Riverside County Integrated Planning Effort Moves Forward
RIVERSIDE COUNTY SUPERVISORS have approved two-thirds of the closely watched Riverside County Integrated Program (RCIP). In June, supervisors approved a new general plan and a multi-species conservation plan for the western third of the county.
The final sticking point in the general plan concerned limits on development of farmland. In an attempt to slow urban sprawl, the plan prohibits major amendments for five years. Owners of agricultural land protested, so supervisors agreed to allow landowners to develop up to 7% of their farmland over 2 1/2 years.
The habitat plan proposes to add 153,000 acres to an inventory of 350,000 acres already owned by the public. The half million acres is planned as permanent habitat for 146 species of plants and animals. The plan appears to have angered both landowners and environmentalists, and a court challenge of some sort appears likely.
Implementation of the habitat plan will cost an estimated $1.5 billion over the next 25 years. In addition to state and federal funding, impact fees in the neighborhood of $1,000 per housing unit and $5,000 per acre of commercial development will pay for implementation. Full implementation will also require the 14 cities within the habitat plan area to adopt the plan.
State Resources Secretary Mary Nichols and Department of Fish and Game Director Robert Hight both endorsed the conservation plan. "You are absolutely on the forefront in dealing with species and development," Hight told the Board of Supervisors.
The RCIP is perhaps the most ambitious — and, at $32 million, definitely the most expensive — local planning effort in California history (see CP&DR, January 2002, February 2000). Starting in 1999, county officials went to work on a new general plan, the habitat plan and a transportation plan all at the same time. The transportation plan will not be completed for about another year, according to county spokesman Ray Smith.
A FEDERAL JUDGE has thrown out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's critical habitat determination for the Alameda whipsnake. Judge Anthony Ishii of the district court in Fresno agreed with the Home Builders Association of Northern California that the USFWS used a flawed methodology for assessing the economic impacts of the determination. Ishii also ruled that the agency failed to identify specific areas that have "essential biological features" critical to the snake's survival.
In October 2000, the federal agency designated 405,000 acres in Alameda and Contra Costa counties as critical habitat for the whipsnake (see CP&DR Environment Watch, December 2000). That huge designation and others, which builders are challenging on similar grounds, came in response to environmental groups' lawsuits over agency delays in designating critical habitat.
Interestingly, Judge Ishii concluded that a critical habitat designation does not necessarily provide a species with more protection than a listing under the Endangered Species Act — an argument advanced by both the Clinton and second Bush administrations.
The case is Home Builders Association of Northern California v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, No. CV F 01-5722.
RESIDENTS OF HACIENDA HEIGHTS, along Highway 60 a few miles east of Los Angeles, have rejected incorporation. During the June election, Measure HH lost 62.5% to 37.4%. A 1992 vote on incorporation was much closer.
Cityhood proponents presented many of the same arguments that they did 11 years ago: More local control over taxes and services, and greater regional clout. Opponents contended a city would be an unnecessary layer of government and that the city would not have enough money to sustain itself.
But there was also an ethnic tinge to the election. Hacienda Heights' 53,000 residents are fairly evenly divided Latino, Chinese and white. The Chinese community supported incorporation, leading to mutterings about an "Asian takeover."
CITY OF IRVINE VOTERS delivered a mixed signal about light rail during the June election. Voters rejected an ordinance (Measure A) supporting the proposed CenterLine project from Santa Ana to Irvine. But they also voted down a proposal (Measure B) that would have eliminated all references to light rail in the city's general plan. Both votes were 52% to 48%.
Without a shovel of dirt being turned, the CenterLine route has already been shortened from a proposed 28 miles to 11.4 miles. The Irvine election now further throws into doubt what would be Orange County's first light rail service.
VOTERS IN THE VENTURA COUNTY city of Santa Paula approved a 32-acre extension of the city's growth boundary during a June election. Measure A received 56% voter approval.
Balloting on the change to the growth boundary was required by the Save Agriculture and Open Space initiative that Santa Paula voters approved in 2000. Developer Scott Anderson wants to build about 70 single-family houses on the 32-acre site.
NAPA COUNTY VOTERS will decide on a stream setback ordinance that county supervisors approved earlier this year, as a referendum has qualified for the March 2004 ballot. The ordinance would prohibit non-residential development and new vineyards within 25 to 150 feet of streams, depending on the landscape and size of the waterway (see CP&DR In Brief, May 2003). The measure has divided the county's wine industry.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY VOTERS could decide on a measure that would prohibit expansion of the county's urban growth boundary without voter approval. County supervisors in June ordered staff members to prepare a measure for the March 2004 ballot.
In 1990, voters approved an urban growth boundary, but supervisors can change it with a 4/5ths vote. In 2000, supervisors constricted the boundary.
IN A BLOW AGAINST BIG-BOX STORES, Contra Costa County has adopted an ordinance that prohibits stores larger than 90,000 square feet from devoting more than 5% of floor space to non-taxable items, such as groceries. Contra Costa County is probably the largest jurisdiction in California to approve one of these restrictions, which have been gaining popularity nationwide. Supervisors called the ordinance "good planning."
Wal-Mart, a target of the ordinance, opposes the measure and appears ready to pursue a referendum. Grocery store labor unions are the ordinance's strongest supporters.
TWO LAWSUITS challenging the Sunrise Douglas Community Plan, which covers 6,000 acres in the new City of Rancho Cordova, were dismissed by Sacramento County Superior Court judges.
In May, Judge Lloyd Connelly rejected Legal Services of Northern California's lawsuit, which alleged that Sacramento County — which approved the plan — had not lived up to an earlier agreement to provide approximately 1,000 acres of multi-family housing development. The county conceded the plan was about 60 acres shy on multi-family land, but officials promised to devote some commercial property to housing. The county's response satisfied Connelly.
In June, Judge Raymond Cadei rejected a lawsuit from environmentalists and neighbors over the plan's environmental impact report. That lawsuit centered on impacts to the groundwater table.
The community plan envisions up to 22,000 housing units on 6,000 acres of pastureland east of Sacramento on the Highway 50 corridor (see CP&DR Local Watch, August 2002). The plan area is entirely within Rancho Cordova, which residents voted to incorporate after the county adopted the plan.
The plan appears to have the support of the new city, but the City Council recently indicated it wants to establish an assessment district that could cost new residents about $250 a year to pay for police.
A BILL THAT SOUGHT TO PROHIBIT developers from preparing their own environmental impact reports died in June. Both the Assembly appropriations and natural resources committees had passed AB 406, but author Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) could not muster 41 votes on the Assembly floor. The housing industry and business interests lobbied against the bill. About 160 cities and counties allow applicants to prepare their own environmental documents.
The measure would have prohibited a project application from submitting environmental review documents and would have specifically required lead agencies or consultants hired by lead agencies to complete environmental reviews. The bill also would have prohibited applicants from imposing confidentiality on its consultants once the environmental review process had begun. The bill was a response to the review of the Newhall Ranch project, where the developer was alleged to have ordered its consultant not to reveal information about rare species on the site and to have blocked regulatory agencies' access to the property (see CP&DR Environment Watch, March 2003).
OPPONENTS OF A PROPOSED 3,500-acre industrial and commercial development in south Sutter County have won a lawsuit contesting the project's environmental impact report. Sutter County Superior Court Judge H. Ted Hanson ruled that the county did not adequately address sewage disposal or traffic. Hanson did not even reach the multitude of concerns about endangered species.
Sutter County supervisors adopted the South Sutter Specific Plan in 2002 (see CP&DR Economic Development, November 2002). The specific plan area is one-third of an area the county considers a 100-year industrial/commercial reserve in the vicinity of the Sacramento International Airport. However, a variety of regulatory agencies and species advocates disliked the plan.
A NEVADA COUNTY grand jury report urges the Board of Supervisors and county staff members to work with developers on building multi-family housing projects. The grand jury found that only 300 affordable housing units had been built in the unincorporated area (which has about 70% of Nevada County's 92,000 residents) since 1993.
"In spite of the fact that the BOS [Board of Supervisors] claims to place a high priority on achieving affordable housing goals, no real action has taken place," the county grand jury report states. "Clearly, the BOS needs to retrain its focus on the development of multi-family housing units."
The grand jury found that the county's emphasis on "workforce housing" for median income families was misplaced and that the county should instead focus on housing for very-low and low-income people. The grand jury recommended overhauling zoning ordinances and streamlining review to encourage such housing.