doesn’t make sense to develop here – and give away future parkland to developers. Instead, we should restore these lands to wetlands and embrace our baylands by adding Newark Area 4 to the Refuge.
As a long-time Newark resident, with my children born and raised here, and planning to live out the rest of our years here, the health and future of our city is vital to me. I want to see Newark thrive – and that requires us to think about the future and plan prudently. We might think that climate change and sea level rise are not going to impact us – but the truth is that the Bay Area is looking at an estimated 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050 – within the life of a home mortgage – and as much as 3.5 to 7 feet by 2100. Cities all over the Bay Area are preparing for this – developing sea level rise plans and embracing the decisive natural role of wetlands to protect communities from flooding while also creating new parks and recreational opportunities for residents. I firmly believe Newark can lead in this space and be a role model city for sustainable development.
There is no question that housing is a critical need in the Bay Area, especially after the pandemic. As a parent, I want my children to have an opportunity to live in our community. But I also want our children to be safe – and live in a city that has been thoughtful about how we develop. Housing advocacy organizations East Bay for Everyone and Greenbelt Alliance have spoken out against the development of Newark Area 4, arguing that cities should not be building housing in locations at risk from flooding and climate hazards. These groups encourage Newark to focus on infill development – building housing within the city’s existing urban footprint. The area around the new Costco is an example where denser units can offset the risk of putting new housing by the Bay. Our choice now can make Newark city more vibrant and connected and uplift our neighborhoods that need modern investment and redevelopment.
As a parent, I often look at the world through my children’s eyes. How will my actions now shape the world that they will be living in? I hope residents of Newark for the sake of our children’s future, take notice of this critical moment to protect our Baylands while we still have a chance. Our choices today will ensure Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge will continue to be a refuge for future generations, and we can build a vibrant and thriving Newark by focusing on innovative development and caring for our current communities.
The City of Newark is reviewing the proposed “Mowry Village” development, and it will be up for a vote in the coming months. Please join me in urging the Newark City Council to “Say No to Mowry Village” and Yes to Save Newark Wetlands. This is our moment to guide our local government in making a wise decision in the face of climate vulnerability.
Learn more about the community-driven effort to Save Newark Wetlands and protect Newark Area 4: http://SaveNewarkWetlands.org
Learn more about the proposed “Mowry Village” development project on the City’s website at:
(View original opinion piece, published in the Tri-City Voice on January 23, 2024)
Taran Singh is a poet, executive leader, and explorer born and raised in the lap of the Himalayas. Singh has called Newark his abode for the last 15 years, and is an advocate for the wetlands, and an outdoor enthusiast. Singh loves to creatively express the wonders of existence in ink; some of his work is available on his blog. www.timeandknots.com/