CEQA Primer on Project with Water Impacts

To All,

From Judith Olney at this past Saturday’s Four County Network meeting, as promised…see attached Word doc or read below:

County Process for Discretionary Use Permits:  Granting a Use Permit is discretionary; thus, public officials have the legal right to deny the project or approve the project provided the County can make certain findings to back their decision and to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); and the Applicant agrees to implement the “mitigation measures” built into the Use Permit’s Conditions of Approval.

NOTE: Under the Zoning Code an Applicant or Land Owner has two types of rights:
1) List of baseline uses that are allowed by virtue of purchasing the land; and
2) Discretionary Uses – only allowed upon conditions in Use Permit – not a legal right.

STEP I:  Get involved Early – Obtain Project documents from County Planner

A:  Review the Application, Design Docs and Technical Studies prepared by Applicant’s consultants, and recommend ways to reduce environmental or neighborhood impacts.

B:  Submit Comments during Initial Study phase.  When the Planner deems the Application complete, the County releases it along with an Environmental Checklist to Responsible Agencies, community groups and residents requesting documents.  At this phase, the public is asked to identify areas of potential impact requiring additional Technical Studies (See CEQA Initial Study Tool for the Environmental Checklist questions that need to be answered).

C: Participate or obtain the tape recording from Design Review Hearings.

STEP II: Build the Administrative Record:  In order to have legal standing, residents and public advocacy groups must “build the Administrative Record.”

A:  To Build the Administrative Record, you must:

1) Analyze and point out deficiencies in the documents (See II B) supporting the decisions,
2) Participate in all Administrative hearings (Planning Commission or Board or Zoning Adjustment and Board of Supervisor) that lead up to the County’s final decision, and
3) Produce peer reviews or new Technical Studies prepared by Experts – The CEQA standard for an EIR is, “…whenever it can be fairly argued on the basis of substantial evidence that a project may have significant environmental impact.” (i.e. Fair argument that one or more potential Environmental, Cultural, Human or Cumulative impacts may occur).

B: Documents and Reports to review and comment on include – Note the County may not provide #3 and #4 until 10 days before the Planning Commission or BZA Hearing:

1) Application for the Project; Design Documents, Design Review Hearing Findings;
2) Technical Reports produced by Applicant’s Experts;
3) Mitigated Negative Declaration – prepared by County Planner (See II. C)
4) Staff Report by the Planning and Resource Management Department (PRMD) – addresses General Plan consistency, land use, zoning code and zoning overlay issues. Proposed Conditions of Approval are attached to Staff Report – the BZA or Planning Commission can modify.

C: Per CEQA, an environmental assessment is required. In Sonoma County a Mitigated Negative Declaration is most often used; and this document must demonstrate with substantive evidence that the project impacts are reduced to less than significant by the Conditions of Approval.
PRMD staff and consultants must answer a list of questions to assess the potential impacts:
1)      Answers must account for the Whole Action (project – related, cumulative, construction, operational, indirect and direct, on-site and offsite)
2)      If there is substantial evidence that a Potentially Significant Impact may occur, the answer must identify and require mitigation measures to bring the impact down to less than significant (If it cannot, then a full Environmental Impact Report is required).
3)      Explanation should identify: 1) the Source used; 2) Significance Criteria or Threshold; and 3) define how mitigation measure(s) reduce the impact to less than significant.
4)      NOTE: The MND cannot rely on Mitigations that are not implementable or that are defined in the future.  (i.e. If the neighbors complain of noise impacts, then the Applicant will conduct additional noise studies or put equipment on their sound system.)

STEP III:  Evaluate the documents produced – identify errors and omissions – Submit written letters and technical studies to the PRMD Planner, cc: Planning Commissioners.
Comments must address whether the County can make the Mandatory Findings below:

A.    Does the Project meet the requirements of the General Plan Elements, Zoning Code and any Land Use Overlays on the parcel? Is it compatible with surrounding land uses?

B.     Does the Project, as mitigated, have one or more Potential Environmental Impacts?
1)      The potential to degrade the quality of the biologic environment, or
2)      The potential to eliminate examples of periods of California history or prehistory, or
3)      Environmental impacts which will cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, either directly or indirectly.

Can a FAIR ARGUMENT be made that the impact has not been mitigated to less than significant – If Yes: then an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required; it’s an abuse of discretion to approve the Project under a Mitigated Negative Declaration.
For purposes of the “fair argument standard” substantive evidence includes, “fact, a reasonable assumption predicated upon fact, or EXPERT OPINION supported by fact.” And, the County or the Court may NOT “weigh” conflicting substantial evidence – if it exists, then an EIR must be prepared.

C.     Can the Project meet the “Mandatory Finding of Significance?”  The finding is: “The Project will not be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, comfort, and general welfare of persons residing or working in the neighborhood, not be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood, or the general welfare of the area.”

D.       Cumulative Impact Analysis Required?  – Does the project have impacts that are individually limited, but cumulatively considerable, which means that the incremental effects of a project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of known future projects.

STEP IV:  Appeal the Decision to Board of Sup’v (w/in 10 days/$400 Fee):  If the Planning Commission approves a Project that is deficient in any of the above Mandatory Findings, and you have Expert Testimony that provides a fair argument,” then Appeal the Decision to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for a Hearing.
Note: If the Planning Commission denies the project or adds more mitigation measures to the Conditions of Approval with, the Applicant may Appeal.  In either case, to have legal standing you must participate in the BOS Hearing(s).

Posted in Watershed Related Concerns | Leave a comment

Comment on California’s Drought Response

To All,

There are many facets that must be considered if  were are to find solution(s) to our water supply and drought issues.

Of course, bottom line, we all must conserve.  That means every person, business, or industry.

Agriculture is not living up to their responsibility in the area of conservation.  Agriculture, via the California Farm Bureau and other industry groups, make various claims. One argument the make is that they really do not use 80% of the State’s available water supply. Ag claims to use only 40% of all water that falls on the State – with the implication that all the water that falls is available for consumption.  This feeble argument is a desperate attempt to make Ag use appear  less onerous.

With Agricultural users, as with all users of our water supply, there are some that are better at conserving than others.  One can not argue that in the case of Ag use there is room for more conservation and limits on wasteful use.

The article in last weeks Insight (Chronicle – California Water Law Must Change – Quickly by Richard Frank) has some very basic common sense suggestions that could move us all in the correct direction:

Recognize that water is a public resource:  Water is not the private property of any one person or group. Water is the property of the people (as expressed in California State Law).

Improve requirements  for monitoring and reporting water diversions by water users:  At this point the State has no idea of who is diverting and using how much.  To manage we need this information on who is using and how much.

Term Limits for water rights permits:  Currently, permits last forever and do not reflect need or use. This would allow the State to reallocate permits according to recent history use and need.

Make water transfers easier and quicker:  This, again, would allow the State to allocate according need and move water to the points of need – faster.

Give the environment a seat at the water allocation table:  All beneficial uses,  agricultural, industrial, urban, fishery, and aquatic life, must be considered in water allocation.

Increase water rights enforcement:  Currently the State seems paralyzed  in this area. In part, this is due to a lack of staff for enforcement.

To the above list I would add that the State needs to do a better job in the maintenance of water quality.  Water Quality issues, the protection of ground water and surface waters from pollution, can have a great effect on our future water supply.

I suggest that we get to work on resolving these issues – before the problem gets bigger.
Alan Levine – for Coast Action Group

Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Climate Change Impacts, Drinking Water issues, Environmental Impacts, Groundwater Impacts, Lakes and Resevoirs Impacts, Streams and Wetlands Impacts, Water Conservation Issue | Leave a comment

California Cuts Farmers’ Share of Scant Water

By JENNIFER MEDINA, JUNE 12, 2015

Agricultural fields in Thermal, Calif. The state is facing a prolonged drought that shows few signs of easing. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Farmers with rights to California water dating back more than a century will face sharp cutbacks, the first reduction in their water use since 1977, state officials announced Friday. The officials said that rights dating to 1903 would be restricted, and that such restrictions would grow as the summer months go on, with the state facing a prolonged drought that shows few signs of easing. “Demand in our key rivers systems are outstripping supply,” said Caren Trgovcich, the State Water Resources Control Board’s chief deputy director. “Other cuts may be imminent.”

It is too early to know the practical impact of the cuts, which prohibit farmers from taking surface water. State officials have warned of such curtailments for months, and many farmers and agricultural water districts prepared for them by increasing their reserves or digging new wells for groundwater.

Still, the dramatic move is a sign of how dire the drought has become, as the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range — which normally supplies water to the state through the summer months, as it melts — is at a historic low. Only once before in the state’s history have the most senior water rights been curtailed. But now, with the drought persisting into a fourth year, state officials say that more reductions for so-called senior water rights holders are nearly certain, and the need for additional cuts will be evaluated weekly.

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Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Water Conservation Issue | Leave a comment

Some addresses may be hidden as California well reports become public

Jorge Vargas drills a well at a farm in Chowchilla in 2014. Reports that water well drillers file with the state are set to become public under a bill signed into law this week.

Jorge Vargas drills a well at a farm in Chowchilla in 2014. Reports that water well drillers file with the state are set to become public under a bill signed into law this week. | Scott Smith Associated Press file

By Ryan Sabalow
rsabalow@sacbee.com

After more than six decades of secrecy, the reports that water well drillers file with the state are set to become public under a bill signed into law this week.

But because of privacy concerns, it’s still not clear whether the public will get to see the precise locations of the thousands of wells that pull water out of the ground to irrigate farms and supply drinking water.

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 83, a trailer bill attached to the state budget. It reverses a ban on releasing what are known as well logs to anyone but the well’s owners, government officials and those cleaning up toxic spills. Drilling companies have to file the reports when they create new wells. The reports detail the composition of the subterranean layers the drillers encountered and how far down they hit water.

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Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Drinking Water issues, Groundwater Impacts, Water Conservation Issue | Leave a comment

California Is Literally Sinking Into the Ground

And it’s going to cost taxpayers big time.

Jun. 10, 2015

California sinking

This story was originally published by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

California is sinking—and fast.

While the state’s drought-induced sinking is well known, new details highlight just how severe it has become and how little the government has done to monitor it.

Last summer, scientists recorded the worst sinking in at least 50 years. This summer, all-time records are expected across the state as thousands of miles of land in the Central Valley and elsewhere sink.

Some places in California are sinking more than a foot per year.

But the extent of the problem and how much it will cost taxpayers to fix are part of the mystery of the state’s unfolding drought. No agency is tracking the sinking statewide, little public money has been put toward studying it and California allows agriculture businesses to keep crucial parts of their operations secret.

The cause is known: People are pulling unsustainable amounts of water out of underground aquifers, primarily for food production. With the water sucked out to irrigate crops, a practice that has accelerated during the drought, tens of thousands of square miles are deflating like a leaky air mattress, inch by inch.

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Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Environmental Impacts, Groundwater Impacts, Water Conservation Issue | Leave a comment

Primer for Effectively Commenting on CEQA Projects

To All,

Here is a primer for addressing and commenting on projects that invoke the CEQA process that aid in getting a better review.

Larry

County Process for Discretionary Use Permits: Granting a Use Permit is discretionary; thus, public officials have the legal right to deny the project or approve the project provided the County can make certain findings to back their decision and to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); and the Applicant agrees to implement the “mitigation measures” built into the Use Permit’s Conditions of Approval.

NOTE: Under the Zoning Code an Applicant or Land Owner has two types of rights:
1) List of baseline uses that are allowed by virtue of purchasing the land; and
2) Discretionary Uses – only allowed upon conditions in Use Permit – not a legal right.

STEP I: Get involved Early – Obtain Project documents from County Planner

A: Review the Application, Design Docs and Technical Studies prepared by Applicant’s consultants, and recommend ways to reduce environmental or neighborhood impacts.
B: Submit Comments during Initial Study phase. When the Planner deems the Application complete, the County releases it along with an Environmental Checklist to Responsible Agencies, community groups and residents requesting documents. At this phase, the public is asked to identify areas of potential impact requiring additional Technical Studies (See CEQA Initial Study Tool for the Environmental Checklist questions that need to be answered).
C: Participate or obtain the tape recording from Design Review Hearings.

STEP II: Build the Administrative Record: In order to have legal standing, residents and public advocacy groups must “build the Administrative Record.”

A: To Build the Administrative Record, you must:

1) Analyze and point out deficiencies in the documents (See II B) supporting the decisions,

2) Participate in all Administrative hearings (Planning Commission or Board or Zoning Adjustment and Board of Supervisor) that lead up to the County’s final decision, and

3) Produce peer reviews or new Technical Studies prepared by Experts – The CEQA standard for an EIR is, “…whenever it can be fairly argued on the basis of substantial evidence that a project may have significant environmental impact.” (i.e. Fair argument that one or more potential Environmental, Cultural, Human or Cumulative impacts may occur).

B: Documents and Reports to review and comment on include – Note the County may not provide #3 and #4 until 10 days before the Planning Commission or BZA Hearing:

1) Application for the Project; Design Documents, Design Review Hearing Findings;

2) Technical Reports produced by Applicant’s Experts;

3) Mitigated Negative Declaration – prepared by County Planner (See II. C)

4) Staff Report by the Planning and Resource Management Department (PRMD) – addresses General Plan consistency, land use, zoning code and zoning overlay issues. Proposed Conditions of Approval are attached to Staff Report – the BZA or Planning Commission can modify.

C: Per CEQA, an environmental assessment is required. In Sonoma County a Mitigated Negative Declaration is most often used; and this document must demonstrate with substantive evidence that the project impacts are reduced to less than significant by the Conditions of Approval.

PRMD staff and consultants must answer a list of questions to assess the potential impacts:

  • Answers must account for the Whole Action (project – related, cumulative, construction, operational, indirect and direct, on-site and offsite)
  • If there is substantial evidence that a Potentially Significant Impact may occur, the answer must identify and require mitigation measures to bring the impact down to less than significant (If it cannot, then a full Environmental Impact Report is required).
  • Explanation should identify: 1) the Source used; 2) Significance Criteria or Threshold; and 3) define how mitigation measure(s) reduce the impact to less than significant.
  • NOTE: The MND cannot rely on Mitigations that are not implementable or that are defined in the future. (i.e. If the neighbors complain of noise impacts, then the Applicant will conduct additional noise studies or put equipment on their sound system.)

STEP III: Evaluate the documents produced – identify errors and omissions – Submit written letters and technical studies to the PRMD Planner, cc: Planning Commissioners.

Comments must address whether the County can make the Mandatory Findings below:

Does the Project meet the requirements of the General Plan Elements, Zoning Code and any Land Use Overlays on the parcel? Is it compatible with surrounding land uses?

Does the Project, as mitigated, have one or more Potential Environmental Impacts?

  • The potential to degrade the quality of the biologic environment, or
  • The potential to eliminate examples of periods of California history or prehistory, or
  • Environmental impacts which will cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, either directly or indirectly.

    Can a FAIR ARGUMENT be made that the impact has not been mitigated to less than significant – If Yes: then an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required; it’s an abuse of discretion to approve the Project under a Mitigated Negative Declaration.
    For purposes of the “fair argument standard” substantive evidence includes, “fact, a reasonable assumption predicated upon fact, or EXPERT OPINION supported by fact.” And, the County or the Court may NOT “weigh” conflicting substantial evidence – if it exists, then an EIR must be prepared.

  1. Can the Project meet the “Mandatory Finding of Significance?” The finding is: “The Project will not be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, comfort, and general welfare of persons residing or working in the neighborhood, not be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood, or the general welfare of the area.”
  2. Cumulative Impact Analysis Required? – Does the project have impacts that are individually limited, but cumulatively considerable, which means that the incremental effects of a project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of known future projects.

STEP IV: Appeal the Decision to Board of Sup’v (w/in 10 days/$400 Fee): If the Planning Commission approves a Project that is deficient in any of the above Mandatory Findings, and you have Expert Testimony that provides a fair argument,” then Appeal the Decision to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for a Hearing.

Note: If the Planning Commission denies the project or adds more mitigation measures to the Conditions of Approval with, the Applicant may Appeal. In either case, to have legal standing you must participate in the BOS Hearing(s).

Posted in Environmental Impacts, Preservation Issue | Leave a comment

National Marine Sanctuaries Celebration, Sun. June 28, Gualala

National Marine Sanctuaries now protect the entire Sonoma & southern Mendocino Coast
and it’s time to celebrate!

Both the Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries have more than doubled in size and
permanently ban offshore drilling, pipelines, underwater mining, ocean dumping, and land based pollution
ˆ and they bring NOAA‚s science expertise and educational programs into our communities.

SUNDAY, JUNE 28th
from 11 am to 3 pm
at the Gualala Arts Center, 46501 Gualala Rd, Gualala.

Speakers include former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who led Sanctuary efforts;
Congressman Jared Huffman, NOAA officials and others.

There will also be music, exhibits, films, food venders, and children‚s activities.

Join your friends and neighbors in this historical day for the coast.

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McKibben to Obama: You still have time to be a climate champion — but not much

, Jun 11, 2015

Dear President Obama —

I feel a little awkward writing a letter to you, perhaps because I helped organize the largest demonstrations outside your house during your residence there: It’s odd to write someone when the closest you’ve ever come to them is being chained to the fence outside their home protesting the Keystone pipeline.

But I’ve had a very long time to think about global warming — since the late 1980s, when I published the first book for a general audience on the topic of what we then called the greenhouse effect. And so I thought I might offer a few thoughts. It’s only in the last three or four years that climate’s political dimensions have come into clearest focus for me, beginning in some ways with those Keystone demonstrations. As I’ve learned more about how Washington works, I’ve understood better some of the paths you took and didn’t. With 18 months left in your administration, the summing-up mood is appropriate — but not entirely, since time remains for a series of fateful decisions that will shape your legacy, but more importantly the planet’s future atmospheric chemistry.

Credit where it’s due

There are moments, I think, when some in your administration have thought the climate movement paid too little heed to the things you have accomplished. And so one begins there, with credit that is in fact due:

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Compromising the groundwater law

California won’t identify who’s draining the state’s groundwater

Lance Williams and Katharine Mieszkowski, Reveal, June 2, 2015

A new law that attempts to preserve California’s precious groundwater comes with a catch: The state will hide the names of people draining this vast underground water source, Reveal has learned.

The secrecy provision could make it impossible for the public to identify water wasters and learn whether conservation efforts are taking hold, according to documents and interviews.

One of the law’s authors, former Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, said farmers and private pumpers wanted confidentiality.

“In essence, this was a battle we didn’t think we could take on,” Dickinson said. “So we agreed to keep the confidentiality.”

At issue is little-noticed language in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a package of laws that for the first time sets rules on farmers’ use of groundwater, a vital but rapidly disappearing subterranean water supply for the Golden State.

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Wine Empire Compared to Coal Industry

Various people challenging the Wine Empire have described it as an extractive industry. It uses a lot of water and land in industrializing, urbanizing, and commercializing ways. Most of its benefits leave the North Coast into the hands of investors, increasingly from China and elsewhere. Most of the costs are paid by locals, especially those of us who have decided to live in rural areas, often because we love nature. Few young people can buy land here any more to transform it into food farms.

I’ve been re-watching the old film “Songcatcher,” with Aidan Quinn and Janet McTeer. It is partly about the coal industry buying up land in North Carolina, where I used to live. One of the local boys represents that fossil fuel industry. At risk is the Appalachian culture, rich with beautiful music. There is a rich agrarian culture on the North Coast, which is being threatened by the Wine Empire. Though there are differences, the extractive nature of the coal industry with its strip mining has similarities to the wine industry. When the Gallo Empire moved to Sonoma County it began cutting down hilltops to enrich itself. Left uncheck here the powerful Wine Empire would continue to get away with breaking all kinds of laws and ethical principles by hoarding resources.

“Songcatcher” is available through the Sonoma County library, as well as in other ways. It is a moving testimony to Appalachian mountain culture. Our struggle is partly to preserve agrarian culture on the North Coast. It is more than just a political struggle, having cultural and even spiritual dimensions.

Shepherd

Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Environmental Impacts, Salmonid/Wildlife Impacts, Water Conservation Issue | Comments Off on Wine Empire Compared to Coal Industry