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The Desert Sun, May 24, 2012

Court rejects development near refuge

RIVERSIDE — Environmental groups Wednesday celebrated a Riverside County judge's decision to put the brakes on a planned development just north of San Jacinto that opponents argued would damage a nearby wildlife refuge and increase pollution.

The Friends of the North ern San Jacinto Valley, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and city of Riverside filed suit in April 2010 to invalidate the Riverside County Board of Supervisors' approval of the Villages of Lakeview project, encompassing 11,000 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space.

Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters sided with the plaintiffs, finding that the environmental impact report that the county certified failed to fully consider the elevated greenhouse gas emissions arising from the project near the Ramon Expressway, on the southern border of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and the crush of traffic that would result from it.

Waters issued her ruling May 16, but parties to the litigation received word of her decision only Wednesday.

“The county should never have approved a new city next to one of California's most important birding areas,” said Jonathan Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Luring tens of thousands of residents to the edge of the environmentally sensitive (19,000-acre) San Jacinto Wildlife Area is a reckless decision that was properly rejected by the court.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the EIR for the project on March 23, 2010, clearing the way for development to begin.

The project manager, Upland-based Lewis Group of Companies, proposed maintaining roughly 1,000 acres of open space, as well as constructing parks and hiking trails, to allay concerns about over-building in the area.

“The county is assessing how to proceed in the case, but has not yet completed that determination,” county Executive Office spokesman Ray Smith in response to Waters' order halting Villages of Lakeview.

According to the plaintiffs, the Villages of Lakeview would have generated 85,000 car trips daily, adding up to 294 million new miles of car travel each year.

Nearly 150 “imperiled species” are recognized as inhabiting the refuge.

“This project would have created a new 34,000-person city at the edge of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area,” said Tom Paulek of the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley. “The project as approved would conflict with the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan and would imperil the very species and wildlands this Wildlife Area is meant to conserve, as well as add significantly to traffic problems in the region.”

According to the plaintiffs, the Villages of Lakeview would have generated 85,000 car trips daily, adding up to 294 million new miles of car travel each year.

Nearly 150 “imperiled species” are recognized as inhabiting the refuge.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton