Following the Vanguard’s article on Wednesday on the Field & Pond dispute, Bob Schneider submitted Tuleyome’s letter opposing a Negative Declaration for Field and Pond, as well as Ecologist Chad Roberts’ lengthy analysis.
July 28, 2016
Stephanie Cormier, Senior Planner
Yolo County Planning and Public Works Department
292 West Beamer Street
Woodland, CA 95695
Re: Comments, Revised/Reissued Negative Declaration, Field and Pond Project, ZF2015-0018
Dear Ms. Cormier,
Tuleyome offers the following comments to the Planning Department regarding Revised/Reissued Negative Declaration, Field and Pond Project, ZF2015-0018 for the proposed Field and Pond Event Center Project on Road 29 in western Yolo County. Thank you for noticing us with respect to this environmental compliance document.
With this letter Tuleyome fully incorporates comments submitted on July 28, 2016 by Chad Roberts.
Tuleyome owns property at the west end of Road 29. At the end of Road 29, a 4×4 dirt road leads through the Scott Ranch to Tuleyome’s 640-acre Ireland Ranch located abutting Bureau of Land Management lands at Rocky Ridge. We lease the property for grazing and large cattle trucks are used in the fall and winter to transport cows to and from summer pastures.
Tuleyome did meet on-site with the applicants and in light of the county’s “by right” policies offered some suggestions on mitigate of impacts produced by impacts from that level of activity.
In summary, we call to your attention specifically Roberts comments on environmental compliance:
“Further, if there is a public disagreement, supported by substantial evidence, about the significance of the project’s impacts, then the local agency is required to prepare an EIR.”
”The most appropriate and timely response is for the county to require the preparation of a legally adequate Environmental Impact Report.”
Senior Policy Director
Excerpts from Chad Roberts’ 41 page letter to Stephanie Cormier…
The following comments address the revised and reissued Initial Study (IS) and Draft Negative Declaration (NegDec) for the proposed Field and Pond Event Center Project on Road 29 in western Yolo County.
Many of the comments hereunder incorporate or are based on comments I sent to the Planning Department in April regarding the previous draft IS/NegDec, as many previously identified environmental concerns still exist for the revised environmental document. As before, most comments are focused on aspects of the natural environment on the site or in the vicinity; additional comments address selected land use and public services issues. My 04 April 2016 comment letter addressing the previous IS/NegDec is attached; please be sure that it’s fully incorporated (with its attachments) into the county administrative record and provided for decision-maker review.
As indicated in my previous letter, I’ve been familiar with ecological conditions in the project vicinity and on the project for more than four decades, and have visited the area at irregular intervals over the years to observe changing conditions there. Generally, I’ve worked for more than 35 years as an applied ecologist and environmental planner, and I’m very familiar with both ecological science and environmental assessment processes as they relate to project environmental reviews. A brief resume (Attachment A) summarizes some relevant qualifications, particularly noting selected experiences with wetlands, riparian areas, and oak woodlands.
The revised IS/NegDec is improved with respect to its assessment of biological and conservation impacts resulting from the proposed project. The improvements are a result primarily of the inclusion of several broad-spectrum changes in the project. These are: (1) the completion of a credible biological study (by Estep Consulting, Attachment A to the revised IS/NegDec), which clearly identified a number of significant impacts from the proposed project and provided recommendations for mitigating some of the impacts; (2) the removal of the proposed development elements south of Chickahominy Slough and the area’s retention as habitat; and (3) the recognition of the General Plan requirement in Policy CO-2.22 for a protective 100-foot setback of development from aquatic features on the project site, including Chickahominy Slough and the “2-acre pond.”
Notwithstanding the substantial improvement in the NegDec, however, the assessment still fails to incorporate a sufficiently comprehensive framework that fully includes the proposal’s effects on the biological environment, and a number of significant environmental consequences are both unanalyzed and unmitigated. It remains my professional opinion that the IS/NegDec fails to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with respect to the proposed project, failing to avoid, reduce, or offset adverse environmental consequences as required by law.
Conformance with California Environmental Quality Act Requirements
In my 04 April letter I identified a number of categories in which the county’s Initial Study/Negative Declaration document failed to address CEQA requirements. While the modified project (with 100-foot setbacks for aquatic features and an expectation of no alterations in conditions south of Chickahominy Slough) could reduce the environmental consequences of the proposed event center project, and therefore the extent of concerns about lack of CEQA compliance, the revised/reissued IS/NegDec still demonstrates that its assessments fail to meet the county’s obligations under CEQA.
As the CEQA Guidelines summarily state in subsection 15064(f)(1), “if a lead agency is presented with a fair argument that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, the lead agency shall prepare an EIR even though it may also be presented with other substantial evidence that the project will not have a significant effect (No Oil, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 13 Cal.3d 68).” This is commonly referred to as the “fair argument” standard for concluding that an EIR is required, and it presents a very low threshold for reaching that decision: a “fair argument” that the project will cause significant impacts, supported by substantial evidence. Under these circumstances an EIR is required even if the local agency has other evidence that suggests that no significant impacts will occur. Further, if there is a public disagreement, supported by substantial evidence, about the significance of the project’s impacts, then the local agency is required to prepare an EIR.
In this comment I’ve presented substantial evidence that a “fair argument” exists that the modified and reissued Negative Declaration for the Field and Pond Event Center project has still failed to address potentially significant environmental impacts, has failed to identify and disclose adequate mitigation measures for those effects, and represents a conclusory document that attempts to rationalize approving a project with environmentally significant impacts without avoiding, reducing, or offsetting those impacts as required by law.
The county may choose to (once more) retract the proffered Negative Declaration for revision, and subsequently issue a yet further-expanded environmental document. However, it’s not likely that a further-revised NegDec will cure the ills that exist in the county’s CEQA process for this proposal. The most appropriate and timely response is for the county to require the preparation of a legally adequate Environmental Impact Report.
Thank you for considering Yolo County’s substantial environmental resources.