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Friday, October 19, 2007

Development Can Still Increase Threefold Under Coachella Valley Habitat Plan

Editorial, Palm Springs Desert Sun, around September 9, 2007

After more than 12 years in the planning stages, the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan is ready to be adopted. Approval means smart development and land conservation can commence without confusion - everyone will be on the same page.

Unfortunately, Desert Hot Springs did not join in time and will not be included in the plan before its scheduled adoption. The plan, however, can be amended to include DHS later. City leaders should work vigorously to ensure DHS is included in the overall plan.

"This is important for habitat and will focus development on the valley floor," said John Wohlmuth, executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. "It will assist in planning our community for a long time."

We couldn't agree more. The $1.8 billion plan increases the amount of land set aside for conservation, expedites road projects for better transportation and allows enough development for the population of the valley to triple to 1.1 million people, effectively allowing us to control how we grow.

In addition, the plan outlines a fee structure, so developers will have certainty on their side before starting a project. They'll pay the fee and get their permits.

The development impact fee is $5,370 per acre for commercial and industrial projects. The residential fee is based on a sliding scale related to density, which could work out to about $1,200 per new single-family home.

Development impact fee money will provide about 50 percent of the money needed to purchase more land for conservation.

The other half will come from state and federal contributions.

Over the next 30 years, the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission will buy 180,000 acres at fair market value from private owners whose property falls within protected multispecies habitat. The property surrounds the valley floor, for the most part, and includes hillsides and some unforgiving desolate areas, as well as areas along fault lines. (Private owners do not have to sell, but can only develop 10 percent of their land under the plan.)

That land, plus 60,000 acres of conservation habitat that has already been purchased will ensure 240,000 acres of protected land.

Development can still increase three fold because more than 180,000 acres remain for new development in the Coachella Valley.

Ultimately, the reserve system will amount to a total of 745,000 acres, which includes purchased land and land already owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Although some cities were initially skeptical and opponents viewed the plan as a "land grab," it appears compromise and common sense has won. This plan, which keeps control on the local level, saves developers from the nightmare of wading through bureaucratic red tape from the state and feds in relation to the endangered species act, and that goes for road projects as well.

It also protects our beautiful valley and the special heritage of the desert.

A response from one reader:

How uninformed can any editor be? Either you are uninformed or a puppet for the building industry. Just last week, the D.C. Court decision in Spirit of the Sage Council et al v. U.S. Secretary Kempthorne said that across the board Habitat Conservation Plans do not conserve or promote recovery of the species. However, the conditions of the HCP can be legally challenged. The San Diego District Court, in Center for Biological Diversity v. Bartel, decided that the Habitat Conservation Plan itself must provide for conservation and can not give No Surprises assurance to developers without causing harm to the endangered species. Surely, this Habitat Con Plan will also be litigated! The text of the Endangered Species Act, states that the permit applicant must pay for the plan and its implementation. Why should the state or federal government use taxpayers money subsidize a development plan that only leads to the majority of endangered species to be killed and habitat destroyed?
For more information on the Coachella Valley plan, go to

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