September 13, 2001
GROUPS FILE LEGAL CHALLENGE AGAINST CONTROVERSIAL OAK VALLEY DEVELOPMENT
Lawsuit Cites Impacts to Water Supply, Traffic, Local Quality of Life,
and Rare Wildlife
Contacts: Dr. Tim
Krantz, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society (909) 335-5149
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity (909) 659-6053
Gary Lewis, Cherry Valley Acres and Neighbors (909) 769-9841
Stan Riddell, Cherry Valley Acres and Neighbors (909) 845-4447
Today two local conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity
("Center"), San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society ("Audubon"),
and a local community group, Cherry Valley Acres and Neighbors, went to
court to try to overturn Riverside County's recent approval of the Oak
Valley Development in western Riverside County. "This suit is about
protecting the environment and quality of life in the Inland Empire,"
said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, "We can
not stand by while Riverside County ignores the laws that were designed
to protect the public from the destruction of our native wildlife and
biodiversity, from urban sprawl, and from gridlock."
The lawsuits, filed
under the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") and
the Planning and Zoning Law, challenge the Riverside County Board of Supervisors'
July 17th approval of 4,367 residential units on approximately 1,748 acres
of wildlife habitat and open space in unincorporated Riverside County
between the cities of Calimesa and Beaumont. The Board of Supervisors
approval followed a unamimous 4-0 DENIAL of the project by the Riverside
County Planning Commission on June 6. The Planning Commission's chief
concerns were the lack of an adequate water supply for the project, impacts
to wildlife and endangered species, and the fact that the project will
exacerbate the jobs/housing imbalance in western Riverside County.
While massive, the
approved development is only one part of what is essentially a new city
proposed for the area. All told, over 13,000 dwelling units on over 6,000
acres are proposed by Oak Valley Partners LP, the project proponent and
development corporation. The second and third components of the Oak Valley
Project adjoin the current development area and fall under the jurisdiction
of the City of Beaumont and the City of Calimesa, respectively. Dr. Tim
Kranz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands,
stated, "The project as a whole represents putting a city of 50,000
people in the rolling hills and lush riparian wetlands of upper San Timoteo
Canyon. This, together with 20,000 lots already approved, but not yet
built in the Banning Beaumont are, will have enormous impacts on regional
water supply, traffic congestion, and air quality, affecting the quality
of life of everyone in the Inland Empire."
One of the most troubling
aspects of the Oak Valley Project approval is that there is not enough
water available for the proposed new city, which overlays a groundwater
basin that has been in overdraft for many years. The lawsuits expose this
flaw, and critiques the Environmental Impact Report for relying on the
illusory "paper water" entitlements of the State Water Project.
The lawsuits charge that the EIR failed to analyze the environmental impacts
of obtaining water for the project. For example, a new reservoir is proposed
to serve the development, yet no environmental review was conducted for
this component. "This project threatens the very lifeblood of our
community - water," said Cherry Valley Acres and Neighbors' Lewis.
"There is not enough water to support this project, which the Planning
Commission knew but the Board of Supervisors decided to ignore,"
Lewis said. Last year, Cherry Valley Acres and Neighbors succeeded in
stopping the proposed Noble Creek project in Beaumont when a court found
that officials in Beaumont had failed to identify sources of water for
that project and had failed to consider that project's impacts on water
One of the most contentious
issues is the destruction of all 167 acres of rare coastal sage scrub
habitat on the project site, which is habitat for the coastal California
gnatcatcher, a small federally protected bird species. The California
gnatcatcher was observed on the project site at least five times during
wildlife surveys by the developers' consultant, yet the EIR concluded
that the site is currently unoccupied by the species and proposes to bulldoze
all of its habitat. The developer had previously promised the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service that at least 13 acres of this coastal sage scrub
habitat would be preserved as a condition for construction of the golf
course currently on the project site. "The EIR's treatment of rare
and imperiled wildlife and habitats is unacceptable," said Siegel,
"The development corporation is essentially breaking its previous
promise to avoid occupied California gnatcatcher habitat."
At least 38 other
species that are listed as endangered, threatened, or sensitive could
occur on the project site, yet the EIR has consistently minimized the
impacts to these species and the environment. Virtually all of the 1,748
acres of natural habitat, where black bears and mule deer still roam,
will be graded and fragmented by the development, yet the EIR has proposed
no meaningful mitigation for these impacts. Remaining regional wildlife
migration corridors will be severely and irreversibly disrupted by the
The lawsuits also
challenges Riverside County's failure to describe and analyze the cumulative
and growth inducing impacts of the Oak Valley Project, including huge
impacts to traffic in the region. The EIR admits that 72,844 trips per
day will be generated by this portion of the project alone, yet this admitted
impact is dwarfed by the true traffic impacts of the project as a whole-generating
more than 200,000 trips per day on area roads and highways. The Riverside
Press Enterprise reported last week that the Inland Empire faces gridlock
in 20 years. The only mitigation proposed for the admitted 72,844 trips
per day generated by this portion of the Oak Valley Project is to widen
and enlarge existing and proposed streets in and around the project area.
Yet even with these developments, the impacts to traffic are still classified
as "significant and unmitigable."
The Board of Supervisor's
July 17th approval is only the first in a list of approvals that will
include, at a minimum, permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, approval from the Regional Water Quality
Control Board, and a biological opinion on the effects of the project
on federally listed species from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Project Applicant has not yet begun the federal side of the permitting
process for the Oak Valley Project.