Plumas County wins appeal in grassroots group's challenge to environmental impact report

By Karen Kidd | Nov 22, 2018

View of Lake Almanor from Johnson's Grade in Plumas County   Wikipedia Commons

PLUMAS — Despite concerns by a local preservation group, a large but sparsely populated county in the Sierra Nevada has done a good job planning for a future of continued population decline, according to a recent California appeals court decision.

The three-judge panel concluded Plumas County's environmental impact report (EIR) under California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) adequately analyzed reasonably-foreseeable development within the more than 1.6 million-acre county, including what impacts to expect outside its planning area.

"Steady to declining population combined with policies designed to limit growth outside the planning areas supported the EIR’s determination that little development would occur in the manner feared by High Sierra," the California Third District Court of Appeal's decision said, referring to the High Sierra Rural Alliance, an environmental group. "We agree with the trial court that the county reasonably crafted the EIR as 'a first-tier environmental document that assesses and documents the broad environmental impacts of a program with the understanding that a more detailed site-specific review may be required to asses future projects implemented under the program'."

The 35-page decision was filed Oct. 19 and certified for publication on Nov. 15

California Third District Court of Appeal Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch  

Appeals Court Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch wrote the decision in which Justice Cole Blease and Justice William J. Murray Jr. concurred.

The appeals court affirmed an earlier Plumas County Superior Court ruling in February 2016 that denied in its entirety the petition and complaint filed the previous summer by the High Sierra Rural Alliance against the county over its EIR.

High Sierra Rural Alliance, a nonprofit grassroots organization with a stated commitment to the "preservation and enhancement of the rural Sierra experience," initially filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint challenging Plumas County board adoption of the general plan update and final EIR.

The organizations alleged, among other things, that the county's general plan update violated California's Timberland Productivity Act of 1982 and that the county violated the CEQA when it failed to properly address potentially significant impacts of allowing construction of multiple buildings to cover up to two acres on a single parcel. The organization also claimed that the should be required to recirculate the final EIR because of significant information about development had been added after the public comment period closed.

The appeals court panel was not impressed by High Sierra Rural Alliance's claims.

"We are not persuaded the restrictions on maximum size in the revised building intensity standards constituted 'significant new information' that rendered the draft EIR so fundamentally and basically inadequate and conclusory in nature that meaningful public review and comments were precluded," the decision said. "To the contrary, the addition of maximum sizes for various structures did not change the scope of the project in a rural county for which the data shows fewer parcels and structures will be developed than even the small number over the decade from 2000 to 2010."

Information that was added to the EIR "merely clarifies or amplifies or makes insignificant modifications" to an already "adequate EIR," the decision said.

"The draft EIR did not fail as an informational document and the county's final EIR does not need to be recirculated," the decision said.

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