Good News for Marin Fish and Streamside Environment
This just in from the Marin IJ. Very good news. Good job on the part of SPAWN and friends.
Posted: 09/12/2012 02:24:57 PM PDT
Development restrictions were imposed on the San Geronimo Valley by a county judge who barred new building applications until Marin officials enact tougher rules to protect creekside salmon habitat.
Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee, making a final ruling this week in a lawsuit filed by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network of Forest Knolls, rejected the fishery group's argument that the county violated environmental law, but said officials must deliver an improved "streamside conservation area" program aimed at limiting activity detrimental to fish.
Because county policy promises adoption of rules tightening creekside protection, the county is "enjoined from approving and shall not approve any application for development within the stream conservation area, as defined by the 2007 countywide plan update, in the San Geronimo Valley watershed ... until such time as the streamside conservation area ordinance required by the 2007 countywide plan update is adopted by the Marin County Board of Supervisors," Judge Duryee ruled.
The action includes exceptions carved out during protracted negotiations after a tentative decision issued four months ago.
A key exception allows work that does not expand the building footprint "within the stream conservation area, and is subject to ministerial approval by the county," a provision enabling some to proceed with remodeling projects, perhaps including second-story improvements. Another allows supervisors to declare an "emergency" to allow repairs to proceed, but offers no definition of such a situation.
SPAWN's lawyer, Michael Graf of El Cerrito, was not immediately available for comment, and Todd Steiner, the group's executive director, said he wanted to read the judge's ruling before commenting. SPAWN later issued a statement in which Steiner said it was "unfortunate the county's failure to do proper environmental review and get common-sense rules in place has resulted in a court-ordered de facto building moratorium."
Steiner added: "Supervisor (Steve) Kinsey decided to roll the dice in court, and the people of the San Geronimo Valley are the current losers. ... We hope common sense rules will now be adopted quickly."
In an interview, Steiner said Judge Duryee essentially "split the baby," giving both sides in the litigation a wink. He added he has no problem with the exemptions allowed by the judge.
Kinsey said that while "the court supported the county's extensive environmental review," restrictions sought by SPAWN present a difficult hurdle. "I find SPAWN's continuing effort to stop future development on legal lots in established neighborhoods to be divisive, dismissive of both county and property owner efforts, and costly to defend at taxpayers' expense," Kinsey asserted. "There is a better way, as reflected in our voluntary landowner assistance programs, protective conditions incorporated into building permits and substantial (fish) barrier removal projects where streets cross creeks."
Niz Brown, treasurer of the San Geronimo Valley Stewards, a property owners' group that she said backs "reasonable" efforts to help salmon, expressed dismay at the turn of events, saying the notion that building near streams "has caused the demise of salmon is absurd," and not based on scientific evidence.
"Why is it that this little valley gets thrown under the bus?" she asked. "It's absolutely appalling. ... Why doesn't this affect all streams in Marin County?"
The county issued a press release indicating that while area Supervisor Kinsey "believes the injunction will cause significant hardship for residents," only five building permits were issued this year involving expansion of a building within the conservation area. The statement trumpeted county efforts to protect endangered coho salmon, noting it and other public agencies have spent more than $17 million improving the valley watershed, home of one of the most important coho fisheries in the state.
Tom Lai, assistant community development agency director, said he expects the judge's ruling will mean relatively little change for valley homeowners who already face a web of building regulations. He added county planners will produce an expanded streamside conservation program by next year for adoption by the county board, a move that will eliminate the court's red tape.
In its suit, SPAWN argued that the 2007 countywide plan update failed to protect
salmon habitat in the San Geronimo Valley, violating the California Environmental Quality Act. The county already restricts building within 100 feet of creek banks, but SPAWN wants tougher rules to protect fish.
In an abrupt, closed-door deal with Steiner aimed at staving off legal action, county supervisors in 2008 banned creekside construction in the San Geronimo Valley for two years to review regulations and assess salmon protections. Supervisors approved voluntary measures to protect salmon, but rejected tough new streamside tree cutting and related habitat rules urged by county planners.
Steiner sued, leading to this week's ruling.