Some people inherit china, but Whitney Dotson has inherited a marsh. He doesn’t actually own Breuner Marsh, the 238-acre tidal marsh adjacent to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline in northern Richmond, but he has taken on its stewardship.
“We are the second and third generation to take up the struggle to provide access to the Richmond shoreline for the people,” Dotson says.
In the late 1940s, when houses in the newly built Parchester Village were offered to a group of black ministers and their congregations, the developer promised to preserve the marsh adjacent to the village.
Regardless of that promise, the 420-household Parchester Village Neighborhood Council has repeatedly had to fight development of the marsh. The current landowner, Don Carr and Bay Area Wetlands LLC, bought the property in 2000 for $3 million. Carr proposed a light industrial complex in 2001, but the community and several nonprofits defeated the project. Now the landowner wants to build 1,050 residential units mixed with retail shops and a transit center. Carr has also proposed setting aside 58 acres for conservation and restoration and 19 acres for parkland and trails connected to the Bay Trail.
The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) recently offered to purchase the land for $4.9 million. If the landowner doesn’t agree to sell, EBRPD may decide to acquire the property through eminent domain, the long-established legal process that allows government agencies to buy land for public purposes. On November 1, EBRPD ’s board of directors voted to delay a decision on eminent domain for 30 to 60 days to continue discussions with the landowner and the City of Richmond.
“I’m grateful to the Park District for responding to this organized Richmond community that wants to see an open space shoreline rather than a developed upscale housing shoreline,” says Gayle McLaughlin, one of the three Richmond city council members who supported the Park District when the council as a whole voted to oppose EBRPD ’s use of eminent domain.
Historically, the Richmond community has not had access to its shoreline or its natural resources, says Dotson. He and others don’t want to stop with Breuner Marsh: They envision an open space corridor on the Richmond shoreline from Point Pinole to Wildcat Creek.
Walking through the marsh, with Mount Tamalpais visible across the Bay, Dotson stops mid-sentence to watch an osprey dive for a fish. “Once you know this marsh, it becomes a part of you,” he says softly.