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Focus 2015-2016:

posted Dec 14, 2015, 2:09 PM by Stevee Duber

Challenging the Approval of the Plumas County General Plan Update

HSRA has been concerned about the lack of protection for open space lands, especially agricultural and timber land, in the Plumas County General Plan since 2004 when we first challenged the “loophole” in the County’s 1984 General Plan. The “loophole” required agricultural lands to be rezoned to residential uses if a soils test provided by the owner of the property didn’t meet certain requirements. The “loophole” could have changed most of the agricultural land in Sierra Valley from agriculture to residential development. Due in large part to our efforts the County embarked on an update of its general plan beginning in 2005, though it didn’t really pick up steam until 2009, and finished in 2014. 

Unfortunately, the General Plan Update (GPU) contains loopholes which promote rural sprawl on natural resource lands remote from existing communities. A policy promoting clustering will allow subdivisions on resource production lands that weren’t previously allowed without a general plan and zoning amendment. Though clustering provides environmental benefits for developments on large parcels located within Planning Areas, outside of Planning Areas the same policies result in rural sprawl.  As a matter of right the GPU will allow huge structures—each up to an acre in size and up to two acres total per parcel--to be built all over the County. These structures can be used not only for residences, but also for purposes such as gas stations, recycling centers, campgrounds, animal husbandry, kennels, laundromats, lodging facilities, marinas and resorts to mention only a few without any further environmental analysis. The Plan puts water quality at risk because it does not contain any building setbacks from streams and rivers for those uses which are allowed by right. 

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the GPU hid this information from reader. The maps showing the location and extent of the Plan left out over 60% of the area affected by the Plan. The building intensity standards showing that the Plan allows structures to cover up to two acres of land in several land use designations weren’t revealed until after the close of the public hearing. The public and government agencies reading the GPU and EIR did not know the full extent or location of the development being proposed by the GPU.  

And, the GPU gives Sierra Pacific Industries and other large TPZ landowners a huge financial windfall by declaring without any evidence and contrary to state law that residences are allowed as a matter of right on lands zoned Timberland Production. This zone was created to protect timberlands from the encroachment of urban services. By agreeing to limit residential development to only residences necessary for the management of these lands, the property owners were awarded with substantially lower property taxes. Now that SPI has cashed in on the timber value of these lands, they are attempting to cash in on development potential which should not exist; and, Plumas County is aiding this swindle of the public’s largesse. 

HSRA attempted to influence the County's new General Plan at every practical opportunity. Some of our recommendations were incorporated, but still the Plan is deeply flawed. In 2014 we turned to the only available option left--litigation. The wheels of justice turn slowly. We are in the middle of that process now. 

In our challenge we are asking the Court to direct the County to set aside the approval of the Plan, require analysis of the environmental impacts of the Plan according to law; and, let the public and decision makers review the complete analysis before making a decision. Once the public understands the true parameters of the Plan, it will be up to the public to let the Board of Supervisors know, if it is a Plan which should or shouldn't be adopted or how it could be changed to truly implement the desires of the community. 

The HSRA is unique in its independence and commitment to advancing the public interest in Sierra and Plumas County land use decisions. With your financial support we can continue to influence the environmental policies regulating development in these beautiful places. Please give what you can.