Since formation in 1992, the El Dorado Chapter has been involved in reviewing plans for development and other human actions. Our focus has been to offer recommendations on how to design projects and activities in ways that avoid impacts to sensitive plant species and plant communities. With the assistance of George Clark, longtime member of the Sacramento Valley Chapter, chapter members began to learn about the environmental laws that could help protect native plants in the county. Early on we provided comments on several development projects that were planning to remove oak trees and large areas of oak woodlands, and remove rare plants and rare plant habitat. We were also founding members of our local weed management area. We have initiated and support a variety of projects to educate people about invasive plants and eradicate infestations when feasible. More recently, we have been involved in restoration projects in partnership with the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, the US Forest Service and others.
The following describes a few milestones in our history of conservation actions:
Won lawsuit against El Dorado County General Plan
A county’s general plan is meant to be a road map for development. California state law requires each city and county to adopt a general plan “for the physical development of the county or city, and any land outside its boundaries which bears relation to its planning” (California Government Code §65300). These “road maps” identify development goals and establish public policy relative to the distribution of future land uses, both public and private.
In 1993, the County of El Dorado began to revise its general plan. The El Dorado Chapter worked with a coalition of stakeholders interested in having the County adopt a plan that conserved sensitive resources while allowing for growth to review and evaluate the draft plan. We submitted comments and provided testimony at public hearings all focused on offering recommendations to improve conservation outcomes for sensitive resources like rare plants, oak woodlands, and riparian areas. The planning process was a social and political struggle. The plan adopted in 1996, did not adequately protect natural resources in the county. We knew that county leadership could do better, and the coalition filed a lawsuit to overturn the newly adopted general plan. The El Dorado Chapter was an active participant in developing the lawsuit. Based on comments we submitted during the planning process, concerns about loss of oak woodlands, destruction of rare plants and impacts to riparian areas were central issues in the litigation. A Superior Court judge agreed with us in 1999 and ruled that the County must set aside the adopted general plan until it could be revised. And, until the general plan could be revised, a very limited amount of development was allowed in the county.Since 2000, we used our success in having a poorly designed county general plan set aside to help us gain improvements in county planning and project design to conserve natural resources.
Oak Woodland Advisory Committee
Plant and Wildlife Technical Advisory Committee (PAWTAC)
El Dorado County Noxious Weeds Management Group (NWMG)
Improved County General Plan Adopted in 2004
Won Lawsuit Against Development Proposing to Destroy Thousands of Rare Plants
The County approved the development of 20 acres of some of the area’s most diverse rare plant habitat in 2006. The project proposed to destroy over 7,000 rare plants, with almost no on-site mitigation required. Mitigation for the loss of these plants relied upon a fee program approved by the County in 1998 that was inadequate to provide for the protection of the plants. The fee program was based on the developer paying a fee that would be used to acquire habitat to compensate for the loss of habitat due to development. However, the value of the fees collected was inadequate to acquire the necessary habitat. Ultimately, the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with us and in 2009 and a new environmental impact report was required. The Court also determined that the fee program was inadequate and was illegally approved in 1998. This meant that the fee program could not be used to offset the loss of rare plants and habitat until the flaws were fixed. This was a bittersweet victory since we could not afford to post the $500,000 bond that the Court required in order to have the work stopped until the litigation could be settled. Sadly, by the time we won the lawsuit, the development was nearly complete—the rare plants and nearly 20 acres of high quality habitat had been destroyed.Following our win, the project developer approach CNPS with an offer to settle this lawsuit and any future disputes about development on this 20-acre property and an adjacent 22-acre property with rare plants. Ultimately, we agreed to not file a lawsuit on the revised project and a future project based on the promise from the developer to donate to the Pine Hill Preserve approximately 20 acres of rare plant habitat—nearly half of the area proposed for development. We also used the setting aside of the County’s fee program as a starting point for discussions about revising that program. These discussions have been ongoing, but not yet successful. The fee program has yet to be revised, and we continue to press the County about this issue. Additional information on the lawsuit is available here (pdf).
Successful Litigation Against Poorly Designed Oak Woodland Management Plan
The general plan approved in 2004 required that an Oak Woodland Management Plan be developed before a fee program for off-site mitigation for oak woodlands could be offered by the County. The County began in 2006 to develop such a plan. This process again was socially and politically fraught with mitigation for oak woodlands not being opposed by some members of the Board of Supervisors and many developers. The Chapter provided comments and attended advisory committee meetings offering recommendations on mitigation measures. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors approved an oak management plan that did not conserve oak woodlands and was not legally sufficient. The Chapter worked with Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation (CSNC) to file a lawsuit against the County’s approval of the oak woodland plan in 2008. Again, the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with CSNC and us in 2012 that the oak woodland management plan was deficient. The Court required the County to set aside the plan and fee program it had created.The County once again has begun to develop an oak woodland plan and off-site fee program. This is being completed as part of the update to the biological resources components of the general plan mentioned on our Current Issues webpage. We are again engaging in the process and have been providing comments on how the County can improve the plan and fee program that they are developing.