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For Immediate Release, July 16, 2012

Contact: Jonathan Evans, (415) 436-9682 x318

Court Finalizes Rejection of Southern California Mega-development

Ruling Protects One of Southern California's Most Important Wildlife Areas

RIVERSIDE, Calif.— Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters today finalized her rejection of a proposed mega-development near the 19,000-acre San Jacinto Wildlife Area, one of Southern California’s most important wildlife refuges. Waters said Riverside County, in its 2010 approval of the Villages of Lakeview project, did not comply with state and local regulations.

“This judgment sends a clear message to Riverside County to stop skirting the law in forcing disastrous projects into sensitive areas,” said Jonathan Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the project. “The San Jacinto Wildlife Area is a California treasure that deserves protection.”

Villages of Lakeview was to be sited northwest of the City of San Jacinto and was slated to include more than 11,000 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Judge Waters previously ruled that Riverside County should not have approved the development, and in her latest ruling, directs the county to vacate all approvals associated with the project. If the development company still hopes to build the project, it must prepare an “environmental impact report” that complies with California law and adheres to the county’s “general plan,” which provides guidance on development.

The San Jacinto Wildlife Area, which would have been severely affected by the development, has long served as an outdoor classroom for area schools and is regularly enjoyed by hunters, bird watchers and hikers. It provides critical habitat for dozens of imperiled species in the region.

Plaintiffs in the case challenging the project were the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, and the City of Riverside.

“The animals that rely on the San Jacinto Wildlife Area for survival are the real winners with this judgment,” said Tom Paulek of the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley. “Californians have invested tens of millions of dollars to establish and protect this critical habitat, and Judge Waters has ensured that our public investment will continue to be money well spent.”

Judge Waters’ April 2012 ruling in the case held that the County’s “environmental impact report” did not sufficiently analyze the likely environmental impacts of the development, and that the county violated its own general plan and ordinances. The court specifically found that the county failed to consider the impacts the project would have had on regional traffic and on the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, which is designed to protect 146 imperiled species in the region.

“Judge Waters’ decision to require rescission of all project approvals is in line with her earlier, sweeping ruling that the county committed numerous violations of state and local law when it approved the project,” said attorney Rachel Hooper of Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger, LLP, who represented several of the plaintiffs in the case.

“This residential development is completely unnecessary,” said George Hague of Sierra Club’s San Gorgonio Chapter. “If the county feels a development of this size is essential for Western Riverside County, it should move it closer to already-developed areas that are better equipped to absorb this kind of growth.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley is a California non-profit conservation group dedicated to preserving and protecting the northern San Jacinto Valley, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and surrounding environmental resources. 

The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization.  The Sierra Club is a California nonprofit organization and has more than 1.3 million members and supporters nationwide.  The Sierra Club’s San Gorgonio Chapter has more than 5,000 members and represents the Riverside County and San Bernardino County region.

The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society is a California nonprofit conservation organization with approximately 2,000 members within the Inland Empire of Southern California who are dedicated protecting the region’s natural heritage.

Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, lead attorneys on the case, specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. Since 1980 the firm has provided representation to public agencies and community groups throughout California. Known for its commitment to promoting environmental and community values, SMW is at the forefront of major land use and development issues facing California.

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