Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Contact: Adam Keats, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-436-3682 x304
Steve Farrell, Sierra Club Mountains Group, 909-338-2637
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, 909-319-6936
Doug Carstens, Chatten-Brown and Carstens, 310-314-8040

Court Halts Controversial Mountain Subdivision:
County’s Approval Violated Fire Safety Requirements

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Affirming mountain residents’ public safety concerns, a San Bernardino County judge on Thursday overturned the approval of a proposed San Bernardino mountain subdivision. Judge John P. Wade ruled that the County General Plan was “unambiguous” in its requirement that an evacuation route be completed before approvals may be granted for area projects.

The coalition of mountain residents and conservation organizations were pleased with the ruling. “The public has a right to expect that County officials will ensure evacuation capacity in mountain communities,” said Steve Farrell, vice-chair of the Sierra Club Mountains Group. “We’re hoping that the General Plan Update that is now being planned will reflect the judge’s validation of these concerns.”

“When it comes to the mountains, the supervisors have got to learn that fire safety trumps development,” said Drew Feldman, president of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.

The subdivision, known as Blue Ridge Estates or Hawarden Development, is planned for an area of the San Bernardino Mountains near Lake Arrowhead that is considered a high risk for fire and was very near the areas burned by the catastrophic Old Fire in 2003. The San Bernardino County General Plan contains a requirement specific to this area that Cumberland Road – a “Primary Evacuation Route for the Community of Lake Arrowhead” according to the General Plan – be completed before nearby subdivisions can be approved. The County interpreted this provision as requiring the developer to build only his “share” of the road, and approved the project without any plans for the road’s completion.

“Fires are a fact of life in southern California’s forests, but overdevelopment in highly fire-prone areas, such as the Hawarden site, impedes the natural fire cycle,” said Adam Keats, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Urban Wildlands Program. “This threatens the health of the entire ecosystem, which includes the plants, animals and human beings who call the mountains home.”

"This ruling underscores the importance of proper planning for fire safety. The County General Plan has numerous interlocking policies that are designed to ensure the safety of residents and firefighters by restricting subdivisions in the fire-prone urban/wildlands intermix zone and ensuring there is adequate emergency access for them,” said the groups’ attorney Douglas Carstens, of Chatten-Brown and Carstens. “The County must stick to these fundamental, mandatory policies. Indeed, in light of recent fires, the County should strengthen its restrictions.”

The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. County of San Bernardino, SCVSS 133424.


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