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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

judge says no to Kern Co. - San Andreas fault new sprawl

Judge Nixes Tejon Pass Sprawl Development Project

Frazier Park Estates Goes Back to the Drawing Board

After litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, a superior court judge has struck down plans for a large housing development -- including 41 acres of houses and condos -- to be built in the Frazier Mountain area of southern Kern County, Calif. This sensitive, rugged mountainous area is home to highly endangered California condors and other sensitive species, including North America's fastest land animal, the pronghorn. The plan was for an area west of Tejon Ranch's massive Tejon Mountain Village -- another, even more massive project, which threatens a wide array of wildlife. The Center has been fighting Tejon Ranch development for years.

2/13/2012--BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— Plans for a large scale housing development proposed in the Frazier Mountain area of southern Kern County, Calif. were struck down by a superior court judge on Friday, Feb. 10, in a victory for groups fighting for smart growth in the region. The Frazier Park Estates project would have included 41 acres of houses and condominiums on steep and rugged terrain in the rural mountain area near Lebec and the Tejon Pass area of Interstate 5.

Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman of the Kern County Superior Court agreed with TriCounty Watchdogs and the Center for Biological Diversity that Kern County had failed to adequately analyze the project’s water supply; that the project description inconsistently described the project as having anywhere from 188 to 661 residences; and that the county improperly justified deferred mitigation for the project’s impacts. The suit was brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

“This was the wrong project in the wrong location and never should have been approved by the county,” said Jan de Leeuw, spokesperson of TriCounty Watchdogs, a local environmental and smart-growth organization. “It threatened our very limited groundwater supply and would have radically changed the rural character of the region.”

Twisselman’s ruling voided the environmental impact report prepared by Kern County and will prevent developer Frank Arciero from proceeding with the project until — and only if — a new report that complies with the law is prepared and approved.

“CEQA does not permit the lead agency to approve a large residential project before the full extent of the project’s impact on the environment is fully understood,” said Babak Naficy, attorney for the groups. “The judge found that this EIR failed on three grounds: (1) the description of the size of the project was inconsistent in the EIR and county resolutions, (2) the County had illegally deferred analysis of the project’s impact on water supply and (3) the mitigation of impacts on biological impacts was improper.”

“This is an extremely important habitat area for scores of threatened, endangered, and rare species, including the California condor, so it’s important that any development be carefully thought out,” said Adam Keats, urban wildlands director at the Center. “This is a huge victory for smart planning, especially considering the tremendous pressure from developers this area has been under.”

The proposed project is located west of Tejon Ranch’s massive Tejon Mountain Village project. That project has also been vigorously fought by TriCounty Watchdogs and the Center for Biological Diversity, among others.

Developer Frank Arciero first brought to the county project plans for a development that included more than 700 single family homes and a commercial area in 2003. Negative comments from a variety of community members on the original draft environmental impact report led Kern County Planning Department to pull the report and ask the developer to submit a new one, recommending that no more than 188 residences be built, but the next plan called for 557 residences. Urged on by Supervisor and Chair Ray Watson, the board of supervisors approved the updated plan and changed the zoning to accommodate the larger project.

The TriCounty Watchdogs, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Lebec Water Board, and even the county’s own planning department and commision, as well as many local residents were concerned from the beginning that the development was not well planned, threatened the area’s water supply, and didn’t represent smart growth for rural communities.

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