Calaveras County supervisors, in a 3-2 vote, have denied permits for a golf course that was built without governmental approval on agricultural land protected by a Williamson Act contract.

The county has been wrestling with The Ridge at Trinitas for six years. The 18-hole golf course near Camanche Reservoir is owned by Mike and Michelle Nemee, who built the championship-level course without securing any permits or conducting an environmental review. The Nemees also intend to construct a small hotel and spa on the property, as well as a restaurant and high-end housing.

An after-the-fact environmental impact report considered the golf course as an existing condition, but a group of local residents called Keep It Rural Calaveras strongly fought that characterization. The group contended that the golf course was incompatible with the surrounding ranch lands and that the Nemees had not addressed traffic and water-supply issues in their proposed development.

In rejecting permits for the project in May, the Board of Supervisors cited the project's incompatibility with the general plan and the area's lack of public water and sewer infrastructure. Now the question is whether the property owners have to remove the golf course. A court is likely to decide.

A Bush administration rule change that aimed to streamline reviews under the Endangered Species Act and to eliminate any consideration of how a proposed project may contribute to climate change has been dropped.

The Bush Interior Department finalized the rule in December despite waves of protest from environmentalists and California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Besides barring Endangered Species Act (ESA) reviews from considering individual sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the rule would have authorized individual agencies to make ESA determinations on projects, thereby tossing out a longstanding requirement that the reviewing agencies consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

President Obama issued an executive order putting the rule change on hold earlier this year. Then Congress authorized the administration to overturn the rule without having to go through the usual, laborious rulemaking process. Environmentalists celebrated the rule's repeal, while development interests predicted a new wave of litigation based on climate change claims. The final rule, 50 CFR part 402, was published in the Federal Register on May 4.


A locally written plan to aid the endangered California tiger salamander in Sonoma County is apparently dead. In May, the Obama administration settled a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, which had sued the Bush administration over its decision to remove land on the Santa Rosa Plain from the rare salamander's designated "critical habitat." In exchange for environmentalists' dropping the lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Service will consider reinstating the critical habitat designation.

The Bush administration and local governments in Sonoma County, as well as some conservationists, had endorsed a locally devised plan to preserve roughly 4,000 acres of salamander habitat in the most densely populated part of the county (see CP&DR Environment Watch, February 2006). The unusual plan, however, languished because funding never materialized.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering designating 74,000 acres in Sonoma County as critical habitat, a move that could slow development.

Development company DMB Associates
announced in May it was dropping a plan to build a 6,800-unit new town in San Benito County. A few days after the announcement, the Arizona-based developer said it had formed a partnership with Cargill to build 12,000 housing units on old San Francisco Bay salt ponds in Redwood City.

The proposed new town in Rancho San Benito would have accommodated about 20,000 people on 11,000 acres of agricultural land and pastures just south of the Santa Clara County border (see CP&DR Local Watch, February 2007). DMB cited the poor national economy as the reason for dropping the project. The company still owns more than 5,000 acres and has options to buy another 6,000.

The Redwood City project would build a 1,400-acre, mixed-use project on abandoned salt ponds east of the Bayshore Freeway. The property was one of the few Cargill held onto when it sold most of its salt ponds to the state in 2003 as part of a giant wetlands restoration project (see CP&DR In Brief, April 2003; Environment Watch, July 2002).

In November 2008, Redwood City voters rejected competing ballot measures that would have required subsequent voter approval for development on the Cargill property. Environmental groups are already lining up to fight the project.

A whistleblower lawsuit
accusing Pacific Lumber's former parent company of defrauding the federal government in an agreement that managed the harvesting of redwoods on the North Coast has been settled. Maxxam, Inc., agreed to pay $4 million, ending a trial at which former Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz was expected to testify.

In the suit, Richard Wilson, former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and agency forester Chris Maranto accused Maxxam of falsifying harvesting studies so Pacific Lumber could win approval for an unsustainable level of timber harvesting on about 210,000 acres in Humboldt County. The harvesting figures were approved as part of a 1999 agreement that Pacific Lumber signed with the state and the federal governments, which also resulted in the state acquiring the Headwaters Forest for $480 million. Implementation of the agreement and Pacific Lumber's practices have been the subject of extensive litigation and regulatory activity ever since (see CP&DR Legal Digest, August 2008 and February 2008; Environment Watch, November 2007, March 2006, and August 2004).

Wilson and Maranto initially sought $750 million in damages but agreed to drop the suit when Maxxam promised to pay $2.5 million to the federal government, $500,000 to the state and $1 million to the plaintiff's lawyers. Both sides claimed a measure of victory with the settlement. The state and federal governments were not parties to the litigation because of a mutual defense agreement that part of the 1999 deal.

Ukiah-based Mendocino Redwood Company acquired Pacific Lumber in a court-supervised bankruptcy sale last year.