For Immediate Release, January 6, 2016
||Aruna Prabhala, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7122
George Hague, Sierra Club, (951) 313-0395
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081
Nina Erlich-Williams, Public Good PR, (510) 336- 9566
Lawsuit Challenges Riverside County's Sprawl-inducing Changes to General Plan
Amended General Plan Weakens Future Environmental Review
While Exacerbating Harm to Wildlife and Climate Change
RIVERSIDE, Calif.— Environmental groups sued Riverside County over its “general plan amendment” and “climate action plan,” which set the county on track for greater sprawl, increased air pollution, loss of wildlife and open space and uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions. Both plans were approved by the board of supervisors on Dec. 8, 2015 after facing criticism from local and statewide environmental groups.
“Instead of reducing sprawl, Riverside County’s updated general plan threatens open space and wildlife,” said George Hague of Sierra Club’s San Gorgonio Chapter. “Instead of reducing pollution, this plan will harm air quality in our non-attainment areas and set us on a path of ever-increasing contributions to climate change.”
Riverside County developed its first ever “climate action plan” purportedly to outline how it plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades. Rhetoric included in county documents indicates that staff and elected officials understand the significant threats associated with climate change, and that the county’s long history of supporting sprawl-type development is unsustainable. Nonetheless, the approach taken in the climate plan misses opportunities to effectively curb emissions and meet long-term climate change goals.
“Rather than addressing the serious threat of climate change by requiring new developments to do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the county has created a vague framework with loopholes ensuring its failure,” said Aruna Prabhala, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county has missed a great opportunity to be a climate leader and push the region toward sustainable growth.”
“Riverside County’s updated general plan will doom the region to decades of growing sprawl and significant losses in farmland,” said Sara Clark of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, LLP, who represents Sierra Club on this matter. “California’s environmental laws clearly require the county to do everything it can to limit these types of impacts. To the contrary, this plan is a step in the wrong direction.”
Riverside County also suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. The region’s heavy reliance on transportation by car is a significant contributor to poor air quality, and the updated general plan continues to support scattered development instead of promoting increased density in existing cities and towns.
The plan clears the way for increased development near sensitive wildlife preserves like the San Jacinto Wildlife Area. Riverside County, which is home to nearly 350 animal and plant species that are considered imperiled under state and federal laws. Local at-risk species include the yellow-billed cuckoo, southwestern willow flycatcher and arroyo toad. The environmental review document for the updated general plan failed to identify opportunities for limiting the likely impacts it would have on these sensitive species.
“The county has set us on a path towards less wildlife, less open space and more sprawl,” said Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “The people of Riverside County deserves better than the future the general plan amendment lays out for them.”
The lawsuit filed in Riverside Superior Court argues that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by certifying an inadequate environmental review document that falls short of state requirements. The lawsuit was filed by San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society; Center for Biological Diversity; and Sierra Club, which is represented by Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP.
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The Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org) is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society (http://www.sbvas.net/) is a local chapter of the non-profit National Audubon Society, whose mission includes protecting birds and other wildlife and the quality of life for people throughout Riverside County.
Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org) is a national non-profit organization, and its San Gorgonio Chapter represents 2,600 Riverside County residents who are members of the Club.
Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP (www.smwlaw.com), whose attorneys represent Sierra Club, 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.