"Environmental victory" for county
A recent ruling, which effectively tossed out El Dorado County’s General Plan, could have long-lasting effects on west slope county development, the flow of traffic to and from South Lake Tahoe, and the environment.
Judge Cecily Bond of the Sacramento County Superior Court ruled on Friday that the General Plan – the county’s blueprint for future development and land use – is invalid. That means that the county must go back to the drawing board with with the Plan it has spent six years drafting and hundreds of thousands of dollars protecting from lawsuits.
The lawsuit challenging the Plan was brought by a coalition of environmental and community organizations, among them the League to Save Sierra Lakes and El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth.
The ruling centered on three issues: the Plan’s impact on the Sierra lakes from which the county would divert water, on the threat to wildlife habitat, and on worsening traffic impact.
The pro-development General Plan had predicted that the county would nearly triple in population by 2015, from 148,000 to 370,000.
“This is an outstanding victory for careful environmental planning,” said Stephan Volker, an attorney representing county residents who sued. “The Court ruled, and we agree, that the county looked before it leaped.”
Judge Bond’s 142-page ruling identified more than a dozen separate violations by the county of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Among them was the ruling that the county failed to disclose that its proposed diversion of water from Lake Aloha in the Desolation Wilderness, and Caples and Silver Lakes in Alpine and Amador Counties, would cause harm to those lakes.
“The court obviously paid attention and really did their homework,” said Bill Center, a former county supervisor who has been a vociferous opponent of rampant growth. “Clearly, the court maintains that the county’s environmental analysis is incomplete.
“The message is: Tell the truth so the public can make an informed decision.”
The court also concluded that the Plan failed to disclose and address adverse impacts on traffic congestion caused by new development – finding that actual growth allowed under the Plan might approach 734,000 by 2015, more than twice the county’s estimate.
“The growth proposed (by the county) would badly clog Highway 50, choking off South Lake Tahoe,” Volker said. “That’s got to be an important issue to you guys up there.”
Said Keith Johnson of El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth: “The purpose of CEQA is to compel public disclosure of impacts like traffic congestion. I am glad that the court stood by that principal.”
As for the immediate effect on development plans already approved by the county, such as the Missouri Flat project, things are still up in the air. County Counsel Lou Green was expected to discuss those issues with the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
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