Controversial Big Bear Lake Housing Development Blocked

A controversial housing development proposed for the shores of Big Bear Lake appears to have died a final and costly death when U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real fined developer Irving Okovita $1.3 million for violating the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Okovita grabbed headlines two years ago when he filed a racketeering lawsuit against an environmentalist and three U.S. Forest Service employees, contending they conspired to stop him from developing 133 condominiums, a marina and tennis courts in the unincorporated community of Fawnskin. Last year, Judge Real threw out that lawsuit and fined Okovita's attorneys $267,000 (see CP&DR In Brief, September 2005).

Okovita filed the lawsuit after a federal judge halted building when environmentalists and the Forest Service complained that work at the construction site was damaging bald eagle habitat. In Judge Real's most recent ruling, that damage resulting from the dredging and filling of wetlands and grading that caused erosion cost Okovita $1.3 million. The developer vowed to appeal the decision.

 

The long-delayed development of a new town in Madera County will have to wait even longer. Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne ruled that Madera County did not have sufficient evidence of an adequate water supply for the 1,800-acre River Ranch Estates, which would be the first project built in Rio Mesa.

Madera County designated Rio Mesa, 20 miles north of Fresno, as a growth area during the mid-1990s. Up to 30,000 housing units in three villages are envisioned (see CP&DR Local Watch, May 2004).

A collection of local government agencies, farming and environmental interests sued over the River Ranch Estates environmental impact report. They argued that developer Central Green does not have rights to the San Joaquin River, which would be the primary water supply, and that the river is already overburdened.

Judge Beauchesne appeared to agree with the Madera County Planning Commission, which had unanimously rejected the River Ranch Estates EIR. The Board of Supervisors overturned the Planning Commission's decision.

 

The City of San Diego has salvaged its inclusionary housing ordinance. In late July, the city agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the San Diego County Building Industry Association regarding the ordinance.

First approved three years ago, the ordinance requires developers to provide a certain percentage of affordable units in their projects or pay in-lieu fees. In May, a San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled the ordinance is unconstitutional because it contains no exception for developers who could prove their projects would not exacerbate the city's affordable housing shortage.

To settle the lawsuit, the city agreed to add the exception to the ordinance. The city also agreed to calculate in-lieu fees based on the time a development application is submitted and determined to be complete and not at the time building permits are issued. Because the city recently raised in-lieu fees, that change could cost the city more than $10 million from the approximately 4,000 housing units that have been approved or are in the planning process.

The settlement does let the city keep about $9 million of already collected in-lieu fees.

Housing advocates, who for years lobbied for an inclusionary ordinance in California's second largest city, appeared resigned to the settlement because it does keep the ordinance in place.

 

The state controller's office reported that eight redevelopment agencies did not submit annual reports for the 2004-05 fiscal years. Additionally, the controller noted 86 "major violations," the most common being the lack of a five-year implementation plan, which has been required since 1994. There were 51 instances of agencies not filing implementation plans.

Failing to file annual reports at all were Chowchilla, Compton, Cudahy, Imperial, Oakdale, Richmond, San Diego and Sierra Madre. It was the third time in four years that Chowchilla, Compton and San Diego have not submitted the mandatory reports. Additionally, the California State University Channel Islands Site Authority failed to file a compliance report.

The state controller's massive annual report, which compiles redevelopment agency fiscal information, is available on the controller's website, www.sco.ca.gov.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's smart growth project has presented 20 case studies illustrating smart growth developments and policies. Five of the 20 case studies are from California:

Hismen Hin-Nu Terrance, a 92-unit redevelopment project in Oakland, for creating a range of housing opportunities and choices;

Downtown Brea, for fostering a distinctive, attractive community with a strong sense of place (see CP&DR Places, January 1998);

The 14-acre mixed use project that replaced a closed department store and parking lot in San Diego's Uptown District, for strengthening an existing community;

Greenbelt Alliance's compact development endorsement program, for helping make smart growth decisions fairer;

Various redevelopment projects in San Diego's Barrio Logan, for encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration.

The EPA report, "Smart Growth Illustrated," is available at www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/case.htm.

 

Butte County has banned new private roads. The county will now require that roads in new unincorporated subdivisions be covered by a "permanent road division," under which the county will levy annual fees on property owners to pay for road maintenance. County officials said many private roads serving rural area subdivisions have not been adequately maintained.

 

Correction. A Legal Digest item in the June edition regarding Allegretti & Co. v. County of Imperial, a case concerning the regulation of groundwater pumping, listed the incorrect attorney for the county. Antonio Rossmann and Dave Owen of Rossmann & Moore represented the county.