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Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense

Appellate Court Blocks County’s Friant Ranch Project
by posted by Mike Rhodes
Friday May 30th, 2014 12:52 PM
This is a Press Release issued in Fresno today (Friday, May 30) by a coalition of environmental and community groups.
Appellate  Court  Blocks  County’s  Friant  Ranch  Project
May  30,  2014

Fresno  –  In  a  May  27  court decision  that  reaffirms  the  priorities  of  clean  air  in  urban  planning, Fresno’s  Fifth  District  Court  of  Appeal  ruled  in  favor  of  the  Sierra  Club,  the  League  of  Women  Voters of  Fresno,  and  Revive  the  San  Joaquin  in  the  matter  of  Friant  Ranch  (Sierra  Club  et  al.  v.  County  of Fresno).  The  Court  overturned  the  Fresno  County  Board  of  Supervisor’s  2011  approval  of  the  Friant Ranch  development  and  the  project’s  Environmental  Impact  Report,  or  EIR.  

The  court  held  the  Friant  Ranch  EIR  to  be  deficient  in  its  analysis  of  the  impacts  on  air  quality  from the  proposed  2,270-- home  development.  A  three-- judge  panel  unanimously  overturned  a  2012  court decision  and  ruled  in  favor  of  plaintiffs,  ordering  the  preparation  of  a  revised  EIR.  

The  California  Environmental  Quality  Act  (CEQA)  requires  the  County,  as  Lead  agency,  to  certify  the EIR.  The  EIR  must  inform  the  public  about  the  project’s  environmental  impacts,  including  health impacts  from  air  pollution,  which  shall  be  disclosed.  Also,  the  EIR  needs  to  make  a  good  faith  effort to  identify  mitigation  measures  that  would  reduce  these  impacts.  The  Friant  Ranch  EIR  did  not comply  with  these  aspects  of  the  law.

Sarah  Sharpe,  Fresno  Metro  Ministry  Director  of  Programs,  commented,  “We  support  the  court’s decision  to  uphold  CEQA  and  to  protect  our  air  quality.   In  our  region,  which  is  in  the  dirtiest  air basin  in  the  nation,  decisions  about  regional  growth  and  development  should  not  be  taken  lightly.  It  is  important  to  remind  our  decision-- makers  that  sprawl  and  new  towns  create  new  sources  of  air pollution  that  WILL  have  real  health  impacts.” 
 
Thinking  to  the  future,  Nyla  Zender,  President  of  the  League  of  Women  Voters  of  Fresno,  said,  "The ruling  by  the  Appellate  Court  will,  at  long  last,  force  the  County  to  face  the  adverse  effects  on  air quality  generated  by  their  land  use  decisions  promoting  urban  sprawl.  It  is  only  a  first  step  as Fresno  County  will  be  bringing  up  its  revised  General  Plan  for  approval  soon.  The  amendments contained  in  that  document  will  pave  the  way  for  more  rural  area  developments  like  Friant  Ranch. This  must  be  stopped."
 
The  Friant  Ranch  project  is  a  proposed  55-- plus  Senior  community,  located  6  miles  north  of  Fresno on  agricultural  lands  near  Millerton  Lake  State  Recreation  Area.  It  is  in  a  new  growth  region  far from  retail  and  medical  services,  and  with  no  public  bus  service.   A  technical  transportation  study forecasts  future  gridlock  at  selected  Fresno  intersections  during  commute  periods. In  addition  to  disclosing  the  environmental  impacts  of  the  project,  the  EIR  is  required  to recommend  mitigations  that  would  reduce  impacts  to  a  level  of  insignificance.   The  County acknowledged  air  quality  concerns  but  made  only  token  efforts  to  reduce  air  pollution  and  traffic congestion  impacts,  requiring  the  planting  of  trees  in  roadway  medians  and  setting  up  a  vanpool service.  County  planners  claimed  such  minor  efforts  would  “significantly”  reduce  air  pollution levels.  The  Appellate  Court  disagreed.
Friant  Ranch  is  just  one  of  several  developments  proposed  north  of  the  city  of  Fresno  in  both Fresno  and  Madera  Counties.  The  cumulative  impact  to  air  quality  from  the  addition  of  160,000 residents  will  be  significant.

Sharpe  concluded,  “This  is  a  small  step  in  the  right  direction  toward  a  complete  culture  change  that values  investment  in  existing  neighborhoods  and  towns  rather  than  always  building  new  and farther  out.”

Despite  the  win  favoring  air  quality  and  public  health,  we  must  caution  that  the  ruling  is  a  troubling opinion  because  it  did  not  find  the  Friant  Ranch  project  to  violate  the  County  General  Plan  and County  land  use  policies  designed  to  prevent  urban  sprawl.

***

Contacts:  
Gary  Lasky  (Sierra  Club)  559-- 790-- 3495,  data.nations [at] gmail.com
Radley  Reep  (League  of  Women  Voters),  559-- 326-- 6227,  radleyreep [at] netzero.com
Nyla  Zender  (League  of  Women  Voters),  559-- 439-- 9008,  nylajz [at] comcast.net
Sara  Hedgpeth-- Harris  (attorney).  559-- 905-- 2150,  sara.hedgpethharris@shh-- law.com