CONSERVATION GROUPS FILE LEGAL CHALLENGE TO
MASSIVE INLAND EMPIRE DEVELOPMENT
Contacts: Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity
(909) 659-6053 x.302
"In approving the Lytle Creek North Project, the County turned its back on the recommendation of its own planning staff, the basic principles of the San Bernardino General Plan, and its duty to protect Southern California's environment and quality of life," said David Goodward of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.
The lawsuit, filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Planning and Zoning Law, the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, and the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, challenges the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors' December 18, 2001 unanimous approval of the project. County Planning Staff had recommended denial of the project because the development is inconsistent with the County General Plan.
The Lytle Creek North Project area is adjacent to both the San Bernardino National Forest and the Glen Helen Regional Park, and was designated by the General Plan as a "Resource Conservation" and "Floodway" area prior to approval of the project and sweeping General Plan Amendments. Now, the area has been re-designated for dense urban development with 2,466 homes and about 7,000 new inhabitants. The Lytle Creek North Project is only one small part of a much larger development planned for the area by the landowner, Lytle Development Company. The larger plan was first brought before the City of Rialto in 1995. After failing to secure project approval from the City, the developer divided the project into smaller segments, including the Lytle Creek North Project, an approximately 500 unit development planned for the Sycamore Flats area, and additional residential development as part of the Glen Helen Specific Plan. This division of a larger project is explicitly prohibited by CEQA.
The project requires the channelization of Lytle Creek, one of Southern California's precious remaining free-flowing stream reaches. The channelization and resulting development will destroy over 400 acres of highly imperiled Riversidean Sage Scrub and Alluvial Fan Sage Scrub, and habitat for the federally endangered San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat (SBKR). Development in Southern California has eliminated the SBKR from all but 5 percent of its historical range. The Lytle Creek North Project site is also proposed "critical habitat" for the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed this additional protection for the area under a court order in a case filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation in 1999. The critical habitat proposal will be finalized by March 1, 2002.
A host of other species that would be adversely affected by the development include the Los Angeles Pocket Mouse, and the Golden Eagle and the White-Tailed Kite. The two birds are protected under California's Fully Protected Species Act. The Lytle Creek North Development approval flies in the face of the multiple-species habitat conservation planning process currently underway. The U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all objected strongly to the project. Other CEQA violations cited by today's suit include the failure of the County to adequately identify, analyze, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the project, and a failure to identify an adequate water supply for the new development.
The public has objected vehemently to the proposed development of the Lytle Creek North Project Area, which is notoriously unsafe for development. Virtually every possible "hazard overlay" that exists in the County occurs on the project site, including flood, earthquake, liquifaction, and fire. Today's suit explicitly challenges the failure of the County to complete the studies required by the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act prior to project approval. "The purpose of the Fault Zoning Act is to encourage sensible planning, to protect human life, and to prevent taxpayer bail-outs of disasters that are entirely foreseeable when development proceeds in inappropriate areas," said Kassie Siegel, a staff attorney with the Center representing the Petitioners on the suit. "The County's failure to conduct studies clearly required by law prior to project approval is reprehensible."
How development should occur within the County is outlined in detail in the County's General Plan. The Plan is to serve as a guide for land use in the County, and represents the County's official position on development and resource management. The Lytle Creek Proposal contradicts numerous aspects of the General Plan, even after sweeping General Plan Amendments
For example, the County changed the General Plan's designated land use of the area from Resource Conservation, and Floodway to Planned Development. Yet even under the new Planned Development designation, the Lytle Creek North proposal contradicts the County's recommendation for clustered housing developments that do not infringe on open spaces. Leap-frog development, which Lytle Creek North exemplifies, is also discouraged in the General Plan.
"Once again, the officials in San Bernardino County have run rough-shod over the laws designed to protect Southern California's ecosystems, biological diversity, and quality of life. This suit sends a message that we will not tolerate the continued disregard of these laws," said Siegel.