The Calaveras Planning Coalition (CPC), an advocacy group that filed a lawsuit on Dec. 9 against Calaveras County over its General Plan update, is asking California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to participate in the case.
“This case is about saving the lives of Californians,” reads a notice sent by the CPC to 18 state and local agencies on Jan. 7.
The notice asks agencies to encourage the Attorney General to get involved in the lawsuit, which alleges that the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors violated environmental laws when it adopted its General Plan update.
The board, according to the suit, failed to adequately analyze, adopt and implement mitigation measures, failed to analyze policy alternatives, inadequately responded to public comments on the draft environmental impact report and failed to make proper findings of fact. The county also allegedly violated land-use law by approving a general plan with internal inconsistencies, and is allegedly unlawfully withholding a public record, the draft General Plan update from 2011.
“Indefinitely deferring fire safety efforts, delaying emergency response funding and making fire safety measures optional in new development threatens lives,” the notice reads, with reference to the board allegedly not taking recommendations given by the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection on the county’s draft Safety Element. “Exempting commercial, industrial and residential development for tourists from fire safety reviews and fire safety mitigation measures threatens lives. Allowing residential development by right on parcels no matter how dry, how fuel-laden, how windswept and how isolated from emergency services threatens lives … These threats are all part of the 2019 Calaveras County General Plan Update.”
The notice goes on to state that many local working-class families don’t have the money or ability to reduce fire risks around their homes.
“Most of the people in Calaveras County have to take the jobs they can get, and live in the homes they can afford, wherever those may be, regardless of the risks,” the filing reads. “Often these people are parents living with young children. It is especially for the health and safety of these families that the county must establish a foundation of fire-safe building and zoning codes, upon which all legitimate development is based.”
In the notice, the group also expressed concerns with the plan’s allegedly insufficient actions to mitigate impacts of agricultural land conversions and its lack of deadlines or priorities for implementation measures for mitigating impacts of development on special species status, traffic, air quality and cultural resources.
The CPC is a program of the Community Action Project (CAP), whose mission is to “protect and improve the natural and built environments in Calaveras County by empowering people to claim their rights and participate in local government,” according to a CPC press release.
“I don’t think enough people recognize the extent to which our local General Plan impacts our lives each and every day,” said CAP Governing Committee member Muriel Zeller, with reference to the plan’s impacts on road conditions, public safety, water quantity and quality, conditions fostering plant and animal life and viewsheds. “That is why the Planning Coalition has been compelled to challenge an unsafe and legally deficient General Plan.”
It’s not unheard of for an attorney general to intervene in litigation over general plan updates. Such was the case for the city of Stockton in 2008, after the Sierra Club filed a suit alleging that planned urban sprawl development in the update would dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions and have devastating environmental impacts locally, according to a 2008 report in The Record.
After then-Attorney General Jerry Brown threatened to join the litigation, the lawsuit was dismissed, and a settlement was reached with the Stockton City Council that required the city to produce a climate action plan. As part of the settlement, the city was to “consider imposing green building standards on the construction of new homes and commercial buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions attributable to growth and requiring that at least 4,400 homes be built downtown, with a goal of approving the construction of 3,000 of those homes by 2020,” according to the article.
Builders, developers and local chambers of commerce opposed the settlement, arguing it would increase home costs and scare businesses away from Stockton, the report stated.
An attorney involved in that case was unable to provide a comment on the litigation in Calaveras County.
A representative from the Attorney General’s office could not be reached for comment.
The notice to agencies is required when a party files a case under the California Environmental
Quality Act, and the CPC sent a similar required notice to the California Attorney General in December of 2019, the CPC press release states.
A required settlement conference in the case is scheduled for Jan. 15. That will be limited to a telephone discussion among the litigants’ attorneys, according to the release.
The list of recipients of the notice includes the following agencies: Calaveras County Local Agency Formation Commission; Calaveras County Air Pollution Control District; Calaveras County Water District; City of Angels; California Department of Fish and Wildlife; California Department of Food and Agriculture; California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection; California Department of Parks and Recreation; California Department of Transportation, District 10; California Department of Conservation; California Office of Historic Preservation; California State Water Resources Control Board, California State Lands Commission; Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, Region 5; California Native American Heritage Commission; California Air Resources Board; and the California Office of Emergency Services.