Judge overturns Martis Valley Plan | SierraSun.com

Judge overturns Martis Valley Plan

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

A judge late last week overturned the Martis Valley Community Plan, ordering all planned development in the valley be suspended.

The final ruling in the lawsuit filed by five conservation groups in early 2004 can still be appealed by Placer County, and county attorney Rick Crabtree said the Board of Supervisors will make that decision later this month.

“The county will be exploring its appeal options,” Crabtree said. “It is clear that the county disagrees with the decision.”

But for conservation groups, who have been busy hammering out agreements with individual Martis Valley developers even as the lawsuit was progressing, the decision was vindication.

Sierra Watch Director Tom Mooers said some people have called his organization “out of touch or extreme,” but the court’s ruling shows that “it is actually the development that is extreme,” he said.

“This puts the brakes on the freight train of development that was careening along,” Mooers said. “It’s encouraging. It gives us hope that we can indeed achieve what we set out for Martis Valley.”

The ruling sided with conservationists on almost all major issues and criticized the county for policies that create “opportunities for environmental mischief.” The judge specifically cited the county’s underestimation of allowable development and traffic impacts under the plan as two reasons why he ruled in favor of conservationists.

Placer County will now have to go back and “do everything right,” said Mooers.

Rachel Hooper, the attorney representing Sierra Watch and four other environmental groups, said Placer County has a lot of work to do to make the approval of their plan legal under sate law.

“That will be large task because what they have filed is so fundamentally flawed,” Hooper said.

Although Sierra Watch and its allies are seeking to limit development, they are supporting the construction of development in the Northstar at Tahoe resort and at Eaglewood, a project along the southern border of Truckee. The developers of those projects have agreed to contribute millions of dollars to preserve habitat in the valley, and in Northstar’s case, limit development on their land.

“We now feel that these projects fit into a responsible plan for the Martis Valley and we want to see them go forward,” Mooers said.

Those agreements will be reflected in the final judgment that Sierra Watch’s attorneys will submit for the judge’s consideration.

The final judgment will set out the course of how the judge’s ruling will be instituted.

“We are not seeking to stop (Northstar or Eaglewood),” said Hooper. “The other projects would be bound by this.”

Going back to the drawing board to reformulate a legal community plan is a setback, given the years that the county has worked to develop the overturned plan, said Crabtree.

“It’s disappointing because it is a process that has taken years and hundreds of hours of public meetings and public input,” Crabtree said.