OAKLEY -- The city has joined a debate that pits the merits of saving what's left of Oakley's vineyards against restoring an ecosystem that farming has destroyed.
"What we have here is a conflict of values," said Oakley Mayor Randy Pope this week as council members heard a grape grower and a biologist make arguments for and against sparing 14 acres of vines that are slated to be destroyed in a massive state project that will turn pasture back into tidal marsh.
A key player in the discussions is Matthew Cline, a Sonoma County winemaker who's spent more than two decades cultivating a small plot on the westernmost fringes of a 1,178-acre swath of land that the state Department of Water Resources plans to start reconfiguring this summer.
The Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project encompasses an area that stretches from Marsh Creek east to Jersey Island Road and is bounded by Dutch Slough on the north and Contra Costa Canal to the south. The state, which bought the property in 2003, will dig up the fields and move dirt around to create a more gradual slope than what exists now. The goal is to have an area that's mostly flooded at high tide and exposed when the water recedes, an environment that will foster the return of native plants and wildlife that have lost much of their habitat.
Once it's finished the grading, DWR will establish the marsh by making several openings in a levee, the first of three that will be breached in the multi-phased project.
The state paid $28 million for the land and it wants to use all of it, says Project Manager Patty Finfrock.
"It doesn't make sense to have a vineyard (within the project boundaries)," she added, noting that it would be almost entirely surrounded by marshland.
Rows of vines in bare dirt don't provide the cover that creatures need to sleep and hide, Finfrock said.
"It's incompatible with the habitat restoration project," she said.
DWR recently notified the city that it's offered Cline the option of moving the vines somewhere else, but he says the survival rate would be low because some of them are diseased.
He and at least two council members -- Pope and Kevin Romick -- believe that grapes and tules can coexist, noting that the 14 acres take up only a small part of the state's project area.
They're eager to preserve the vines because they're a part of Oakley history that's disappearing, made even rarer by the fact that some were planted over a century ago.
As of December, the city where vineyards were once a prominent part of the landscape had 91 parcels with vines on them, according to the Agricultural-Natural Resources Trust, a nonprofit land conservation group.
What's more, Cline cultivates Carignane grapes, a red wine variety that he says is far less common these days.
He points out that his vineyard also could serve as an educational tool, a place the public could visit to gain an appreciation for this aspect of agriculture.
Following Tuesday's council meeting, however, what appeared to be a standoff might turn into some kind of compromise.
"The state is going to reach out to try to find a solution," said Finfrock, who's notified City Council members of her agency's desire to enlist their help in finding a middle ground now that it's become clear that both the city and members of the general public oppose the vineyard's removal.
"(DWR) is going to lose a lot of value if it gives up the land," she said. "The city needs to get involved with us to make it work -- and there's a lot to work out."
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Reach her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.
The public has until March 7 to comment on the state Department of Water Resources project, a more detailed description of which is now available in a draft of the agency's Supplemental Environmental Impact Report.
Mail a letter to:
California Department of Water Resources
FloodSAFE Environmental Stewardship and Statewide Resources Office (FESSRO)
1416 9th St., Room 1623
Sacramento, CA 95814
For more information on the project and to read the draft report, go to: