What has been possibly the longest-running general plan controversy on record appears to have concluded on August 31, when a Sacramento County Superior Court judge accepted a revised environmental impact report for a new El Dorado County general plan. The judge’ decision gives the county a legal general plan for the first time since 1999.

After a seven-year process with multiple political swings, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors adopted a new general plan in 1996. A collection of homeowners and environmental groups sued, arguing that the plan’s EIR was inadequate. A Sacramento County judge agreed in an early 1999 decision that eliminated the county’s ability to approve discretionary projects (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 1999, March 1996).

Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a slightly revised general plan and a new EIR. The plan survived a referendum in March of this year (see CP&DR, April 2005). The county then returned to court, where it won Judge Gail Ohanesian’s blessing. The county intends to begin processing applications again this month. An appeal of the decision is likely.

The case is El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth v. El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, Sacramento County Superior Court Case No. 96CS01290.

In a controversy nearly as old as El Dorado County’s, a federal judge has stalled a proposed giant garbage dump in Riverside County near Joshua Tree National Park.

In late September, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Timlin rejected the Bureau of Land Management’s study of a proposed land swap with Kaiser Ventures, which first proposed the Eagle Mountain landfill in the late 1980s. Kaiser now has a deal with Los Angeles County, which intends to purchase the landfill site from Kaiser for $41 million.
Kaiser and the BLM propose swapping approximately 2,500 acres owned by the federal government for a like amount of property Kaiser owns elsewhere in the desert. Judge Timlin found that the BLM did not fully consider alternatives to the land trade, failed to adequately analyze the project’s impacts on national park visitors and bighorn sheep, and did not consider the increased number of predators that that landfill may lure.

The proposed garbage dump has withstood extensive state court litigation and political controversy (see CP&DR Legal Digest, June 1999, April 1996, November 1994;CP&DR Local Watch, October 1997; CP&DR, November 1992). However, environmentalists have continued to fight the project vigorously.

San Diego County has sued the City of El Cajon over two proposed development projects — a Home Depot and an 11-lot residential subdivision. Pointing primarily to traffic, the county argues that the environmental reviews for the projects are inadequate. But city officials question whether the county is trying to halt the city from annexing the properties because development within the city limits would deprive the county of a new traffic impact fee.

“We’ve never had the county jump on us, and I’ve been with the city for 32 years,” El Cajon Community Development Director Jim Griffin said. “Now we have to pay money to defend lawsuits, and applicants are hung out to dry.”

The Home Depot project on East Main Street has been particularly controversial. The city certified an EIR in 1999, but later that year rejected the development. This time around, the city used the six-year-old EIR but added an addendum to address traffic, air quality, noise and other issues. Neighbors remained opposed and they got support from county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who testified against the project.

With both projects now in court, the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission has put the annexations on hold.

The salamander wars continue unabated in Central and coastal California.

In a victory for environmentalists, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ruled that the Santa Barbara County and Sonoma County populations of California tiger salamander qualify as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which granted the amphibians Endangered Species Act protection only after earlier litigation, had downgraded the two salamander populations from endangered to threatened. Alsup determined that the agency “did not supply any scientific evidence” for the downgraded status.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, No. 04-04324.

The listing has been particularly controversial in Sonoma County because of the potential for slowing development and wine-growing activities (see CP&DR Environment Watch, July 2004). Federal officials have proposed designating 74,000 acres near Santa Rosa as critical habitat for the salamander.

In a victory for development interests and landowners, USFWS released a new map of critical habitat for the Central California and Santa Barbara County populations of the tiger salamander. The map covers 199,000 acres in 19 counties, but contains only about half as much territory has an earlier proposed critical habitat designation. In its final decision, USFWS eliminated from the critical habitat designation 12 census tracts in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties because of the economic impact the designation would have had.

A pair of 53-story hotel and condominium towers proposed for the Capitol Mall in Sacramento has received the Sacramento Planning Commission’s approval.

At 615-feet, the towers would be the tallest structures in Sacramento by nearly 200 feet. Proposed by developer John Saca for Capitol Mall at Third Street, the buildings would have a hotel on the lower floors and at least 700 condominiums on the upper stories.