Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 2, 2023

Contact:

J.P. Rose, Center for Biological Diversity, (408) 497-7675, jrose@biologicaldiversity.org
Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance, (530) 895-9420, barbarav@aqualliance.net
Don Mooney, Sierra Club, (530) 758-2377, dbmooney@dcn.org

Lawsuit Challenges Sprawl Development in Northern California Wildfire Zone

Chico Project Would Put Thousands in Harm’s Way

CHICO, Calif.— A coalition of environmental groups sued the city of Chico today for approving a development with nearly 2,800 housing units without properly assessing or mitigating wildfire and other environmental risks. The Valley’s Edge project would bring nearly 5,700 residents to an area that has burned repeatedly and is adjacent to the town of Paradise, which was devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire.

“Tragically, Butte County knows far too well how destructive and unpredictable a fast-moving wildfire can be. Unfortunately, city leaders didn’t apply that knowledge when approving this risky project,” said J.P. Rose, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s too dangerous to wait until the next wildfire to test out evacuation plans. We have to make smart, science-based decisions now.”

Today’s lawsuit argues that the city failed to adequately analyze wildfire conditions and evacuation routes when it approved Valley’s Edge last month. The 1,400-acre project site is prone to wildfires, having burned in 1999, 2007 and 2018. The Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history, spread to the eastern part of Chico, causing widespread evacuations and dangerous air pollution.

The lawsuit also asserts that the city failed to provide an adequate study on how the groundwater supply will be affected by this project and did not consider the harms to imperiled wildlife, including the Butte County meadowfoam, an endangered flower. The project, located in vernal pool habitat, would also harm the conservancy fairy shrimp, vernal pool fairy shrimp and vernal pool tadpole shrimp.

“We’re quickly losing what little remains of precious vernal pools to encroaching development and climate change,” said Barbara Vlamis, executive director of AquAlliance. “Since the early 1990s, the city of Chico, activists, and resource agencies sought to protect vernal pools in Butte County, but here we are today with a city council ignoring past commitments and efforts. Without more foresight and better planning, we’ll lose these Butte County gems forever and we’ll deeply regret it.”

“The lesson from past wildfires is that we need to plan and build much smarter,” said Don Mooney, an attorney for Sierra Club. “Bringing a sprawling development to a fire-prone area without considering the consequences is not smart planning. Chico deserves a safer project that doesn’t decimate the vernal wetlands we still have.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in Butte County Superior Court by the Center, AquAlliance and Sierra Club. The coalition is challenging the city for violating the California Environmental Quality Act when approving this project.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

AquAlliance is a non-profit public interest corporation based in Chico, California that was formed to protect waters in the northern Sacramento River’s watershed to sustain family farms, communities, creeks and rivers, native flora and fauna, vernal pools and the sensitive species that rely on them, and recreation.

The Sierra Club is one of the largest and most influential grassroots environmental organizations in the U.S., with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.

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