Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011 • Sokol affirms Dyer Mountain environmental documents

Lassen County Superior Court Judge Donald Sokol denied a request for a writ of mandate from three environmental groups seeking to block the development of the four-season resort at Dyer Mountain near Westwood.

A Thursday, Dec. 30 ruling by Lassen County Superior Court Judge Donald Sokol upheld the planning process followed by the Lassen County Board of Supervisors for the Dyer Mountain development.

Sokol issued a sweeping ruling that completely supports the county’s environmental reviews of the project Thursday, Dec. 30.

The environmental groups — Mountain Meadows Conservancy, the Sierra Club and Sierra Watch — contended the final Environmental Impact Report, certified by the Lassen County Board of Supervisors Sept. 25, 2007, “should be vacated and set aside along with the subdivision map and development agreement,” because it did not examine all the potential environmental impacts in the entire project.

Instead, the county plans to review the environmental impacts of the development as the project progressed in stages.

Sokol’s decision included a number of rulings — all supporting the planning process followed by Lassen County, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors, Dyer Mountain Associates, LLC, and nearly 60 as yet unnamed respondents.

“The county is gratified that the court has upheld the nearly decade long environmental review process for this project,” said Richard Crabtree, Lassen County counsel. “It’s nice to see the will of the voters expressed in the 2000 initiative may finally be recognized. This project will obviously be an economic boon for Lassen County.”

Sokol characterized the dispute in his ruling — was the county’s Environmental Impact Report approving the tentative subdivision map “a proper and legal EIR” that allowed “tiering of the project” or should the EIR be “vacated and set aside along with the subdivision map and development agreement.”

The environmental groups also asked the court to order a temporary stay pending the county and the developer’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The dispute began in November 2000 when Lassen County voters approved an initiative modifying the Lassen County General Plan to designate the area known as Dyer Mountain as a four-season resort. The developer originally divided the 7,000-acre project into 13 parcels.

According to Sokol’s ruling, “The county prepared an EIR in 2005 which analyzed 88 potential environmental impacts and six alternative projects. Of the 88 potential impacts, the EIR identified 71 potentially significant impacts including 17 impacts described as ‘unavoidable.’”

The Lassen County Board of Supervisors certified the Final EIR Sept. 26, 2007 and approved a tentative subdivision map.

On Oct. 9, 2007, the board adopted the Dyer Mountain Mitigation/Development Agreement “which admittedly constitutes a legal contract between the developer and the county controlling how the project will proceed.”

According to Sokol’s ruling, the environmental groups, the county and the court each presented three different court cases to interpret the case.

The environmental groups cited Stanislaus National Heritage Project v. County of Stanislaus “as being ‘absolutely determinative’ to support their contention that the Dyer Mountain project is a ‘specific, clearly delineated development project’ and therefore a program EIR is not applicable.”\

The county and the developer cited Re Bay-Delta Programmatic Environmental Impact Report Consolidated Proceedings in which the California Supreme Court reversed a Third District Court of Appeals decision that had “invalidated an EIR because it lacked information about potential water resources that might be required to effectuate the Bay-Delta strategy for development.”

The court cited Rio Vista Farm Bureau Center v. County of Solano in which the First District Court of Appeals “rejected a similar claim objecting to lack of details concerning where facilities would be located.”

According to Sokol’s ruling, “In accordance with the above cited authority and other authorities cited by the respondent and real party in interest, this court finds that the Lassen County Board of Supervisors use of tiering does not improperly defer detailed environmental review of the project.”

Attempts to contact the environmental groups for comment on this story proved unsuccessful by deadline.

Sokol’s decision on Dyer Mountain included a number of other significant findings:

  • The developer agreement does not improperly amend the initiative.
  • The EIR adequately analyzes the environmental impacts related to population growth both directly and indirectly induced by the project.
  • The county’s consideration and rejection of alternatives to the project is supported by substantial evidence.
  • The air quality impacts of the project cannot be feasibly mitigated, and a complete ban on woodstoves is not feasible.
  • The conclusion of the EIR regarding vehicle miles traveled is supported by substantial evidence.
  • The EIR contains an adequate analysis of the impact of the project on climate change.
  • The county properly mitigated the climate change impacts to the extent feasible.
  • The EIR adequately identifies effective mitigation for the impact on local traffic.
  • The county did not refuse to adopt feasible mitigation measures to reduce the impact of the project on regional traffic.