From Lynn Jensen: Executive Director Ventura County CoLab
The Board of Supervisor's Hearing for the Biology Initial Study Assessment Guidelines will be held as scheduled at the Ventura County Government Center, Hall of Administration on Tuesday, March 1st , at 10:30 AM Time Certain
We believe that this hearing is premature and that the new language in the document that was presented to the public on February 10th has not had time for adequate public review and comment. This 29 page staff version with comments is in addition to a separate 29 page "response to comments" released on the County website yesterday (2-24-11) in the staff reportfor the March 1st hearing, giving us only 2 working days prior to the hearing to prepare responses. The agenda refers to this document as an "update" to the guidelines which it is not. Language in the old 6 page document is mostly stricken and the new document is 29 pages of new language. For the entire text of VC COLAB's Changes and Comments please visit the announcement tab onour website at www.colabvc.org .
We have repeatedly asked for sufficient time to work out these complicated issues with County Staff before going to the Board of Supervisors. We believe the remaining issues are mostly technical rather than policy and can be worked through to consensus with further dialogue with the Planning Staff.
So, hereis our chance to exercise our first amendment rights and I urge you to attend this hearing and be HEARD!
TAXPAYERS BE WARNED: County Public Works Projects will be even more expensive with implementation of this new document as written** YES** - that means public projects including the improvement and construction of new flood control channels, water, sewer and solid waste facilities, fire protection, roads, etc. In addition, more private projects that are necessary for businesses to expand and hire workers will not be economically feasible. This will have a major impact on farming which is already on the ropes due to increased cost and reduced supply of water, new pests, new air quality regulations and now THIS!!! In fact, more businesses will leave the County and more jobs will be lost.
The following 5 issues are of utmost concern with respect to the latest version of the Guidelines:
1) The "Locally Important Species" criteria are flawed and the list includes many common species like the "common onion". The list was compiledin a non-public process in 2004, purportedly with a group of 40 biologists which was "organized" by County Planning. As with the ISAG process, "organized" does not mean there was a consensus of opinion or any real input by local consulting biologists who were assembled. In fact, in the ISAG process County Staff dismissed many comments from local biologists in the first round of stakeholder meetings and then claimed they were involved in the process. The General Plan states that these Locally Important Species must be a "quality example" or "unique" within the County or region. The criteria and list published by the County in 2008 includes numerous common species that are not "quality examples" or "unique" from any perspective. Now they want to change the threshold of significance on these species, including this common onion to a ZERO THRESHOLD such that even one occurrence could automatically be significant under CEQA. THIS WAS NOT THE INTENT OF THE CRITERIA OR LIST WHEN IT WAS CONCEIVED!!!
In simple terms this will raise the cost of reporting, mitigating and creating environmental documents for every discretionary project with native vegetation in the County to accommodate common species. Think fire prevention! Are you willing to let your house burn down to protect a common onion? This language in the document is entirely unnecessary and unwarranted and has NO APPARENT GAIN even for County Planning.
2) Functioning Wildlife Corridors vs Regional Linkage Studies: While the available Regional Linkage studies are an important resource, they do not have the data to act as project specific indicators of functioning wildlife corridors or linkages under CEQA. In fact, our newest analysis of these studies published over the last 10 years has identified 224,000 acres of Regional Linkages in different conflicting areas of the County. We have also identified 26,000 acres of production agriculture that touch these linkages that would be in jeopardy if adopted due to the new food safety laws requiring no animal droppings in agricultural fields and orchards. These new regulations will eventually require fencing which will render the specific routes proposed by the linkage studies infeasible. In fact the South Coast Missing Linkages project considers agriculture a barrier to wildlife movement, calling for farming to be restricted. In addition, the linkage studies do not take into account the developed areas between Moorpark and Simi Valley and the three major highways the wildlife would have to cross. While VC COLAB supports wildlife connectivity project level analysis by Qualified Biological Consultants, we do not have much faith in these regional studies as definitive for identification of functioning corridors and linkages under CEQA.
3) ZERO Thresholds for low-level listed species: In the ISAG, "thresholds are a bar" that is set to separate lists of species that are automatically presumed to be significant from those that would need a biological interpretation to presume significance under CEQA. Species below the bar are still considered by biologists but the significance finding is not automatic. In California, there is also a whole laundry list of low-level species on watch lists that are important to monitor but Staff is insisting that they be subjected to the same ZERO threshold as those that have substantial evidence to be considered Rare, Threatened or Endangered. Again, citizen taxpayers will be spending huge time and energy on low-level watch list species that add cost to projects for no value. The thresholds VC COLAB consultants are recommending follow those from the San Diego Guidelines which are no picnic.
4) Thresholds based on Element Occurrences: Element Occurrences are a difficult concept for non-biologists to grasp - but hang in there and let's give it a shot! Biologists analyze projects in the field by identifying species that are on a variety of agency lists. Information on species "occurrences" is collected in major databases by some of the agencies including the CNDDB where biologists report them as "Element Occurrences" (EO's). Reporting is random, entirely dependent on projects processedin the County. County staff is insisting on making claims that the number of these randomly reported EO's can be used to set firm threshold levels and criteria in this ISAG document. This is ABSURD and entirely unnecessary. Local biologists will use EO data as a reference depending on species' likelihood of being reported. Most common species and low-level listed species are NOT REPORTED and therefore the number of EO's has no meaning. This is confusing and destructive adding red-tape with no apparent gain.
5) Moratorium on Wetland Projects: This significant new policy sets a blanket finding for significant impacts to waters and wetlands that ALL impacts are cumulatively significant. This policy will create a de facto moratorium on wetland projects as the County has not identified available measures for recourse like a County-wide waters/wetlands enhancement and restoration programs allowing cumulatively significant impacts to be mitigated. This moratorium will affect public improvement projects as well as small private road crossings and culvert projects. This is another needless regulation as waters and wetlands are already protected by numerous Federal, State and Local laws.
The entire set of VC COLAB recommended comments and changes are available on our website - see the announcement section on our homepage at www.colabvc.org!
Thank you and see you at the HEARING!
Lynn Gray Jensen, R.G.
Ventura County Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business
Phone (805) 633-2291