Endangered species issues became more complicated in the Coachella Valley in late June when the City of Desert Hot Springs declined to participate in a multiple species habitat conservation plan. The city’s decision appeared to force the plan’s author, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, to revise the plan without including Desert Hot Springs, refigure impact fees and — most importantly — revise and recirculate the environmental impact report. All of that could take at least a year, said Jim Sullivan, the association’s director of environmental resources.
In the meantime, the region could be without an “incidental take” permit that allows development on habitat for the endangered fringe-toed lizard, which includes much of the valley. The permit was scheduled to expire July 1 and be replaced with a new permit stemming from the habitat conservation plan. Without the incidental take permit for the lizard, “you go from paying a $600 per acre fee to doing a full EIR,” Sullivan said. “It’s very much up in the air.”
The species plan has been in the works for more than 10 years. It is intended to provide for conservation of 27 animal and plant species on 1.1 million acres in the Coachella Valley and surrounding mountains (see CP&DR Local Watch, April 2006). The plan designates about 750,000 acres for conservation while allowing development to go forward elsewhere.
Eight cities in the valley and other public agencies have agreed to participate in the plan. However, the Desert Hot Springs City Council voted 3-2 to opt out, citing concerns about the plan’s impact on private property rights and desired growth in the city.
The City of San Diego’s inclusionary housing ordinance has been declared unconstitutional by a trial court judge. San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Meyer ruled that the ordinance resulted in a taking because the law did not allow exceptions for builders who could prove their projects were unrelated to San Diego’s affordable housing shortage.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the San Diego County Building Industry Association, which has fought the ordinance since the city adopted it in 2003. The measure requires builders to designate 10% of new units for low- and moderate-income residents or pay an in-lieu fee. The ruling threw into question the fate of more than $9 million of in-lieu fees the city has collected. More than 100 jurisdictions around the state have inclusionary housing requirements.
Meyer distinguished San Diego’s ordinance from a City of Napa inclusionary ordinance that the First District Court of Appeal upheld in Home Builders Association of Northern California v. City of Napa, 90 Cal.App.4th 188 (see CP&DR Legal Digest, July 2001). The Napa ordinance has an exemption for builders who prove their projects have no connection to the city’s affordable housing shortage, while San Diego’s exemption focuses on financial hardship.
After the ruling, the city hired outside counsel — Charles Christensen of Christensen, Schwerdtfeger & Spath — and asked Judge Meyer to reconsider his decision to throw out the entire ordinance.
In what might be a major victory for environmental activists, the Pebble Beach Company has withdrawn a controversial plan to build luxury and worker housing, a golf course, an equestrian center and additional hotel rooms in the Del Monte Forest.
The company backed away from its plan in June, only one day before the Coastal Commission was scheduled to consider the project. County voters cleared the way for the project six years ago when they approved an initiative amending the Del Monte Forest plan. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved the development project in early 2005 (see CP&DR Local Watch, July 2005). Environmentalists have bitterly fought the project because of its impact on the Monterey pine forest and coastal habitat.
Coastal Commission staff members recommended the panel reject the project. Upon pulling the plan, representatives of Pebble Beach Company (which is owned by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, Peter Ueberroth and other investors) complained that the Coastal Commission could not provide a fair hearing. The company said it would revise its plans.
Plans for a complex of high-rise condominiums in Santa Monica also went by the wayside in June. Macerich Company revealed that overwhelming public opposition had caused the company to scrap its plans to replace the Santa Monica Place shopping mall with high-rise development (see CP&DR Letters to the Editor, April 2005; Places, February 2005). Macerich said it would start over on planning for the site.