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In Brief

The planned University of California campus in Merced advanced in October when Merced County Superior Court Judge William Ivey ruled against three environmental groups that sued over the environmental impact report adopted by the UC Board of Regents. Lawyers for the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and the Central Valley Safe Environmental Network said they would appeal, but UC officials said they intend to begin construction this fall. Opponents argued that the regents had improperly segmented the project by not including the community proposed next to the campus in the EIR. Judge Ivey ruled that the campus and the community were "separate projects" but that the EIR for each "must address the cumulative effects of both." Opponents also contended the analysis of air quality impacts, water and storm drainage was inadequate, but Ivey again disagreed. As for concern about where the campus would get water, the EIR "told the regents and the public a lot more than they really needed to know," Ivey ruled. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating 1.7 million acres in California and southern Oregon as critical habitat for four species of fairy shrimp and 11 plant species. Vernal pools tiny depressions that fill with rainwater dot the 1.7 million acres, which lie in 36 California counties but mostly in the Central Valley. The critical habitat includes the site of the proposed UC Merced campus. The agency's proposal was in response to a judge's order in a lawsuit brought by the Butte Environmental Council. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has dropped a plan to purchase groundwater from a Mojave Desert landowner. Questions about the cost of the project, potential environmental impacts and the stability of the company selling the water as well as the influence of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a project opponent doomed the project. Cadiz Inc., a publicly traded company headed by Gov. Gray Davis confidant Keith Brackpool, proposed pumping as much as 150,000 acre-feet of groundwater annually from the San Bernardino County desert (see CP&DR Environment Watch, July 2001). Cadiz proposed selling the water to the Met, and the agency pursued the project for several years. But Met Chief Executive Ronald Gastelum recommended the agency indefinitely delay the project. A weighted majority of the Met board backed the recommendation during a meeting in October. Burbank officials have been directed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to reimburse $1.4 million to the city redevelopment agency's Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund. The officials could not justify spending the $1.4 million of housing money on activities of the planning, building, city clerk, personnel and other departments, according to an HCD audit. The state also hit the city's accounting practices for co-mingling housing funds from four different project areas. City officials contended that they complied with redevelopment law and accounting guidelines, but state auditors were not persuaded. The state also found that the city was not promptly directing interest accrued by housing monies to the housing fund. The city accepted that conclusion and agreed to transfer about $500,000 to the housing fund. Efforts to protect farmland west of Madera received a boost in late September, but a proposal to replace thousands of acres of orchards with houses east of town inched forward a few weeks later. Eight landowners west of town accepted $3.3 million from the federal and state governments and will receive tax credits for putting 440 acres into an agricultural easement. According to the American Farmland Trust, which helped broker the deal, the easements provide a mile-long buffer that will prevent the westward growth of the city and preserve tens of thousands of acres of grapes, alfalfa and dairy land. The Trust has continued to negotiate with landowners to expand the buffer. Landowners east of Madera who plan to develop the 6,400-unit "Village of Gateway" received a boost when the Madera County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the EIR and statement of overriding considerations. Provision of water remains a controversial issue for both the Gateway project and a nearby large housing project called Rio Mesa, said Leonard Garoupa, director of the county's Resources Management Agency. The county has approved specific plans for both projects, but the county has yet to approve zoning changes, tract maps and infrastructure plans for either project. A proposal to raise Folsom Dam by seven feet to provide Sacramento with additional flood protection (see CP&DR Environment Watch, September 2002) stalled during the last month that Congress was in session. Committees in both houses backed away from the proposal for a variety of reasons, including the lack of a completed study. The Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) has rejected an appeal of regional housing allocations by Santa Cruz County. In July, AMBAG allocated 9,715 of the region's 23,130 housing units for the six-year planning cycle to Santa Cruz County and its cities (see CP&DR In Brief, August 2002). Officials in slow-growth Santa Cruz County said the figure should be revised to about 6,000 units, but the AMBAG board refused to budge. The deadline for jurisdictions in the AMBAG region to submit housing elements to the state is December 31. A former Los Angeles County planner was arrested in October and charged with 97 counts of forgery and falsification of public records. Emmet Taylor, whom the county fired in late 2000, accepted about $500,000 to forge grant deeds and issue fraudulent certificates of compliance for property in the high desert and in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office alleges. Taylor has denied wrongdoing. Landowners seek certificates of compliance to prove that a legal parcel has been created, often decades earlier by maps with few standards. County officials are reviewing about 1,200 certificates of compliance Taylor issued. An initial cut found that none of the certificates was legitimate. The county has already forced some property owners to halt construction and reapply for permits. The biggest dairy-producing county in the nation approved its first new dairy in three years in October. Tulare County approved a use permit for Rob Hilarides to build a 14,000-cow dairy on 1,400 acres in Lindsay. However, a lawsuit from project opponents is likely. Tulare County processing of dairy applications ground to a halt during 1999 when Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued the county to force compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (see CP&DR August 2000; Environment Watch, July 1999). The county has since completed a new general plan element and extensive environmental studies, but the county now has a backlog of about 80 dairy applications. On the same day that Tulare County approved the Hilarides project, supervisors in neighboring Kern County declined to allow further dairy development "by right." Kern County officials said they would keep the by-right system only if the industry paid for a program EIR. When dairy operators refused to pay, the county said it would require new dairies to get conditional use permits. The City of Colton has decided to find a new place to build a sports park because a proposed 16-acre site near Interstate 10 provides habitat for the endangered Delhi sands flower-loving fly. In late September, Colton broke off negotiations with the Fish & Wildlife Service regarding potential mitigations, including buying habitat elsewhere. Colton is working with Big League Dreams (see CP&DR Deals, July 2002) on development of a sports park that features small versions of major league baseball stadiums. Riverside County supervisors have refused to approve a 507-lot subdivision where they once approved a 1,600-house golf course development. In late September, the Board of Supervisors rejected developer Bill Johnson's 507-lot proposal for the rural Walker Basin, west of Temecula, and scheduled a hearing on a revised project for March. In 1984, the county approved the larger development, but it never went anywhere and the maps expired. UC Davis planners have downsized a proposed student and faculty housing development after residents and city officials complained about an earlier version. The university reduced the development proposed west of campus from 380 acres to about 200 acres. UC officials plan to house 2,200 to 2,700 students in the development and provide 400 to 600 units of housing for facility and staff members. The project is at least a year away from a decision by the UC regents. San Joaquin County has dropped plans to build 200 low-income housing units on 5 acres in French Camp, a few miles south of Stockton. The county pursued the project because health officials last year shut down nine residential motels in Stockton that provided cheap housing for about 300 people. But French Camp residents said they were already overburdened by county facilities, including the jail, juvenile hall, the sheriff's office headquarters, a children's shelter, the county hospital, and farmworker housing. County officials dropped the housing development in October and said they would work with private landlords rather than build public facilities.
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