Enviro groups sue to block Martis plan | SierraSun.com

Enviro groups sue to block Martis plan

David Bunker, Sierra Sun

Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Friday to block a plan that allows for more than 6,000 new homes in the Martis Valley, claiming the Placer County plan violates state laws.

The Martis Valley Community Plan, approved by Placer County on Dec. 16, is an update of the 1975 Martis Valley General Plan that allowed for up to 12,000 housing units in the valley. By reducing the maximum units to 8,600 in the current plan, Placer County and prospective developers say the plan is a compromise between growth and environmental concerns.

However, Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, Sierra Club and other environmental groups contend full build-out of the plan would ruin sensitive wildlife habitat, wreck the small-town, mountain atmosphere the area thrives on and compromise water quality in the region. Over the life of the plan, the pristine valley could reach a population of 20,000, about 5,000 more than the town of Truckee.

“It is very clear that this particular bundle of development proposals would take a heavy toll on the town of Truckee and the Lake Tahoe area,” said Eric Antebi, national press secretary for the Sierra Club. “That’s really why the laws are on the books, to make sure that you look before you leap. [Placer County] never even looked at other alternatives.”

The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Planning and Conservation League were also part of the coalition that seeks a restraining order and injunctions to prevent application of the plan until the lawsuit winds it way through the courts.

“Placer County’s approval of massive development in Martis Valley was not only irresponsible, but also illegal,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch in a written statement. “It’s too much development proposed for the wrong places.”

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“Development would add tens of thousands of daily car trips to existing traffic, destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and threaten our clean air and crystal waters,” Mooers said.

The lawsuit alleges Placer County violated portions of the California Environmental Quality Act, state zoning and planning laws, and the county’s General Plan. The groups also say that the Environmental Impact Report was inaccurate, downplaying potential impacts by underestimating the population growth the plan would create.

Specifically, the suit points out that the county did not respond to biological resources concerns detailed in a California Department of Fish and Game letter and that new information on impacts that cropped up after the Environmental Impact Report went through public review was not circulated to the public.

Sierra Watch has developed an alternative to the plan, which allows for 3,000 new homes in a clustered design, while protecting what the organization sees as priority conservation parcels. Developers have balked at the proposal, saying its design is impractical.

If the environmental groups’ lawsuit is successful it would send the Martis Valley Community Plan back to the drawing board.

“The purpose of the litigation is to require the county to revisit the planning process for the area,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Our issue of particular interest are impacts on Lake Tahoe, specifically traffic impacts.”

Placer County Planning Director Fred Yeager has emphasized that the plan is long-term, governing Martis Valley development until 2020 or beyond and that 8,600 units are the maximum allowed, not the number of homes that are proposed or will actually be developed.

Both the environmental groups and the county are settling in for an extended battle. The original litigation could take a year to settle, with subsequent appeals drawing out the process even longer, said Mooers.

“We look forward to winning this case, but Sierra Watch is not only about winning this case,” Mooers said.

Mooers said an environmentally sensitive alternative, whether it is reached by litigation or by settlement talks, is the goal of his organization.