Endangered Habitats League

Dedicated to Ecosystem Protection and Improved Land Use Planning

Dan Silver, Coordinator
8424-A Santa Monica Blvd., #592
Los Angeles, CA 90069-4267
Phone: 323-654-1456
Fax: 323-654-1931

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VOL. 8 - NO. 3

Tollroad Imperils Wilderness

The Foothill Transportation Corridor-South, or Foothill tollroad, is the last and most damaging leg of the three tollroads so insensibly sited in the last natural lands of Orange County. Perpetuating Orange County’s dependence upon the automobile, the San Joaquin Hills tollroad already bisects the Laguna Greenbelt and the Eastern tollroad does similar damage to the undeveloped central portions of the County. The San Joaquin’s actual ridership is far under expectation, however. But with characteristic tunnel vision, the Transportation Corridor Agency, governed by elected offcials who act as a rubber stamp for highway proposals, is pushing through another environmental nightmare - the Foothill tollroad.

If constructed, the Foothill would run though wilderness in the southern County, fragment pristine habitat, and open up the only intact, undammed coastal watershed in California south of Ventura - that of San Mateo Creek - to development. It would then run through San Onofre Beach State Park, which is leased from the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. The road would wipe out popular campgrounds at the State Beach, which is the 10th most used unit in the entire 240-unit State Park system. A total of six federally listed species - California gnatcatcher, Pacific pocket mouse, tidewater goby, arroyo toad, least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher - would be hard hit, including critical populations.

The tollroad is, however, subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Nine federal agencies have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coordinate NEPA review. In carrying out the MOU, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) raised important concerns over the project’s basic purpose and need, which had been brushed aside by the lead federal agency, the Federal Highway Administration. In other words, would this project actually relieve traffic congestion?

EHL retained an experienced traffic engineer to review the data independently. We found that the "wrong questions" had been asked. Major data deficiencies preclude an accurate assessment of purpose and need, and non-highway alternatives have not been explored. EHL and other conservation groups communicated these findings to EPA and the Corps in writing and in face-to-face meetings, and asked them to resist political pressure to change their positions. As a result of a dispute resolution process, the data deficiencies are now supposed to be corrected.

However, not content to follow the law, tollroad booster Rep. Ron Packard attached an unrelated amendment - called a "rider" - to an appropriations bill, which would stop the EPA and the Corps from fulfilling their responsibilities under the MOU. Even worse, it would gut the NEPA process by prohibiting the consideration of less damaging alternatives, even if such alternatives completely satisfied traffic objectives. The public would be silenced. Efforts are underway to stop this anti-democratic rider in the U.S. Senate.

In the meantime, EHL’s traffic consultant has outlined the steps needed to determine whether this hugely destructive road is either necessary or the best option. The only certainty is that you will be hearing more about the Foothill tollroad. And many thanks to the EHL members who wrote letters on this issue.


Riverside County at a Crossroads


Over the next 20 years, Riverside County could grow by up to a million people. The epitome of automobile-dependent sprawl, it is the home of the $110,000 tract house with a three-car garage in places bereft of community or identity. In pursuit of the "American Dream," families are torn apart by two-hour commutes to and from work. In a rush to maximize profits for real estate speculators and developers, cities like Moreno Valley have gone bankrupt, without the money to supply services to the new residents. It is a suburban dsytopia.

It is also completely unsustainable. Traffic is already intolerable, yet deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars exist for infrastructure improvements. Idyllic farmland is being lost rapidly, without objection from the pro-development Farm Bureau, even though agriculture is still a major industry. Natural resources of immense value, like the magnificent inland wetlands of the San Jacinto Valley, are at risk.

Fortunately, the ingredients for a turnaround can be seen. Tom Mullen, a forward-thinking Supervisor, is trying to deal with the infrastructure deficits and imbalance between housing and jobs with a consensus-based transportation planning program called CETAP, or Community and Environmental Transportation Acceptability Process. The Board also appears to be moving forward on multiple species planning, albeit by a risky reorganization of the existing Habitat Conservation Agency. Supervisor Bob Buster, a conservation-minded advocate of managed growth, just guided through the approval process a landfill expansion that will provide up to $60 million for habitat acquisition.

Without accommodating growth in a new way, though, Riverside County’s future is bleak. EHL will take the lead in advocating a new model for "smart" growth - a more compact urban form, less sprawling extension of highways, mixed use, walkable communities focused around transit stops, and revitalization of urban areas through infill and redevelopment. Simultaneous active programs for habitat protection and agricultural viability are also needed.

With CETAP, a multiple species plan, and perhaps a comprehensive General Plan update, Riverside County could change course. A top priority of EHL is to engage constructively these regional planning programs. We will bring ideas and technical input to the table, represent environmental values, find common ground with progressive developers, and seek fundamental change in the historic course of Southern California development.


Update: Delhi Sands Flower-loving Fly
and Quino Checkerspot Butterfly

 Riverside and especially San Bernardino Counties have lagged behind in multiple species planning. As a result, coherent preserves for two highly endangered species, the Quino checkerspot butterfly and Delhi Sands flower-loving fly, are not in place. Until these are completed, it is necessary to use legal action to protect the animals and to make it clear that the only viable solution is comprehensive habitat planning.

The County of Riverside recently exempted single-family homes from some Quino checkerspot butterfly survey requirements. These large lot, "estate" home subdivisions coincide with excellent Quino habitat, and could cause very significant impacts to the species. Though EHL brought this problem to the attention of the County, they did no environmental review for the exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). On August 14, 1998, EHL, represented by attorneys Ray Johnson and Carl Sedlack, successfully obtained a preliminary injunction stopping the exemption.

The County of Riverside also recently approved a project affecting the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly without acknowledging the impacts. Though EHL was unable to obtain a temporary restraining order against grading, our litigation under CEQA will go forward so that at least mitigation occurs.

The City of Fontana in San Bernardino County is also considering a housing tract that would destroy Delhi Sands flower-loving fly habitat. In this instance, the conclusion of an earlier biological report was brazenly reversed to say that the fly did not occupy the site, thereby averting the need to obtain a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, scientific experts subsequently presented photographic evidence of heavy occupancy. EHL and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society have appealed this case to the City Council.


Gnatcatcher Permitting Breakdown in Orange County

Permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Orange County have damaged public confidence in the ability of this agency to carry out its own written regulations. With concurrence by the California Department of Fish and Game, the Service issued "Habitat Loss Permits" to the Talega and Laing Forster Ranch housing projects in San Clemente. These special permits allow expedited take of gnatcatchers and coastal sage scrub, without lengthy "10(a)" permits, within jurisdictions making progress toward a regional Natural Communities Conservation Plan.

A problem with both permits is the on-again, off-again progress that characterizes NCCP planning in southern Orange County. More specifically, in the case of the Talega permit, the agencies did not condition the permit to maintain alignments for the Foothill tollroad that would be less environmentally damaging. In the case of the Laing Forster Ranch permit, the destruction of a huge number of gnatcatchers - 15 pair of gnatcatchers and 3 individuals - was permitted in violation of the conditions the Service had set for such "interim" losses. The limit on allowable loss of gnatcatchers in Orange County was exceeded by almost 50% and mitigation was neither compensatory nor in a core habitat area. The developer was allowed to attempt restoration of coastal sage scrub on the project site, without performance standards for success, and with a "cap" on costs far below previous cost estimates. Not satisfied with this deal, the developer is now seeking to avoid restoring the acres the permit does require!

EHL will demand strict compliance with permit conditions, and is weighing other legal options.


San Diego County News

As a result of complex negotiations in which EHL was a key participant, the majority of San Diego’s last coastal mesa on Carmel Mountain will be protected from development. The rare southern maritime chaparral plant community will become part of the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP), correcting one of that preserve system’s initial defects. A vote in the November election in the City of San Diego (Proposition M) will affect the ultimate open space acreage.

Another conservation objective has been met, this one in the Crestridge area west of Alpine. After more than two years of focused effort by EHL, a 2,600-acre tract of land known as Oakridge has become part of the MSCP preserve. The successful negotiation with Gatlin Development included retiring an approved 92-lot subdivision and the transfer of mitigation credits that EHL hopes to use as part of the Wright’s Field acquisition in Alpine. EHL appreciates the support of the property owner, Frank Gatlin, and the assistance of The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), the acquisition arm of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Two other components of the MSCP have benefited from funding partnerships. Major portions of the "Lakeside Archipelago," which is an essential gnatcatcher linkage, were acquired through matching contributions from the County of San Diego and the WCB. In the heart of the MSCP preserve, the Rancho Jamul acquisition is now complete, with the WCB building upon prior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds. The entire Rancho Jamul transaction was coordinated by the Trust for Public Land.

EHL is also working on an ambitious process in San Diego County to establish a comprehensive wetlands protection and watershed management program. The goal of this effort is to increase the overall function and value of wetland resources in the region. The working group membership is similar to that of the MSCP and includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.


Fanita Ranch:
A Community Fights for Open Space and Quality of Life

In the San Diego-area City of Santee, a full-scale battle is raging over that community’s last open space, the Fanita Ranch. With superb coastal sage scrub, riparian, and vernal pool habitat, the amount of development approved by the wildlife agencies on Fanita Ranch as part of the MSCP is far too high. In a campaign that would correct this flaw and protect the City from gridlock, local conservationists worked with heroic activism to gather signatures and place on the November ballot a Traffic Relief Act. By retaining existing zoning in terms of units, the proposed development would be markedly scaled back, and land acquisition opportunities created. Two conservation leaders are also running for City Council! This activism is a model for us all. As expected, the developer has launched a well-financed public relations campaign against the initiative.

For more information, or if you wish to contribute personally to this effort, contact Preserve Wild Santee at (619) 258-7929 or e-mail van27@home.com.


Beasts and Botany of the Coastal Sage Scrub
Introductions to the Natural History and Ecology of One of California’s Most Threatened Ecosystems

A Summer Vignette

Sometimes you don’t need a calendar. Sometimes you just need a garden fence for insects to perch on. Thus it was that the heavily bristled face and huge, multi-faceted eyes staring back at me seemed to ask, "It is the first week of August, isn’t it?"

And so it was. Every year, the first bumble bee robber fly emerges from its pupa to take command of my garden at this time. Almost invariably, I first notice it perched lengthwise in full sun on the bordering chain link fence. There it waits for a passing bee to grab its attention. Then away it goes, chasing down its hapless prey, which it captures in the spiny cage formed by its legs.

The robber flies are large, predatory insects, but their appearance is so bizarre that few people identify them as related to house flies, even distantly. The bumble bee robber fly takes its name from its massive and threatening appearance. They do not sting, but possess a stout beak that can pierce the fingernail of an incautious captor.

Little is known of their larval phase. Possibly they are predatory on sand wasp or other subterranean larvae. Whatever they eat, though, I know that early next August, I’ll glance up again to see one staring back at me from the fence.

-Jess Morton

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