A jury has awarded a Santa Barbara County landowner $5.6 million in general and punitivedamages because the county designated part of the landowner's farm as protected wetlands. The jury ordered the county to pay Adam Brothers Farming $5.47 million. The jury also ordered three current or former county planning department employees to pay a total of $100,000 in punitive damages, and found a planning consultant liable for another $30,000 in punitive damages.
The jury found that the county conspired to designate a 95-acre portion of a 286-acre farm near Orcutt as wetlands in an attempt to suppress the value of the land. Insisting the county had done nothing wrong, officials said they would take the case to the Court of Appeal.
The county in 1999 ordered Adam Brothers, which bought the land in 1997, to stop farming the disputed site without grading and other permits. The company graded and planted the site anyway, leading to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raid. A federal lawsuit against Adam Brothers that seeks millions of dollars in damages and mitigation fees for destruction of sensitive areas is set for trial this month.
IN A DECISION THAT HAS INFURIATED ENVIRONMENTALISTS and State of California officials, the Bush administration has settled a takings lawsuit with several San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts and farming companies. The administration announced in late December that it would pay the group $16.7 million.
The water agencies and farmers had sued the federal government because of reduced water deliveries during 1992 and 1994, when water managers curtailed diversions from the Delta to protect runs of endangered fish. A U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge in Washington D.C. concluded that the districts and farmers had a property right to the water and were due $14 million, plus interest (see CP&DR Environment Watch, March 2004).
Members of the Schwarzenegger administration, as well as the State Water Resources Control Board and even attorneys within the federal government urged the Bush administration to appeal the ruling.
How much of a precedent the payment sets is unclear. The settlement itself states that no legal precedent is being established. But both sides said there is a precedent. Roger Marzulla, the Washington attorney who won the case, told the Los Angeles Times the case “establishes the fundamental principal that the government is free to protect the fish; it simply has to pay for the water it takes to do so.”
The case is Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District v. U.S., (2003) 59 Fed. Cl. 246.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY HAS APPROVED a revised plan for one of the largest subdivisions in county history in an unincorporated area between Hemet and Temecula, and the revisions appear to have satisfied opponents of a previous plan.
The specific plan for the Domenigoni Valley project calls for about 4,200 houses, as well as two schools, a golf course and commercial development on 1,734 acres. In 2001, the county approved a similar, 4,600-unit project for the same site, but the City of Temecula and the Endangered Habitats League sued. Temecula was concerned about traffic on its streets, while the environmentalists worried about the loss of habitat.
The revised plan calls for a phasing of improvements to arterial roads that connect the Domenigoni Valley to Interstate 215, which lies several miles southwest of the project site. Under the approved plan, the developer, the Domenigoni family, must put in some roads before any housing development begins and must provide other improvements at certain phases of the project. Those changes satisfied Temecula. Meanwhile, environmentalists dropped their opposition because the county has since adopted a multiple-species habitat conservation plan that covers all of western Riverside County, including this project site.
A MOVEMENT INTENDED TO HALT construction of a Wal-Mart supercenter in the San Gabriel Valley city of Rosemead appears to have gone awry.
Project opponents gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a referendum of a city-approved development agreement with Wal-Mart. The referendum, however, did not target the general plan amendment for the project. So the City Council in December repealed the development agreement, eliminating the need for a referendum election. Other project approvals remain in place, and Wal-Mart representatives said they could break ground as soon as this month.
An opposition group called Save Our Community said it would pursue a court challenge.
THE MONTEREY COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS in December approved a the 4,000-unit, 2,700-acre Rancho San Juan specific plan only two weeks after the county's Planning Commission unanimously voted against the project (see CP&DR Local Watch, June 2003). Supervisors voted 3-2 for the project just north of Salinas, but the battle is hardly over. County officials said they would likely return with plan amendments within six months. Project opponents have vowed to sue.
THE CITY OF LATHROP in San Joaquin County has approved another huge development, this one a 6,800-unit specific plan backed by Richland Planned Communities, Inc. During the last two years, the city of about 13,000 people has approved nearly 20,000 housing units in four large developments (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 2003). Some construction has already begun.
THE FINAL ELECTION TALLIES in San Diego and Sonoma counties found that transportation sales tax measures narrowly won. San Diego County's extension of a half-cent sales tax for 40 years received 67.01% of the vote, winning by 3,400 votes out of slightly more than 1 million votes cast. In Sonoma County, a new quarter-cent sales tax received 67.2% of the vote, winning by 1,072 votes out of about 210,000 votes cast.
The final results mean that 7 of the 10 sales tax measures for transportation improvements on county ballots during November were successful (see CP&DR, December 2004, October 2004).