For Immediate Release, June 24, 2014
||Aruna Prabhala, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 322
Sandy Steers, Friends of Fawnskin, (909) 878-3091
Edward Schexnayder, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, (415) 552-7272
Lawsuit Fights Big Bear Lake Condo Project That Will Destroy Bald Eagle Habitat
FAWNSKIN, Calif.— Two conservation groups filed a legal challenge today against San Bernardino County over its approval of grading and demolition permits for an outdated condominium development in sensitive bald eagle habitat. Construction has continued on the Marina Point project even though its project approvals have expired and despite a decades-old environmental review. That review fails to take into account numerous project changes, as well as changes to the Big Bear Valley region, since its approval in the 1990s.
“Marina Point threatens the long-term survival of Big Bear Lake’s iconic bald eagles, a pair of which now nest year-round within a mile of the project site” said Aruna Prabhala, a Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney. “As the shoreline of the lake gets more and more developed, and bald eagle habitat is lost, it’s become increasingly important that we preserve foraging and nesting areas around the project site.”
The Marina Point project was originally conceived in the 1980s and has undergone numerous design revisions, making it unclear what the developer’s specific plans now are. Previous versions included more than 100 condominiums, a marina and a large clubhouse. The site, on the northern shore of Big Bear Lake at the mouth of Grout Bay, is on a sheltered part of the lakeside known for its outstanding wildlife value that provides vital, year-round habitat for bald eagles and southwestern willow flycatchers.
“The underlying approvals for this project have expired,” said Sandy Steers, a spokesperson for Friends of Fawnskin. “Too much has changed, both for the project and in Big Bear Valley, for the county to allow it to continue without going through a new approval process and environmental review.”
Filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, the lawsuit, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Fawnskin, challenges the county for its failure to update, over the past 20 years, the required environmental review of the project despite changes to its design and the Big Bear Valley region. It also challenges the continued issuance of permits for construction on the site despite expired planning permits, which the county’s development code prohibits.
The conservation groups are urging the county to complete a new analysis of the project’s impacts on prime eagle foraging habitat, the already-impaired Big Bear Lake, and increased traffic, noise and pollution to surrounding communities before allowing construction to continue.
“It’s time for the county and developer to go back to the drawing board, not continue construction of an expired project that would destroy sensitive habitat and the quality of life of nearby communities,” said Steers.
Despite residents’ repeated concerns and objections, the county has not conducted any comprehensive California Environmental Quality Act review for development of the site since 1983. The county’s issuance of permits without public notice has allowed destructive activities like the cutting of trees and tearing down of asbestos-laden buildings without proper protective measures. The project has also been subject to numerous enforcement actions over the past 20 years.
“The county has failed to uphold its duty to wildlife, sensitive habitat and people on Big Bear Lake by ignoring the requirements of both state law and its own development code,” said Prabhala. “This lawsuit is a message to the county: Do not abandon that duty.”
To learn more about the Center’s long history of fighting the Marina Point development and other sprawl-inducing projects, visit http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/urban/index.html.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, the law firm representing Friends of Fawnskin, specializes in land use, natural resource, and environmental law. Since 1980, the firm has provided community groups and public agencies with an array of litigation, counseling and planning services.