Lawsuit challenges SPI rezone
Craig Settlemire, Lassen County Counsel, declined to discuss the group’s challenge to the county’s action.
“We’ve received the petition for the writ of mandate,” Settlemire said. “We’ve taken a look at it, and Lassen County is in touch with SPI about defending the matter. There is an indemnification agreement between SPI and the county.”
On June 10 the supervisors approved four separate ordinances, changing the zoning of four SPI parcels from Timberland Protection Zones to Agricultural Forest. The group alleges the change in zoning will open the land to development without any meaningful environmental review. They allege the supervisors’ decision violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the Public Resources Code, the California Code of Regulations, state planning and zoning laws, the Lassen County General Plan and the Eagle Lake Area Plan.
According to the court file, the supervisors approved the rezoning “with no explanation or justification regarding these inconsistencies.”
Friends of Lassen Forest notes the zoning changes were opposed by CALFIRE, the agency charged with administering the Timberland Productivity Act, the Lassen County Planning Commission, Mountain Meadows Conservancy and members of the public.
In CALFIRE’s objection to the rezoning, the agency said, “The rezoning of this timberland does not meet the legislative intent and policy” found in the Timberland Productivity Act, and “once the restrictive TPZ zoning is removed, suitable timberland is often rezoned again, parcelized, subdivided and converted to other non-timber uses … the rezoning of these properties from TPZ to another zoning class could lead to potentially significant impacts to the environment; as such an Environmental Impact Report must be prepared.”
The Lassen County Planning Commission recommended the supervisors reject the proposed rezonings “until the subject lands are designated and proposed for specific development other than timber production.” The commission said the approval of the rezonings would “set a precedent in Lassen County for rezoning lands out of TPZ on speculation of future non-timber uses without a specific land use proposal.”
“This decision is harmful to Lassen County and the public interest,” said Laurie Davis, president of the Friends of Lassen Forest. “It puts the county out of compliance with its general plan and ignores the potential impacts of likely development.”
The four parcels — 2,272 acres near Susanville, 866 acres near Eagle Lake, 1,724 acres near Mountain Meadows Reservoir near Westwood and 638 acres near Silver Lake — were protected from development under the old zoning by restricting its use to timber harvesting and related usage. The supervisors’ decision strips that protection, the group alleges.
“The Timberland Productivity Act established the state TPZ to help preserve privately owned forestlands for timber harvesting and other uses,” Davis said. “When we lose that protection, we are likely to lose it forever.”
Davis said her family has owned a cabin near Silver Lake since the 1920s. One of the rezoned areas — 638 acres — is about half a mile from Silver Lake. She said her family used to spend summers at Silver Lake.
“Friends of Lassen Forest is not against development,” Davis said. “We are against poorly planned development that threatens the sustainability of one of Lassen County’s most important assets — it’s beautiful forests. Approving the TPZ rezones with no specific plan in sight is very poor planning, whether viewed from an economic or environmental perspective.”
According to a release for the Friends of Lassen Forest, Mountain Meadows Conservancy said SPI is engaged in a statewide effort to rezone thousands of acres of timberland in preparation of converting the land to residential and/or recreational use.
They said SPI has converted 15,219 acres to TPZ-protected timberland in the Sierra in four Northern California counties.
In Shasta County, SPI requested TPZ rezoning for 6,377 acres. The county approved the conversion of only 2,719 acres.
In Trinity County, 3,620 acres of SPI land, much of it in the Trinity Lake area, was converted to Open Space zoning. Development is not allowed in Open Space zones.
The High Sierra Rural Alliance is challenging the rezoning of 7,000 acres of SPI land in Sierra County. The basis of that challenge is similar to the one here in Lassen County.
SPI has requested the rezoning of 7,826 acres in Plumas County, and a decision is pending.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than half of the forestlands in America — about 430 million acres — are privately owned, a release from Friends of Lassen Forest reported.
The Forest Service estimates 44 million acres of private forestland in America could experience sizable house densities by 2030, resulting in significant threats to fire safety, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and further loss of recreational activities.
“Private forestland owners like SPI have a right to explore their development options,” Davis said, “but they also have the obligation to do so within the letter of the law, which requires that they consider and disclose how their decisions will impact the public and the environment.”
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