Sierra Club Plan to Add Wilderness Areas in California
Sierra Club Southern California Forests Committee just released their plans to Club activists for increasing wilderness areas in California in 2017. The Southern California Forests Team's goal is the protection and restoration of the four southern California National Forests, which stretch from Big Sur to the Mexican border in San Diego County and which attract seven million visitors a year. From north to south, the forests are the Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests.
Bottcher's Gap in Los Padres National Forest within Ventana Chapter boundaries will be the starting point for a designated Condor National Recreation Trail as part of a proposed Central Coast Protection Act. This trail will provide a continual hiking trail corridor spanning the entire length of the Los Padres National Forest south along the coastal mountains of Central California. The trail will traverse a diversity of geography and communities through the southern and northern sections of the Los Padres National Forest and protect wild and scenic rivers.
Other goals of the Southern Forest Committee include:
Western snowy plover nesting in undisturbed habitat currently on the site of the proposed Monterey Bay Shores Resort. (Photographer: Steve Zmak).
Ventana Chapter Retains Third Expert to Submit Comments to the CCC Challenging the Habitat Protection Plan for Monterey Bay Shores Resort
The Chapter continues to oppose development in 39 acres of beachfront dune habitat for federally protected western snowy plover. In addition to Dr. Peter Baye, coastal ecologist and Dr. Scott Cashen, wildlife biologist and foremost authority on western snowy plover, the Chapter has now retained avian ecologist Michael Morrison to comment on the Project developer, Ed Ghandour’s Habitat Protection Plan (HPP). The Project calls for a 1.34 million foot mixed-use resort in Sand City which entails approximately 680,000 cubic yards of grading, utility extensions and infrastructure, and related development (e.g., roads, parking lots, signs, and lights). The chief concern is the long-term presence of breeding western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) on this site.
Dr. Michael Morrison, relying on nearly 40 years of work in avian ecology and wildlife management, reviewed the HPP and associated appendices. While the stated goal of the HPP is to demonstrate the developer can construct the Project without modifying or degrading critical habitat for the plover to the level that it will kill or injure wildlife, Dr. Morrison’s concludes that this is not the case. In his January 25, 2017 letter, he sets out arguments that based on the size of the proposed project, and the subsequent amount and intensity of human activity, there is nothing that can be done to eliminate or even develop meaningful on-site mitigation in the Project area for snowy plovers. He bases his conclusions on the following critical facts:
Dr. Morrison concludes that the HPP and PMP are hopelessly vague with regard to all aspects of plover management. He states it is evident that the HPP and PMP will completely fail to reach the goal of retaining plovers in the Project area. Therefore, there is no doubt that “take” of the western snowy plover will occur associated with implementation and operation of the Project. (Attached is Dr. Morrison’s full letter and scientific references).
Fort Ord Dunes State Park near California State University at Monterey Bay. (Photo: Carolyn Hinman).
Wishing You a Hesitatingly Optimistic 2017
By Carolyn Hinman
2016 is a year many environmental activists can be proud to put down in the record books. President Obama ordered protections against drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, renewable energy is projected to outpace coal as the world's major source of electricity, and rates of greenhouse gas emissions are reported to be slowing worldwide. Here on the Central Coast, the highly contested Monterey Downs project was withdrawn by the developer, and the November 8th election brought about a statewide ban on plastic bags. It is exciting to see such progress unfolding, and emotions are running high as personal investments in these steps to intervene in the crash course upon which humans have set the planet seem to be paying off.
High on any environmentalist's list of concerns is what the incoming Trump Administration will mean for the future of our Country and the world. 2016 may have been a banner year for the green movement, but we are all watching in shock and horror as the president-elect appoints oil magnates and climate change deniers to his advisory cabinet. What does 2017 hold for the health of our planet? Trump has vowed to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, to resuscitate the flagging coal industry, and to eviscerate the EPA.
Decades of hard-fought battles on the environmental front culminated in victories in 2016. Do we risk losing all of that progress now that profit-seeking special interests could be in charge? Although victories at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access Pipeline, worldwide regulations protecting our oceans, commitments by China and India to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius – all could be for naught at the bidding of this new Administration, I can't help but maintain a sliver of hope. We have come too far, and have pushed too hard to let it crumble around us. Out of adversity comes strength beyond measure, and if ever there was a time to band together and take a stand for truth and justice, it is now. Perhaps out of the new Administration's resistance to progress will grow a social and environmental justice movement the likes of which have not been seen in our lifetime. We must continue to speak up; we must refuse to accept this growing climate of hateful prejudice and targeted oppression. We must not become desensitized to the slowly boiling waters of tyranny, censorship, and willful ignorance. As we move into 2017, it is our responsibility to keep our eyes and our minds open to what is happening around us.
Our power is in our numbers and in our dedication to preserving this one precious planet upon which we live. Our power is in our truth, if we will only continue to speak it.
Sierra Club Plans to Comment on Bureau of Land Management Request for Public Review of Oil and Gas Leasing and Development on Federal Lands
On January 5, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) Amendment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for oil and gas leasing and development in the BLM’s Central Coast Field Office, which includes Fresno, Kings, Monterey and San Benito counties for a 90-day public review and comment period.
In 2011, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging BLM oil and gas leases in Fresno and Monterey counties, arguing that BLM had failed to consider the possibility that these leases would be fracked, and the risks that would entail. We won in 2013, with the court agreeing that BLM had broken the law, with BLM taking a voluntary remand to correct its deficient environmental analysis. That process has been delayed, because BLM's first attempt at a re-do relied on BLM's nationwide fracking rule, which is tied up in a separate lawsuit (we're defending the rule).
Sierra Club is planning to submit comments by the close of the BLM comment period on April 6, 2017 which will be posted on the website.
Ventana Chapter Update
Acres of prehistoric dunes threatened by resort development in Sand City. (Ventana Chapter file photo).
The last months of 2016 brought good news on several fronts locally for the environment. November elections delivered victories from Monterey County voters to ban fracking (Measure Z), fund parkland on the Monterey Peninsula (Measure E) for the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District and improve transportation routes (Measure X) with a focus on alternative transportation options including walking and biking. Ventana Chapter endorsed these initiatives and congratulates these campaigns for their powerful grass roots efforts at reaching the voters.
In December, the developer of a proposed massive development, Monterey Downs, planned for forested hills in the back county of Fort Ord that would have replaced 40,000 oak trees with over 1200 homes, commercial space and a horse racing facility unexpectedly withdrew his application from the City of Seaside. The project, introduced nearly six years ago, was opposed early on by environmentalists but as time went by, a majority of residents of Seaside and the surrounding communities complained about the lack of real jobs, the unsustainability of one-time construction starts and the negative impacts the project would bring to the region.
It is not certain, what, if any, future development will occur on these oak-studded former Fort Ord lands. To ensure protection, the Chapter is attending workshops and submitting comments for the Oak Woodlands Protection Plan as part of the planning process now taking place for incorporation into the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan.
Oak Woodlands Plan at Fort Ord
Sierra Club Response to US Forest Service Plans to Raise Fees in Los Padres National Forest and Beaches
The United States Forest Service (USFS) is proposing to privatize 52 recreation sites in the Los Padres National Forest, including the Big Sur coast, with little opportunity for public comment. USFS intends to issue a concession campground and recreation site Special Use Permit (SUP) to a private parks management firm to oversee and manage government-owned facilities. Many of the fees charged at these sites will increase significantly (some as much as 300%) with little or no increase in services or amenities, which will have a direct socioeconomic impact on all forest users. The plan – scheduled to be approved this month – would apply to popular campgrounds, day use areas, and some trailheads in Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties.
Monterey Ranger District properties affected would include Arroyo Seco Campground (CG), Arroyo Seco Day Use Area, Bottcher’s Gap CG, Kirk Creek CG, Nacimiento CG, Plaskett Creek CG, Ponderosa CG, Mill Creek Day Use Area, Sand Dollar Day Use Area, Willow Creek Day Use Area, and Pfeiffer Beach Day Use Area, Memorial CG, Escondido CG, White Oaks CG, and China Camp CG.
Several Sierra Club Central Coast Chapters are partnering with a variety of outdoor organizations including Los Padres ForestWatch to review and respond to the proposal. (See PDF letter here).
Loss and Renewal
By Mary Pendlay
All of us have been affected by the Soberanes and Chimney fires, either personally or as a neighbor. We’ve seen pictures, read the facts, and felt helpless, but there is a power in Nature to renew itself which we may not see at first. Very close to us, at the top of Jacks Peak in Monterey, stretching 1,096 feet high, is a flat meadow and part of the Skyline Trail which borders an open area filled with baby Monterey pine trees. Just a few more inches of rain last year, and four, six and eight inches of small, healthy, immature pines bask in the sun. Despite the terrible drought of five years, which has decreased the release of pollen, this hardy species is surviving and producing a new generation.
Similarly, the fires ravaging Glacier National Park for the last 15 years have left tall black spikes all around the western forests as evidence of the damage. But below these spikes are miles of new trees which blanket the hillsides; strong new cypress, Western and white pines, and so many more species. Nature is our keystone to a healthy environment and regeneration of ecosystems we need. We can take heart and trust in slow but steady progress and renewal.
Sierra Club Files a Notice of Intent to Sue for Violations of the Endangered Species Act from Construction and Operation of the Monterey Bay Shores Development
Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society and Monterey Audubon Society filed a 60-day Notice of Intent on July 27 that Security National Guarantee (SNG) will violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its implementing regulations by moving forward with constructing and operating the Monterey Bay Shores Resort (Project), which will result in “harassment, harm, injury and mortality” of western snowy plovers on and adjacent to the Project site.
The Notice states that this project will violate the “take” provisions of the ESA and if SNG continues to move forward with construction of the Project as it is currently proposed, these conservation groups intend to commence a civil action against SNG for violations of section 9 of the ESA.
Food Waste in America: Looking for Solutions
By Carolyn Hinman
Last month I delved into the realm of food waste in America. I illuminated the crisis of the disparity between the overwhelming surplus of food finding its way into landfills, and the staggering number of US citizens who go hungry each year. The problem is undeniable, but is there a viable solution on the table?
Despite the obvious peril wrought by the enormity of the current food waste situation, relatively little is being done in America to combat its effects, though recent media attention on the subject seems to have served as a catalyst for action. The United States ranks at the top of the list in terms of magnitude of food waste, but our policy makers are skirting the issue. No serious legislation yet exists to prevent it. Some European lawmakers are addressing the crisis head on, however, and are passing laws to mitigate the devastating impact of food waste on the environment, the economy, and society... [more]
Food Waste in America: Why it Matters and What You Can Do About It
By Carolyn Hinman
We are all guilty of it. That package of hummus shoved back behind the milk is now sprouting fuzzy green and blue disks of mold. The bunch of kale purchased last week at the local farmer’s market is sitting sad, wilted, and slimy in the back of the crisper drawer. The noblest intentions of making banana bread from that brown and spotty bunch on the counter are now just a bundle of black mush-filled regrets. From our shopping bags to our counter tops to our trash cans, the American food waste dilemma is a story being written every time we venture to the grocery store.
If you think that the occasional discarded grocery store purchase cannot possibly have much of an impact, consider the USDA’s 2014 report showing that at least 31% of the food produced and purchased in the United States is wasted on a yearly basis. Some estimates are as high as 40% or more. This massive food loss represents missed nutritional and economic opportunities for a population experiencing widespread poverty and financial insecurity. In 2010, of the 430 billion pounds of food available for consumption in America, 133 billion pounds did not make it to the table. 10% of this loss occurred in grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail locations, and 21% was food discarded by the consumer after purchasing it. Meat, including poultry and fish, dairy products, fruits and vegetables accounted for the majority of this loss, as these products have a shorter shelf-life than more processed goods. It is estimated that a combined $161.6 billion was lost as a result of food waste at the consumer and retail level, and an equivalent of 1,249 calories per person per day went uneaten. These levels of waste are unacceptable when there are children going without meals on the weekends, and families who cannot afford their weekly groceries... [more]
The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, a 1700-acre Reserve of tidal creeks, freshwater marshes and verdant oak woodlands at Sunset. (Photo: Paul Zaretsky, courtesy of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation).
Crude Oil Train Rail Spur Extension Project Closer to Approval by San Luis Obispo Planning Commission
Sierra Club and other environmental groups locally and statewide oppose a Phillips 66 proposal which could bring mile-long oil trains carrying millions of gallons of Canadian tar sands crude from San Francisco through Monterey County near Elkhorn Slough to San Luis Obispo County.
On May 16, a motion at the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission to deny the project failed 3-2 signaling the possibility of approval at the next hearing scheduled for September 22. At that time, the commission will consider the terms of approval for the project, including a requirement that it be limited to three trains a week instead of the currently proposed 5 times a week each carrying 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.
The FEIR describes the project as a 6,915-foot eastward extension of an existing rail spur off of the Union Pacific rail mainline, a crude oil railcar unloading facility, pipeline, emergency access road, and other support infrastructure at the Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa Refinery. The oil company says it needs the rail spur to keep the refinery and its 200 jobs operating.
The Monterey County Board of Supervisors led by Supervisor John Phillips whose district includes Elkhorn Slough voted to direct staff to write a letter to the county officials in San Luis Obispo in December opposing the Phillips 66 project. Some areas of the tracks in the Slough are underwater during part of the year and could create hazardous conditions.
With a 40-fold increase in crude-by-rail since 2008, derailments and spills have also been on a steep rise. In 2013 more crude oil was spilled from trains than in the previous four decades combined, and in 2014 there were more oil train accidents than in any other year on record.
A final decision by the Planning Commission in favor of the project will almost certainly be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. There have been hundreds of letters and public comments opposing it including Sierra Club.
Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District to Receive 140 Acres of New Parkland in Carmel
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) recently announced it will buy 140 acres of Rancho Cañada’s East Golf Course, located on Carmel Valley Road in Carmel, California. TPL will turn this property over to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (MPRPD) to own and manage, in the future. One of the highlights of this transaction is that the vast majority of the 300-acre feet of water used annually by the golf course and for clubhouse events will no longer be pumped from the adjacent Carmel River. The River is currently in an over-drafted state and under a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by the State of California. Retiring the use of this water for golf course operations will help the health of the Carmel River, its resident steelhead and surrounding habitat for California red-legged frog and other wildlife.
MPRPD Board members and staff are reviewing site conditions and existing documents related to this site, and are initiating a public planning process for this new acquisition. Suggestions include providing much needed parking and access for nearby 4,700-acre Palo Corona Regional Park, linking other parklands in the region including Jacks Peak and the hundreds of thousands of acres in the Ventana Wilderness, and providing wheelchair access to the Carmel River and its soon to be restored native habitat using existing golf cart paths.
The large clubhouse which currently seats 400 could be converted to administrative offices, classrooms and public meeting spaces for the Park District and conservation-minded groups.
Rafael Payan, General Manager for MPRPD said, "I am struck by the number of private, public and nonprofit partners, including the Trust for Public Land, the Santa Lucia Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Hatton and Lombardo families whom have owned this beautiful land for decades, and others working together and combining resources to complete this deal to permanently protect one of the most treasured elements of our region’s natural environmental heritage."
Payan adds, "This landmark conservation and restoration effort will permanently restore Carmel River flows from Rancho Cañada through the estuary to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, safeguarding this critical landscape and roughly two miles upstream from the mouth of the river at the Pacific Ocean. The land will continue to serve as habitat for steelhead and other fish, birds and wildlife and remain an integral piece of the Valley’s landscape. In addition, badly needed water will be returned to the Carmel River."
An Afternoon on the Edge of the World
How lucky we are to live in a place with such incredible natural scenery is not lost on me. Last week I spent the afternoon with another photographer perched on an isolated point where the earth and sea and sky collide at Garrapata State Park. This is my local cathedral, one of many but my favorite these days. This is where I can both escape the daily grind and recharge to go back in. As fortunate as we are to have places like this, we are equally fortunate to have a long legacy of conservation to keep the Big Sur and Monterey Bay coast protected so EVERYONE can continue to enjoy it for generations.
Ventana Chapter Submits Comments to the California Coastal Commission Challenging the Revised HPP for Monterey Bay Shores Resort
The Chapter retained environmentalist biologist Scott Cashen to submit comments (PDF of letter here) to the CCC regarding the revised Habitat Protection Plan (HPP) dated Nov. 11, 2015 prepared by the developer, Security National Guarantee (SNG) for Monterey Bay Shores Resort planned for 39 acres of beachfront dunes in Sand City. The Project calls for a 1.34 million foot mixed-use resort which entails approximately 680,000 cubic yards of grading, 20.37 acres of "habitat restoration," utility extensions and infrastructure, and related development (e.g., roads, parking lots, signs, and lights). The chief concern is the long-term presence of breeding western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) on this site.
The revised HPP claims it contains measures for the protection, preservation, and recovery of the western snowy plover but we do not agree. The HPP says the proposed Project would not: (1) significantly impact plover habitat, (2) impair essential behavioral patterns (including breeding, feeding or sheltering), or (3) cause take or harm of any snowy plovers. Scott Cashen’s 69-page letter explains in what ways these claims and conclusions are unfounded and contradict existing evidence. Indeed, the revised HPP provides no evidence that a project similar to what SNG proposes has ever been built without having a significant impact on the western snowy plover. To the contrary, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that projects similar to what the SNG proposes have had numerous direct and indirect impacts on the species.
The basis for Cashen’s detailed comments are concerns cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") in a letter dated April 7, 2014 and submitted to the CCC regarding the Project impacts on the western snowy plover. A brief description of concerns still unresolved in the revised HPP are: 1. Inadequate or misrepresentations of plover breeding and nesting activities on the site, 2. The 11 "biological objectives" listed in the revised HPP provide only superficial benefits to the snowy plover, 3. Insufficient seasonal restrictions and other measures to ensure "nesting protection zones", 4. Lack of details for a predator prevention plan, 5. Inadequate discussion of success criterion for western snowy plover and 6. Negative impacts likely to occur in critical habitat from ongoing existence of the Project.
West Coast Focus, a new local TV talk show on photography, debuts March 10th on Access Monterey Peninsula
Ventana Chapter activist and contributing photographer Steve Zmak will begin hosting a new TV talk show produced by Access Monterey Peninsula. The monthly show will feature local photographers and at least 100 photos per one-hour episode.
The first episode airs March 10 at 12 noon, repeats at 7 pm and Friday, March 11 at 1 pm on AMP Comcast Ch. 27, ATT Ch. 99 (Monterey, AMP2) and Broadcast Ch. 19.4. it can be streamed on AMPMedia.org AMP 2.
Entitled West Coast Focus, the show will highlight Monterey County and the West as a cultural benefit for Monterey County residents. A panel of local photographers will discuss the legacy, contemporaries and the future of photography through the exploration of various designated topics. Subject matter will include: Photography and Social Action, Underwater Explorers, Local Photo Clubs and more.
Viewers will learn about photography's rich heritage here in Monterey County which started nearly a century ago with Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. For more information, contact Steve Zmak at: or check out the attached PDF: WCF_Press_Release-New_TV_Show_Airs_March_10.pdf
California Coastal Commission at Risk of Developer Takeover
We urgently need your help!
Big Sur on the California coast. A developers' coup aimed at Coastal Commission staff now threatens all coastal property as they seek to weaken protections for wildlife, plants and public access. (Photo-Steve Zmak).
Sierra Club and over 50 other groups are protesting the announcement that the California Coastal Commission (CCC) has scheduled a hearing on whether to fire its long-term Executive Director, Charles Lester, at the February 10 meeting in Morro Bay. Newspapers throughout the state are reporting this as a power grab by the four Governor Brown appointees to the CCC who favor wealthy development interests and seek to undermine the very heart of the Coastal Act: public access and enjoyment of the California Coast.
In 1972, by passing the strongly worded California Coastal Initiative, voters made it clear that they wanted California's beaches to remain open to everyone. Governor Brown signed the California Coastal Act in 1976, providing the law that governs the decisions of the CCC.
The CCC exercises regulatory and planning authority over 1,100 miles of California coastline called the coastal zone, which also extends three miles out to sea. Their mission, as stated on the commission’s website, is to: "Protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations."
Throughout its 40-plus year history, pro-development interests and their lobbyists have sought to weaken the CCC. Now, they have powerful allies on the Commission to enable them to achieve their goal. And the stakes are high. As home prices remain astronomical in coastal enclaves, proposed housing projects, including one pending near Newport Beach and slated for 1,400 homes worth more than a million dollars each, can make billions for well-funded developers with political connections in Sacramento.
We need you to take action today! Governor Brown’s four appointees to the CCC serve at his pleasure, and can be replaced at will by him. So, Governor Brown has the power to call off the drive to dump the executive director. But he needs to hear from you before he’ll consider exercising that power.
So, please take action before it’s too late. Click on this link right now to learn more, and stop the CCC from being hijacked for profit:
Land and Water Conservation Funds Given 3-year Extension in Congress
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), first authorized by Congress and signed into law on September 3, 1964 assures an annual stream of funding of up to $900 million annually from offshore drilling revenues (not from taxpayers) for acquiring private lands for priority public uses. The LWCF has been the principal funding for federal land acquisition for outdoor recreation by the four federal agencies—the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Forest Service (FS).
Sierra Club has been following the reauthorization of these funds (bill HR 1814) as they were scheduled to expire last September. (Initially authorized for 25 years, the Fund was reauthorized in 1989 for another 25 years.) Instead of the permanent reauthorization we were promoting, this 114th Congress let the venerable 50-year-plus Fund expire for the first time in its history.
At the end of the first session of this Congress in December, in the negotiations for passage of the Omnibus Appropriations bill -- considered a "must-pass" measure to let the federal government operate for another year -- our champions in Congress managed to get a three-year extension of LWCF included in that measure.
This gives us and our champions time to keep fighting for our goal of Permanent Reauthorization. Without the steadfast support of 40 members of the California delegation -- the largest block of cosponsors for HR 1814 -- it might have been much harder, if not impossible to get the extension.
We ended the year with 200 cosponsors of HR 1814 nationally (plus its champions) and 44 Senators who are in support. 200 is a good number, but it is not enough. For the first part of 2016, the Sierra Club National task force will seek to get to the decisive goal of 218 cosponsors.
Sierra Club and Other Groups File Lawsuit against California Oil Regulators
Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and the Association of Irritated Residents sued the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) last month for issuing an enormous number of new drilling permits in Kern County without analyzing risk to air quality, water supplies and public health as required under California law. The suit filed by Earthjustice, states in its opening brief: "The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources ("DOGGR") has consistently failed to live up to its obligations pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), by permitting oil drilling projects in the South Belridge Oil Field without any kind of environmental review. This permitting is occurring as if CEQA never became law in 1970."
DOGGR has issued at least 214 permits since July 2014 to Aera Energy to drill new oil and gas wells in the South Belridge Oil Field in Kern County. Fracking techniques will be used on a majority of these wells. DOGGR regularly fails to conduct legally required reviews for oil and gas drilling projects in Kern County, the lawsuit explains.
Aera Energy intends to frack at least 144 of the newly permitted wells, which requires tapping already strained water resources. Steam injection and water flooding techniques may also be used on other newly permitted wells. With water supplies already depleted by the ongoing drought, the lawsuit notes that DOGGR erred by not studying whether the local water supply could sustainably provide water for well drilling and water-intensive extraction practices like fracking and steam injection. (Source: Earthjustice).
Ventana Chapter Submits 2 Sets of Expert Comments on Biological Resources and Snowy Plover Habitat for Monterey Bay Shores Resort Dunes Restoration Plan
Threatened Western snowy plover in breeding plumage at proposed Project site in Sand City. (Photograph: Steve Zmak)
The Dunes Restoration Plan for the Monterey Shores Resort proposed for 39 acres of rare beachfront dune habitat in Sand City has been released and Ventana Chapter has retained experts to submit comments. The developer, Security National Guaranty (SNG) is proposing construction of a 1.3 million square foot mixed-use residential and visitor-serving development in undeveloped dunes seaward of Highway One adjacent to Fort Ord Dunes State Park in Sand City.
These undisturbed beachfront dunes contain several threatened and endangered species and have been monitored for nesting coastal populations of western snowy plover since 1999. Ventana Chapter attorney Larry Silver has retained senior biologist Scott Cashen to provide comments on the western snowy plover. Dr. Cashen (Dr. Cashen letter here) focuses on inadequacies in the Plan which proposes measures that will not offset the Project's contribution to habitat loss. Coastal ecologist Peter Baye's (Dr. Baye letter here) report highlights coastal dune ecology and management with an emphasis on Smith's blue butterfly, Monterey spineflower and western snowy plover.
Ventana Chapter Submits Expert Comments on Biological Resources for Seaside Monterey Downs DEIR
Ventana Chapter retained expert coastal ecologist Peter Baye, Ph.D. to submit comments on the biological resources in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed horse racing track and housing development on the former Fort Ord military base. The Applicant seeks a project which proposes to construct Monterey Downs, a racetrack and other equestrian use facility, 1280 dwelling units (detached single-family and multi-family), a mix of commercial, office and hotel uses and more.
Dr. Baye comments address 5 deficiencies in the DEIR including: 1. The project description's failure to correctly identify the environmental setting of the project site and vicinity as a stabilized ancient dune system or paleodune. This is a significant omission because of the environmental importance and very limited geographic distribution of this ancient geomorphic feature in California, and its association with relict endemic species. Paleodunes include distinctive variations of the following vegetation types: coastal prairie (grassland), maritime chaparral, seasonal and perennial freshwater marshes, and oak woodlands.
2. The DEIR fails to assess impacts to wetlands habitats and fails to provide minimal survey information regarding the presence, extent, or distribution of wetland habitats. No information is provided regarding the areas surveyed, the dates of surveys, the rainfall year(s), or the qualifications (wetlands expertise) of the observers. 3. Special-status plant species impact criteria are invalid and unsound in terms of biological or regulatory meaning and the DEIR provides inadequate biological analysis of the number, size, viability, and distribution of special-status plant species populations.
Deficiencies 4. and 5. relate to the fact that the project would have significant and unmitigated impacts on California tiger salamander and two important vegetation types, oak woodlands and riparian woodlands. For more information and a full description of these biological concerns see Dr. Baye's letter. (Attached PDF here).
What to Look For Now in Jacks Peak Park
By Mary Pendlay
This time of year at Jacks Peak Park reflects the contrast between the north and south-facing slopes. At its peak, the gradual slope of 1,096 feet is easy to traverse, to walk and enjoy the natural plants and wildlife. This year, after many dry seasons, the differences between north and south slopes are dramatic. The poison oak, safely removed from the trail, is very apparent on the northern slope where it's cooler. The red leaves are already appearing because the roots lack moisture and know that it's time to conserve, like a deciduous tree that turns color. To see red leaves so early in the year is lovely, but a sign that the plant is distressed. Not to worry, poison oak is tough, but not tough enough to grow on the southern slopes where it's really warm from the wind currents coming up from Carmel Valley. Far from this heat, the Indian soap plant is ready to bloom, and it is a survivor, with a beautiful flower. This time of year, there are numerous flower stalks blooming in the warm afternoon sun even as the leaves begin to wither. Appearing mostly in shade areas, the pine and oak trees provide enough shade for the soap plant's bulb to reproduce every year. The Rumsien/Ohlone Indians used this plant like the ceanothus flower, as a cleanser. Jacks Peak Park reveals contrasted environments because its Monterey Pine forest is central to our area, which can be dramatic.
Monterey Bay Shores Resort Hearing at the California Coastal Commission
Western snowy plover nesting at the SNG site in Sand City. (Photograph: Steve Zmak).
Attorney Larry Silver represented Sierra Club Ventana Chapter at the California Coastal Commission (CCC) hearing in Santa Barbara on May 15 regarding the status of ongoing discussions between the developer Security National Guarantee (SNG) and CCC staff. SNG is proposing construction of a 1.3 million square foot mixed-use residential and visitor-serving development in undeveloped dunes seaward of Highway One between Fort Ord Dunes State Park and Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District's Eolian Dune Preserve in Sand City. These undisturbed beachfront dunes contain several threatened and endangered species and have been monitored for nesting coastal populations of western snowy plover since 1999. Attached (here) is a photo showing the locations of 5 nests on the site on May 1 showing no measures in place to protect the nests from trampling and at least three have now been lost.
Still unresolved are about six areas of "Special Conditions" for the Project including lighting, signage, height limits, a resort pathway layout that interferes with snowy plover habitat, perimeter fencing, manipulated dune heights and dune restoration plans, public access and other issues. After nearly an hour of testimony from CCC staff, our attorney, the developer and Commissioners, the Board voted to have staff continue discussions with SNG and bring the matter back to the CCC later this year.
The Chapter also submitted a letter describing legally required conditions for protection of species such as Smith’s blue butterfly and snowy plover. The letter included an addendum with expert findings from environmental biologist Scott Cashen describing a monitoring and maintenance plan, a reporting and contingency program and other federal requirements for protection of western snowy plover. (PDF of the letter is attached).
Sierra Club, Other Groups File Federal Lawsuit to Curb Unsafe Oil Trains
Seven environmental groups including Sierra Club filed a lawsuit on May 14 in Washington DC challenging safety rules issued this month for trains carrying oil, arguing that the regulations are too weak to protect the public.
The groups said the new rules would allow the industry to continue to use "unsafe tank cars" for up to 10 years. They also said the rules failed to set adequate speed limits for oil trains.
The United States and Canada issued the safety standards in response to a string of explosive accidents that have accompanied a surge in crude-by-rail shipments. Because of a 40-fold increase in crude-by-rail transport since 2008, derailments and spills have been on a steep rise. In 2013 more crude oil was spilled from trains than in the previous four decades combined, and in 2014 there were more oil train accidents than in any other year on record.
In their filing, the groups asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to force the Transportation Department to reconsider the "unduly long phaseout period" for these tank cars, as well as the speed limit and public notification requirements in the rule.
Oil trains are a hot issue locally as there has been a state-wide firestorm of protest over Phillips 66’s proposal to transport Canadian crude oil from Richmond through several counties including Monterey County to an oil refinery in San Luis Obispo.
Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Center of Biological Diversity
Carmel Valley artist, Paola Berthoin gives a painting demonstration for Chapter members at her studio and garden which has been certified as National Wildlife Federation Certified Habitat. Ms. Berthoin has spent years creating stunning artwork and a book entitled
Stunning Carmel Valley and Wilderness views from a recent Chapter hike on the Manzanita Trail at Kahn Ranch. Hikers can reserve a free access permit on line at the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District website: http://www.mprpd.org/index.cfm/
Ventana Chapter's attorney, Larry Silver has filed an appeal with the California Coastal Commission over the approval by the Sand City City Council of the The Collection at Monterey Bay resort planned for 26 acres in the dunes west of Highway 1. As proposed, the 340 unit resort is to be constructed in two phases: the first phase will include 105 time share units and the second phase will include a 235-unit hotel with a restaurant, conference center and wellness spa. There will be over 600 parking spaces.
The appeal says that the project as approved is inconsistent with the City's certified Local Coastal Program (LCP) policies including those related to hazard avoidance, protection of public views and natural resources, public access and adequacy of public services (traffic). The FEIR is inadequate and does not address protection of Seacliff buckwheat or Western snowy plover at the site. The project does not avoid and minimize significant impacts to important public views of the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Peninsula. And the FEIR does not adequately address traffic access and shoreline hazards at the site.
Furthermore, the development is not sited to ensure safety and dune stability over its economic lifetime as required by the City's LCP. Portions of the project would be threatened by coastal erosion over time and the FEIR does not address this high risk scenario. Also, the FEIR does not discuss the effects on public access of re-routing the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail to accommodate this project.
California Coastal Commission Chair Steven Kinsey and Commissioner Mary Shallenberger have also filed an appeal of the Collection proposed development to the CCC. They argue that "the approved project is inconsistent with provisions of Sand City's certified Local Coastal Program with respect to hazards, natural visual resources, development and public access, and is also inconsistent with the public access and recreation policies of the Coastal Act."
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Sierra Club Ventana Chapter, P O Box 5667, Carmel, CA 93921-5667
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