By Debra Tash
Agenda Item 31. Public Hearing Regarding County-Initiated Proposal to Amend the General Plan and Articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 and 18 of the Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance (PL16-0127) to Establish a Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridors Overlay Zone and a Critical Wildlife Passage Areas Overlay Zone, and to Adopt Regulations for these Areas; and Find that the Proposed Amendments are Exempt from Environmental Review Under the California Environmental Quality Act; All Supervisorial Districts.
This conversational agenda item to enact what is a very complex regulatory ordinance was heard in the afternoon session of the Board of Supervisor’s March 12th 2019 meeting. It seemed almost by design to do so since it was well understood that the item would draw a great deal of controversy. Giving it an afternoon time slot, though admittedly traditional for planning issues, it truncated the time for public comments from up to 3 minutes down to 1 and 1/2 minutes. About the same number as the Planning Commission, 117 speakers, signed up to give their input.
Supervisor Kelly Long, though she did support the regulation, moved to continue the hearing up to 120 days due the amount of information she received from the public stating that they were not properly informed on the far reaching project. Her motion was seconded by Supervisor Bob Huber. However the motion failed to pass with Supervisors Bennett, Parks and Zaragosa voting to kill it.
Shelley Sussman, planner, led staff’s presentation. The project began with the Board’s direction in 2011 using The South Coast Linkages report as a basis. The County, to shore up their position since this report is based on what many have called questionable non-peered science they reached out to Dr. Paul Bryer. Bryer supported the way the maps created by the SC Wildlands were created.
Sussman pointed out that the Lockwood Valley had been removed from the overlay per Planning Commission’s direction. Smaller parcels and those zoned for residential exclusive were removed from the Wildlife ordinance in the Santa Rosa Valley.
Planning appeared to head off criticism of the perception there are intrusive regulations buried in the document. Lighting was a big issue. Planning modeled their list of restrictions on Ojai’s dark sky ordinance and they made allowances for security lighting. On which waterways were included for restrictions Long asked staff why they didn’t use the County’s existing red line maps when it came to designating these water features. Sussman didn’t readily provide an answer but stated it was based on the National Wetlands Inventory. The buffers around the features were reduced from 200 to 100 feet and man made features were removed comparing 1945 aerials to ones taken in 2000’s. They added that a dispute resolution process if the property disagrees with the designation had been added to the ordinance. They also exempted vegetation removal for fire protection, farming, ranching etc. It does limit the planting of invasive species.
Fencing remained highly regulated with height, type, etc. Simple chain link is apparently now considered wildlife impermeable fence. Also fencing pipe must be filled and capped because wildlife may get stuck in an open pipe.
Staff also defended the provision that certain types uses, such as homes and then the building of a barn is not prohibited but can be subject to discretionary permitting process, which can be very costly and time consuming.
Seth Riley from the National Park Service gave the same presentation as he did at the Planning Commission hearing, emphasizing the lack of genetic diversity in the Mountain Lion population.
A representative from the Sheriff’s Department commented that they are pro lighting for security. It’s an appropriate use of lighting if it’s on a timer as a opposed to be triggered by motion.
Fish and Game wants the Tierra Rejada Valley to be retained in Critical Habitat for the Nat Catcher. Other speakers supported a move opposed by those who actually own land and use in the valley.
Speakers ranged from a smattering of enviros to property owners who were concerned over their loss of property rights. Craig Underwood whose family farmed in the county since the 19th century supported by SOAR 1 and 2. However he could not support this latest regulation which will hamper his farming/ag education and tourism operations.
A representative from the Cattleman’s Association had an issue with the restriction on using machinery to clear property of fire prone vegetation. The ordinance would only allow hand held tools in certain areas making it burdensome to those clearing thousands of acres.
After the public comment period Bennett made a motion to add back the 200 foot buffer around water features. He also wanted to remove all properties in the Los Padres Forrest and to create another overlay zone for the under-crossings. The final element was the Tierra Rejada Valley was to put back into the Critical Habitat designation. And of course, Linda Parks seconded that motion. Parks gushed on about there will still be building allowed but not with just a ministerial permit (over the counter) but with a discretionary one (very costly and time consuming process). She also quipped that she hopes people don’t feel the need to sue.
And to no surprise, Zaragosa was a lock on a yes vote, waxing on about the children and wildlife.
Supervisor Long wants to see what the property assessor will do with land values. She also wanted to vote on the added on points of the motion one at a time. Further Long was also concerned that Conditional Permit Use permit uses would be allowed to continue in the Tierra Rejada Valley. She would not support the motion with the 200 foot buffer on water features and felt that the Tierra Rejada Valley should not be designated critical habitat since it is in mostly used for agriculture.
Supervisor Huber supports SOAR and he extends that support to natural habitat. However he did have a problem with this ordinance. The biggest problem being that those whose properties were damaged by fire by more than 50% could not rebuild and there was no sunset or review- clause to test the effectiveness of the ordinance.
Bennett would not let Long’s suggestion to vote separately on each change that he embedded the motion to go forward.
The motion passed 3 to 2 with Long and Huber voting against it. There had been some confusion but the final vote tally was updated.
The wildlife ordinance will go into effect with the provisions Bennett outlined. There is sure to be a fight over its passage. You can read the Ordinance here: Wildlife Corridor
COLAB, Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business is mounting a legal challenge. Donate: HERE
Debra Tash is Editor-in-Chief of Citizensjournal.us, past president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, business executive and award-winning author, residing in Somis.