County hires Chico attorney to review Dyer EIR, prepare for lawsuits
The Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with attorney Richard L. Crabtree at its Tuesday, Nov. 28 meeting. The agreement includes, but is not limited to, “environmental review of the project … and any litigation related thereto, and the negotiation and drafting of any associated development agreement.”
Crabtree will receive $145 an hour. The contract agrees to pay $65 an hour for any paralegal services.
County Counsel R. Craig Settlemire told the board the county’s reimbursement agreement with Dyer Mountain Associates also includes related legal activities.
Settlemire said, “We’ve asked Mr. Crabtree to work with the county counsel’s office and under our supervision connected with the environmental review process.”
“We would want him to continue to work with us, because, in connection with the environmental review, he will be very familiar with this project as a whole and it would be only natural to have him involved if there were any litigation,” Settlemire said.
Crabtree represented Placer County when Sierra Watch challenged a planning review of the Martis Valley housing development at Lake Tahoe. The conservation group’s Web site sierrawatch.webfactional.com claims Sierra Watch is now “providing strategic resources to defend Dyer Mountain.”
The Martis Valley lawsuit “recently was resolved apparently on a basis that was satisfactory to the parties concerned,” Settlemire said.
Sierra Watch won a $100,000 settlement in the lawsuit challenging the planning process for thousands of homes in a new resort.
Sierra Watch also won limits to future development and “permanent protection for thousands of acres of priority conservation land,” according to Web site sierrawatch.webfactional.com.
District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman objected to getting proper legal representation at the eleventh hour after a two-year environmental review process. He said the county has had good legal representation to date.
Settlemire said until now his office has been able to handle the legal work on Dyer Mountain. But his staff report said “As the EIR process nears completion, the need for additional legal services has increased beyond the normal workload of the county counsel’s office.”
He added Crabtree has the time to take on the project and is very interested in Dyer Mountain.
Saying, “Basically, what we’re looking at doing is hiring a gun to go and negotiate with the outfit that’s planning on blowing the whole thing out of the water,” Chapman voted against the contract.
It dates back to Sept. 25 when Settlemire first contacted Crabtree.
District 3 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer said the process is nearing a critical juncture and the board needs to facilitate progress.
District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson agreed the board should have hired special council a year ago. He said the board knew Sierra Watch objected to the Dyer Mountain project.
“I think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be legal action on this project,” Hanson said, asking if Crabtree would negotiate or defend the county against potential lawsuits.
District 1 Supervisor and board Chairman Bob Pyle also agreed the board should have hired extra counsel a year ago.
“In my opinion, from what I know of the project, and I stay very close up to it, it would be a bad mistake not to hire Mr. Crabtree and continue on with the process,” Pyle said.
Pyle said it’s a critical time in the process and the county needs to find anything a group could use to stop Dyer Mountain. He said hiring extra counsel now could prevent long-term litigation.
Hanson called the Martis Valley settlement “extortion,” and said he’d like to “avoid the extortion.”
“You missed that boat several months ago when you should have been defining your project, making the process air tight and bringing to bear the issues and forces that were necessary to make it a credible document,” Chapman said adding he has some real questions about whether the EIR will “make this thing work.”
Pyle said with any project as complex as Dyer Mountain, planners and the board cannot predict the issues that will come up.
“Sometimes you have to change your plans,” Pyle said. “Things are going to come up that you don’t even know about.”
Many issues have come up since 2000, Pyle said, when nearly two-thirds of the voters in the county approved a November initiative changing the General Plan designation and zoning for the area around Mountain Meadows Reservoir and Dyer Mountain from forestland to mountain resort.
“You have to be flexible to make it work,” he said.
Saying the developer Dyer Mountain Associates is in favor of the contract, District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle made a motion to approve. It passed 4-1, with Chapman voting no.
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