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California Environmental Quality Act

Desert Local News, August 12, 2008

Plans For Palmwood Mega-Resort Rejected In Court
By Kaitlin Rodriguez

INDIO, CA- Palmwood, a Phil Mickelson-designed golf course and resort complex, will most likely not be a happening thing after all. The court rejected a proposal to build the resort in response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club. Why was because the project's environmental study failed to analyze the project's greenhouse gas emissions. This lawsuit had challenged the city of Desert Hot Springs' approval of the Palmwood resort near Joshua Tree National Park.

“The court affirmed what the California legislature made clear: that global warming must be addressed in land-use decisions,” said Jonathan Evans, a staff attorney with the CBD in a press release.

This suit against the project is one of a series of court challenges brought by the Center to reduce greenhouse gases from new development through the California Environmental Quality Act. In 2007 California passed Senate Bill 97, which affirms the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use decisions. In June 2008, California also provided technical guidance how to properly calculate and reduce greenhouse gases. The California Environmental Quality Act requirements are in addition to the requirements of the California Global Warming Solutions Act and the governor's June 2005 Executive Order, which aims to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Research has indicated that continued “business-as-usual” greenhouse gas emissions threaten up to 70 percent of plants and animals worldwide with extinction. A report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July indicated that climate change will have severe impacts on California through increased heat related deaths, wildfires, and flooding, and worsening air quality via increased ozone formation. By mid-century, extreme heat waves from global warming in areas like Los Angeles and San Bernardino are projected to cause two to three times as many heat-related deaths as occur today.

Threats to Vital Wildlife Areas.

Most of the proposed Palmwood site lies within regionally recognized wildlife conservation areas. The project area is home to numerous species of rare wildlife including bighorn sheep, burrowing owls, the Palm Springs pocket mouse, Palm Springs round-tailed ground squirrel, Le Conte's thrasher, and loggerhead shrike. The area is also part of a wildlife linkage providing a bridge for animals to the adjacent national park and wilderness areas.

“This project would have destroyed vital habitat of some of the most endangered species in the Coachella Valley,” said Evans. “This ecological and financial disaster should never have been approved.”

Earlier in 2007, LAFCO (Local Area Formation Coalition) of Riverside County approved the annexation for the project. But after some serious challenges brought on by the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, the matter was reconsidered at a later meeting. After reconsideration, Riverside LAFCO denied the project based on financial deficiencies as well as the project's grave implications for the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

“This is another nail in the coffin of Palmwood,” said a local conservation chair for the Sierra Club Joan Taylor. “I think it's a fair judgment, it was a very poor EIR and I don't think Palmwood would ever happen. The site was inappropriate.”

The project proposed more than 2,600 homes, over 1 million square feet of commercial space, a 400-room hotel, an amphitheater, and two golf courses on the open space in the northwest Coachella Valley. Documents uncovered by the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club demonstrated the city rushed the project through a shoddy environmental review process in order to fast-track the development.

“Business-as-usual sprawl is devastating to our climate and local environment,” said Evans. “Building smarter with today's green technology buildings is a major part of solving the climate crisis.

© Desert Local News

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton