Neighbors sue city, developer over rain runoff

East Oakland residents near Leona Quarry say Chimes Creek is running too high after storms

By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER Inside Bay Area

OAKLAND — An East Oakland homeowners group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Oakland and a housing developer, claiming housing development at Leona Quarry has caused illegal stormwater and wastewater runoff.

The Millsmont Homeowners Association claims the city and DeSilva Gates Construction violated the Clean Water Act by increasing the flow and muddiness of Chimes Creek, which runs through some local residents' properties.

The lawsuit also claims erosion and poor maintenance have led to discharges of untreated wastewater from local sanitary sewer lines into the creek — manhole covers erupting with raw sewage during the rainy season.

The lawsuit was posted online Tuesday, but Erica Harrold, spokeswoman for City Attorney John Russo, said the city will not comment until the complaint is formally served. A call to DeSilva Gates' Dublin headquarters was not returned Tuesday.

The association says it sued only after two years of unsuccessful talks with the city and DeSilva Gates.

"The volume and velocity of the creek waters during the last two storm seasons since construction started have been the worst we've ever seen," creekside resident Chiye Azuma said in a statement announcing the suit.

Neighbor Mark Brest van Kempen, also quoted in the statement, disputed what he said are the city's assertions that this is not a public problem.

"Even if the creek is on private property, how can they pump public stormwater through my backyard and then tell me they're not responsible for the impacts?" he asked. "During this last year alone, I have lost so much land from the storm flows, but the city engineers refuse to admit there's a problem."

In the statement, Azuma said homeowners have never sought to halt Monte Vista or the Ridgemont development uphill; they just want an enforceable plan and schedule for the city to restore Chimes Creek's channel and fix nearby sewer lines.

"When the project was given the green light at City Council four years ago, we were promised that conditions would not be made worse," he said. "My neighbors and I have spent a good part of the last two years seeking relief from the city, and it's a shame that we have to resort to a lawsuit to get the city to keep its promise."

Leona Quarry, a century-old gash in the hills above Interstate 580 at the top of Edwards Avenue, is in the process of becoming Monte Vista: more than 400 attached, two- to three-story luxury condominiums and townhouses starting at $635,000.

The quarry was sought after for years by DeSilva Gates chairman Edwin DeSilva, who is among the East Bay's most prolific political contributors — particularly to state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Perata protgs such as Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.

The City Council hastily approved Leona Quarry's redevelopment in December 2002, but residents sued the city and the DeSilva Group a month later, claiming they had violated state environmental laws on habitat destruction and flooding. An Alameda County Superior Court judge in June 2003 declared sections of the city's environmental impact report flawed and overturned the City Council's approval.

Neighbors, the developer and city officials reached a settlement by the end of 2003 to reduce the project's density and enlarge its detention ponds to prevent flooding. The council approved that in early 2004.

Still, the Bay Area's Water Quality Control Board, an arm of the state Environmental Protection Agency, in late 2004 warned DeSilva Gates to correct runoff violations or face heavy fines. And in December, heavy rains caused the project's stormwater control system to fail, leading to several hours of uncontrolled flooding, which damaged some local residents' property; city officials say that problem has been fixed.

The new lawsuit and other documents are available at the homeowners' Web site,

Contact Josh Richman at