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Litigation

Lawsuit Targets Mega-Development Adjacent To Critical Wildlife Area

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — The Friends of the Northern Jacinto Valley and the Sierra Club on April 22 sued Riverside County and its Board of Supervisors for approving a development that includes 11,350 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space. The Villages of Lakeview would house 34,000 people at the edge of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, which is home to numerous environmentally threatened or endangered species.

The board approved plans for the development on March 23, 2010. Land owners and developers Nuevo Development Corp. and Lewis Operating Corp. proposed the project and are named parties of interest in the suit. The lawsuit states that the board did not comply with key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Riverside County has some of the nation’s longest commutes and worst air quality. Traffic projections show that the Villages of Lakeview would create 294 million new miles of annual automobile travel.
“Villages of Lakeview would dramatically increase traffic, reduce air quality, and place undue pressure on the San Jacinto Wildlife Area,” said Sue Nash, member of the Friends of Northern Jacinto Valley.

According to the lawsuit:

In approving the project, the board used an extraordinary amendment to the General Plan. Extraordinary amendments are meant to be reserved for compelling circumstances that cannot wait to be considered as part of the normal five-year General Plan cycle. No evidence was presented to show that approval of this project required urgent action. The project fundamentally conflicts with the vision, policies and goals of the Riverside County General Plan, which are binding under California law.

“Throughout the Environmental Review process, residents and groups repeatedly filed concerns about traffic, air quality, and the location of the project,” said Sierra Club member George Hague. “We are disappointed to be left with no option but to sue.”

While the board cited a housing shortage to justify approval of the project, more than 2,000 foreclosed Riverside County properties went to auction in January 2010, a 12 percent increase over the December 2009 foreclosure rate.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society also filed a lawsuit against the county and the Board of Supervisors April 22, citing concerns about the impacts the development would have on species diversity and climate change.

Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger represents the plaintiffs.  It specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. For more information, visit www.smwlaw.com.