History of Bahia

Bahia is a residential development and now a restored marsh located in the northeast corner of Novato adjacent to the Petaluma River and Black John Slough. Construction of the existing Bahia development began in the 1960’s and now includes of 288 houses (80 on water). The development design included a tidal lagoon connected to the Petaluma River via a dredged navigable channel together with a closed lagoon for recreation, which is connected to the river by means of a culvert.

Bahia Wetlands Restoration Document
Photo Richard Bohnet

The original developers promised the homeowners located on the tidal lagoon the ability to use small boats, which could sail out to the Petaluma River and San Pablo Bay. However, because of the high silt content in the Petaluma River and in the north end of San Pablo bay the tidal lagoon was subject to high rates of siltation requiring frequent dredging. The tidal lagoon was dredged several times; the last dredging was in 1987. Without dredging, the tidal lagoon proceeded to silt in and a viable marsh developed, which eventually prevented navigation except on the highest tides.

Unfortunately, the Bahia development was built before the California Environmental Quality Act, so the very high siltation rates in this area were not disclosed or considered in the design of the development. Removing the sediment to keep the channel and tidal lagoon open required unanticipated frequent and expensive dredging. Over the last twenty years there were increasing concerns regarding possible adverse environmental effects of dredging and the disposal of dredged material in the bay. As a result regulatory requirements for testing and disposal of dredged material became more stringent and costly. This further hampered the lagoon dredging proposed by the Bahia Homeowners Association (HOA).

Finally, some of the residents sued to require the HOA to move ahead on a dredging project. A Marin County Judge agreed and appointed a receiver charged with pursuing a project that would provide boating access from the tidal lagoon to the Petaluma River.

The boat access project originally involved dredging of the HOA tidal lagoon (surrounded by docks and houses) and the connecting channel. Early on, the boat access project was combined with the development project of the previous owner, Condiotti Enterprises.

This proposal was later modified to include a boat lock, which was intended to reduce siltation in the lagoon and hence the need for frequent dredging. The revised design envisioned dredging the tidal lagoon, placing a plug at the lagoon mouth to stop tidal action and excavating a channel through the peninsula (that MAS now owns) to connect to the non-tidal lagoon. A lock would be constructed for boat access to the river. This project would still result in the loss of 12-15 acres of tidal marsh that had developed within the tidal lagoon and channel since the last dredging in 1987.

Bahia Clapper Rail

Through about 15 years of project review, the court-appointed receiver and his attorney repeatedly promised the Bahia residents that agency permits were just around the corner. However, the permits never materialized because the agencies had problems with the significant impacts of the project. The main issue was the fact that the endangered California Clapper Rail had taken up residence in the tidal marsh in the HOA tidal lagoon. Dredging this marsh to allow navigation would represent a “taking” of these endangered birds. Furthermore construction costs for the project were mounting and there was no end in sight. Finally, Bahia citizens took matters into their own hands, went back to the court, got approval to reestablish a Board of Directors, and elected Board members. The newly formed HOA Board then successfully petitioned the Court to revoke the order mandating that the HOA construct a project that provided boat access to the Petaluma River. As result, the HOA was freed from the legal obligation to pursue such a project .

MAS Purchase of Bahia

In January 2003 MAS closed on the purchase of 632 acres of land adjacent to the existing Bahia residential development. The upland area consisting of 208 acres of oak woodland was deeded to the MCOSD and 361.7 acres of diked baylands was deeded to the Department of Fish and Game. MAS retained 62 acres which includes 1.9 acres at the end of Bahia Drive and about 60 acres around the enclosed lagoon owned by the Bahia HOA.

The land which MAS was able to purchase represented most of the area proposed for additional residential development. After the City of Novato approved the proposed development, opponents to the project created Citizens to Save Bahia and collected sufficient signatories to qualify for a ballot referendum. The referendum, overturning the City approved plan, was placed on the May 2001 ballot and voters overwhelmingly rejected the development plan. Without this development, the promised subsidies from Condiotti to the Bahia HOA for the HOA lock/dredge project were eliminated. Without these subsidies the lock/dredge project became cost prohibitive to the residents of Bahia. Furthermore, permits that would allow construction of this project were not forthcoming because of the proposed “taking” of the endangered California Clapper Rail.

MAS Marsh Restoration

In 2009, MAS completed construction of a project that restored the Fish and Game property and MAS property to tidal and seasonal wetlands. Levees around the former diked baylands have now been breeched and filled areas have been recontoured to maximize the area subject to tidal action. Public access to the HOA lagoon and to certain trails has been provided.

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