The Board of Supervisors twice had to approve an event permit for the Field & Pond event center to host weddings out in a rural stretch of Yolo County. The approvals came over the strenuous objections of the neighbors, as well as organizations like the Farmland Protection Alliance, Tuleyome, and the Yolo County Farm Bureau.
Those organizations have now filed a suit against Yolo County, the Board of Supervisors and Field & Pond, attempting to block operation of their event center and bed and breakfast. Osha R. Meserve representing the Farmland Protection Alliance, Don Mooney representing Tuleyome, and Christian C. Scheuring representing the Yolo County Farm Bureau have filed the suit challenging the October 11 actions of the Board of Supervisors. (To read the suit).
Those actions adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for the proposed operation of the event center and bed and breakfast, Field & Pond.
According to the complaint, “Respondents failed to proceed in the manner required by law, and thus prejudicially abused their discretion, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”
“CEQA requires the preparation of an environment impact report (EIR) where there is substantial evidence, in light of the whole record before the lead agency, that a project may have a significant effect on the environment,” they write. “Because substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project may cause significant adverse effects on the environment, Respondents failed to proceed in the manner required by law by adopting the MND and approving the Project.”
The complaint continues, “By approving the Project on the basis of the MND’s flawed and fragmented environmental analysis, Respondents made a decision without all of the information that they, responsible agencies, and the public needed to properly weigh the consequences of Project approval.
“Respondents should have prepared and approved an EIR, or at minimum recirculated an adequate mitigated negative declaration, prior to considering and approving the Project,” they allege. “These failures deprived the County, other agencies and the public of the opportunity to consider mitigation and alternatives that could have addressed the Project’s adverse impacts, including but not limited to impacts to aesthetics, agriculture, biological resources, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, public services, transportation/traffic, and utilities services.”
In addition to CEQA allegations, the complaint alleges that the Board “also violated the provisions of the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (known as the Williamson Act) which imposes restrictions on land use in order to protect existing agricultural lands in exchange for tax exemptions.
“In approving the project, Respondents approved a use on Williamson Act contracted land that conflicts with the principles of compatibility articulated by in Government Code section 51238.1.,” they write.
Furthermore, the suit alleges that the county “also violated policies in the Yolo County General Plan in violation of Government Code section 65000 et seq. (also known as the ‘Planning and Zoning Law’), and failed to support its erroneous finding that the Project conforms to the General Plan with substantial evidence.”
Finally, they allege the county “violated the Yolo County zoning code in approving a Project that is inconsistent with the general welfare, and approving a Bed & Breakfast (‘B&B’) that does not meet the code’s definition of that business.”
In a statement to the Vanguard, Dahvie James, one of the owners of Field & Pond, said, “We are grateful to the community of Winters, the citizens of Yolo County, the Sheriff and Fire Services Departments, County Staff, and the Board of Supervisors for their invested faith in Field & Pond, and the licensing of our business for a B&B and additional events.
“Field & Pond is now one of the only two licensed venues in Winters, and one of the few luxury B&B offerings in the County,” he said. “Ultimately, we firmly believe that this lawsuit, albeit consistent with all other malicious acts levied by the project opponents, is unfounded and lacks validity.”
He stated, “While the opponents have a legal right to once again challenge the authority and decision of the Board of Supervisors, they were unsuccessful in not just one Board of Supervisors hearing, but two, in proving the merits of their case. Ultimately, we, along with our attorneys, and the support of County Staff, the Board of Supervisors, and the head legal Counsel for Yolo County are prepared and committed to defend and uphold the existing approval, conditions and mitigations for this project.”
In a contentious meeting in September, the Board of Supervisors on a 4 to 1 vote put through an approval for the event center, which, among other things, allowed for 20 events, four of them as large as 300 people. Shuttles would be required, the blackout dates from July 15 to September 15 would stand, the scheduling would be limited to Saturdays, they added an end time of 11 pm with music cut at 10 pm, and security would be mandatory with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office notified of the event.
Supervisor Duane Chamberlain was the lone opponent of the project overall, arguing that, without the spray buffer, “you can’t farm at all, that’s for damn sure.” He said that the smell of the spray leads people to believe they have been exposed to toxic air even when they haven’t. “Winds change, things change, it’s ridiculous to think that you can draw a line on a map.”
He added, “I don’t want to take any land out of the Williamson Act.” He agreed with the opponents to the project that city people on the road are a problem waiting to happen. And finally, he argued that weddings and an event center “are not agritourism.”
But that wasn’t the end of things. A technical error with the CEQA document – the very MND in question – put the issue back before the board on October 11, where the item was reapproved by the board.
According to an email from Taro Echiburu, Director of the Department of Community services, “The CEQA document in question was an earlier draft version of the Mitigated Negative Declaration (‘MND’), not the final version which was circulated to the public. While the Conditions of Approval and the Mitigation Monitoring Plan approved by the Board were based on the final version of the MND, the MND itself had some differences.”
Mr. Echiburu writes, “The differences between the final MND and the 9/13 hearing version affect only a small amount of text, but the resulting inconsistencies support a rehearing. County Staff want to ensure that the Board’s decision is based on the same materials as those vetted by the public.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting