Riverside County Exempts Builders
In Riverside County, the county supervisors have never been big fans of federal endangered species regulations. So it should be no surprise that the board recently granted individual home builders a exemption basically excusing them from complying with those regulations. But the supervisors were forced to rescind those regulations once a judge ruled against them.. The issue arose in the southwestern part of the county, home to the Quino checkerspot butterfly, which last year was listed as an endangered species. Because of that designation, the animals and their habitats cannot be destroyed. The board was apparently upset because the listing occurred after development approvals had been given. "There was a dispute over what the county's role was in disclosing impacts for the Quino checkerspot," said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League. The California Environmental Quality Act requires impacts to endangered species to be disclosed, he said. In June, the supervisors tried to get around the endangered species act by exempting builders of homes under 10,000 square feet from complying with the regulations. But that move was struck down by Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask. In September, the supervisors unanimously rescinded the entire policy. Now, said Deputy County Counsel Jay Vickers, "We have no policy with regard to the Quino checkerspot." What about following the Endangered Species Act? "That's up to the federal government," said Vickers. "They're basically trying to get around the policy," said Ray Johnson, an attorney for the EHL, which had sued over the exemption. But in mid-November, Trask dismissed the EHL lawsuit on the basis of the board's revised policy. The group is considering filing suit over the board's failure to do an environmental review before enacting the latest policy, Johnson said. The red, brown and yellow spotted Quino checkerspot butterfly only lives in a few places in Riverside and San Diego County, Johnson said. At one time the inch-long insect was one of the most common butterflies in Southern California, he said. The butterfly lives on plantago, a shrub found in the hilly country of Riverside County. In February, the county's planning director said that the butterflies had not held up any of 300 projects that had been reviewed since its listing, according to the Riverside Press Enterprise. The county supervisors in February also asked its staff to analyze what would happen if it stopped policing every new rodent and insect on the endangered species list, because the new listings are affecting development projects that have already been approved, the paper said. Two supervisors also suggested eliminating the county's Habitat Conservation Agency. Other contentious endangered species in the county have included the Stephens kangaroo rat, the California gnatcatcher and the Delhi sands flower loving fly. Riverside County has been dealing with endangered species issues since the listing of the kangaroo rat a decade ago, but many political leaders have resisted a full-scale planning effort to protect the species. The lawsuit is Endangered Habitats League v. County of Riverside, No. RIC 314330. Contacts: Dan Silver, Endangered Habitat League, (323) 654-1456. Ray Johnson, attorney for Endangered Habitat League, (909) 506-9925.