Shadowbird: a complete fiasco

The Shadowbird land.

Back in 1989, a self-righteous slow-growth group called the Land Utilization Alliance sued the Grupe Co. developers for building Brookside. The market was hot, so Grupe settled by giving LUA money and land and got on with building.

Grupe bought LUA off.

As part of a settlement, Grupe set aside two properties on Wright-Elmwood Tract. One of the properties, wetland, is responsibly stewarded by the Center for Natural Lands Management.

The second, “a horseshoe-shaped buffer area that protects the existing wetlands on three sides,” LUA gave to a dubious organization formed solely to accept the land, Shadowbird. the principal, Alex Roessler, was a member of LUA.

Roessler announced big plans. The land would be a public resource. People,  including schoolkids, could hike out there and see what Delta habitat is like. Rangers could educate. Delta critters could thrive.

When Grupe got a load of Shadowbird, the company Grupe sued to get the land back. CEO Kevin Huber worried the organization was too flimsy to steward land in perpetuity. LUA’s response was to demonize the evil old developer. But Huber was right.

Grupe lost in court, though.

Soon Roessler, who had a genuine desire to make the land a public resource, fell out with his board, a bunch of outsiders who evidently saw only the money to be made by selling the land. Even though the spirit of Grupe’s donation, if not the letter of the deal, was for the land to remain natural in perpetuity.

They, too, sold out the public for money.

LUA sued Grupe and Spanos, and got $600,000 in settlements. With that money so many environmental battles could have been fought. Instead LUA frittered the money away on a newspaper for the poet Katy Webster, a gourd festival (one of LUA’s leaders grew gourds) other vanity projects, office equipment — computers the members kept for themselves — and other nest-feathering. Honestly, it’s impossible to say where all the money went.

Then LUA fell apart without ever achieving another victory.

At least developers build something.



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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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