CONSERVATION OGANIZATIONS FILE LEGAL CHALLENGE TO SPRAWLING RESIDENTIAL AND RESORT DEVELOPMENT
“ Palm Springs Classic” Approved on Endangered Species Habitat
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“This is a very clear-cut violation,” said Terry Kilpatrick of WORDEN, WILLIAMS, RICHMOND, BRECHTEL & KILPATRICK, the law firm representing the environmental groups. “Whenever a project may have a significant impact on the environment, the lead agency is required to fully evaluate, avoid and mitigate those impacts. The City of Palm Springs concluded that approving nearly 1500 homes, multiple golf courses, and a resort in endangered species habitat could not have a significant impact on the environment and did not warrant full environmental review. We expect that this decision will be overturned by the Court.”
The development project, known as the “Palm Springs Classic,” is proposed for 460 acres of habitat between the Whitewater River and the Palm Springs airport and would include 1450 homes, an 18 hole golf course, a 500 room hotel, timeshare units, as well as assorted clubhouses and an additional golf course in the active channel of the Whitewater River. Approximately 400 acres of the site are occupied by the Coachella Valley milkvetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae), a native desert plant that grows only in the Coachella Valley. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1998, habitat destruction from urban sprawl was listed as the primary threat to the species. Since that time, additional habitat has been lost.
“Asserting that the destruction of approximately 400 acres of Coachella Valley milkvetch habitat without any meaningful avoidance or mitigation measures is not a significant environmental impact really is absurd,” said Monica Bond, staff biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is these kinds of land use decisions that brought this species to the brink of extinction in the first place. The lawsuit filed today is absolutely necessary to protect the milkvetch and other native species.”
The proposed project site is also habitat for a host of other threatened, endangered and sensitive species, including the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, flat-tailed horned lizard, loggerhead shrike, Palm Springs ground squirrel, Palm Springs pocket mouse, and California burrowing owl. The City unlawfully dismissed impacts to all these species as insignificant without properly analyzing them.
In addition to its severe impacts to biological resources, the Palm Springs Classic Project will generate over 18,000 vehicle trips per day at build-out and create severe air quality impacts. The project will exceed significance thresholds for air pollutants including the ozone precursor emissions nitrogen ozide (NOx) and Reactive Organic Compounds (ROC). Low level ozone is a major component of smog, which is the most serious and persistent outdoor air quality problem in the country. The health impacts of ozone include damaging lung tissue and reducing lung function, causing and exacerbating asthma, and contributing to heart conditions. Ozone can also severely damage vegetation and causes crop losses.
Today’s lawsuit also challenges the lack of adequate mitigation
measures to offset the Palm Springs Classic Development’s air quality
impacts. After years of air quality improvements, there has been an extremely
disturbing reversal of that trend, with sprawl style development and
the increasing number of vehicle miles driven overwhelming technological
improvements that have reduced air pollution in the past. The Air District
is expected to be unable to meet health-based the air quality standards
by a wide margin for the foreseeable future. The lawsuit should force
the City of Palm Springs to re-evaluate the Palm Springs Classic Development’s
air quality impacts and reduce them to the maximum extent possible.