Eblast: June 4, 2016

  • Joshua Tree Airport Solar: Next Era solar project on 115 acres
  • Alta Mira Gated Community Housing Project: 248 homes on 105.24 acres
  • Proposed Dollar General Store goes back to court
  • Camp Rock Solar / Camp Rock Road, Lucerne Valley
  • Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project ("Cadiz")
  • Eagle Mountain / JTNP Boundary Study
  • YV High School student Julia Martinez receives MBCA support
  • MBCA celebrated Emeritus Director Esther Herbert
  • 2016 Desert Wise Living Landscape Tour a great success!

Things are warming up now finally after a cool May, eh? Hope your swamp coolers are serviced and ready to go for the summer ahead!
 
There are several updates to long-standing campaigns and issues, also a new problematic solar project in Lucerne Valley. I believe the public interest in these issues and the willingness to respond are one of the Morongo Basin’s greatest assets. We want to continue to live in a healthy environment and there are definitely threats nipping at our heels that call for our attention and deserve a response!
Local citizens have filed appeals challenging two San Bernardino Planning Commission project approvals in Joshua Tree:
Joshua Tree Airport Solar: Next Era solar project on 115 acres
Residents have voiced objections that the proposed solar project on Sunfair Road, will destroy the Joshua Tree airport, the view shed and wildlife corridor. Once again, local Planning Commissioner Paul Smith was again the lone vote on the Commission against the project.
 
Three groups, including The Community for Responsible Solar, filed separate appeals. The Community for Responsible Solar (solarjt.com) represents a group of residents and business owners opposed to the industrialization of the desert’s natural and scenic setting that would compromise our quality-of-life and impact our tourism based economy. In their view: The Project has neither been adequately reviewed in accordance with CEQA and the Solar Ordinance, nor, in fact, because of its location, structure and size, and cumulative effects, could it meet the clear substantive and statutory requirements of the Solar Ordinance.
 
The Board of Supervisors has not yet calendared the date to hear this appeal. A future E-Blast will alert you it is time to send Supervisors your comments via letter and e-mail.
(For background on the Next Era solar project, see MBCA’s renewable energy page.)

Alta Mira Gated Community Housing Project: 248 homes on 105.24 acres
In spite of Basin residents’ strong criticism, the County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve this project. A key objection to approval was that the project applicants should be made to conduct an Environmental Impact Report. Impacts noted included traffic, flood control, wild fires, water, tortoise and other species. Local Planning Commissioner Paul Smith was the lone vote on the Commission against the project.
 
In response to the Planning Commission approval, the group JT105 Alliance filed an appeal on April 18th. The Board of Supervisors has not yet calendared the date to hear this appeal. The future of the project is now in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. A date for the Appeal hearing has not been announced.

 Another widely contested project goes back to Court:
Dollar General in Joshua Tree
The proposed Dollar General store in Joshua Tree will come before a three-judge panel in Riverside County’s 4th District State Court of Appeals (Division 2) on June 6, 2016. “The Oral Arguments to the Dynamic Development (and San Bernardino County) vs. Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance (JTDBA)” will be presented. Sometime after hearing oral arguments, the Court will issue a ruling.
 
Dynamic Development is the real estate developer for the Dollar General franchise in Joshua Tree. They are working with the County to overturn the JTDBA’s 2014 victory in “CEQA Court” (CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act) in which the San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge agreed with JTDBA that the store could put the town’s economy at risk. The Judge ordered the County to conduct an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) to determine whether Joshua Tree business and property owners would suffer economic harm from the proposed 9,100 square foot formula retail chain store.

A new “not right” solar project proposed:
Camp Rock Solar / Camp Rock Road, Lucerne Valley
Bill Lembright, Lucerne Valley resident has provided substantive comments objecting to this project obtaining a Condition Use Permit and states:
 
This Camp Rock Solar application violates the protections afforded County residents in the San Bernardino County Solar Ordinance.
Residents of Lucerne Valley have repeatedly met with County, State, and Federal officials and representatives of the solar applicants. They showed them over 6 square miles of comparatively valueless flat land, unfit for residential development, and less environmentally sensitive. They offered it for use producing renewable energy. Development there would have little visual impact. Expandable transmission lines already cross the site. It is easily accessible by road.      
            They ask therefore why the County continues to consider applications in residential neighborhoods.
            They ask a reinstatement of the solar moratorium.
            They ask that planners steer applicants to this area where their projects would be both suitable and welcome.
 
I encourage residents of the Morongo Basin to join our Lucerne Valley neighbors and send comments to County Land Use Services with objections to the approval of Camp Rock Solar Farm. This project does not comply with the County’s Solar Ordinance. The cumulative effects of multiple solar projects in the area are another important consideration.
 
Submit comments via e-mail to John Oquendo: John.Quendo@lus.sbcounty.gov 
* Applicant: Camp Rock Solar Farm LLC  /Project number: P201600176/CUP
* Assessor’s number:  0449-651-22 / Located at 7508 Camp Rock

 Appeal denied:
Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project ("Cadiz")
Despite its name, this project is perceived by many to be a "water grab" that will harm the desert in the name of profit.  The Cadiz Project ‘is designed to capture and conserve billions of gallons of renewable native groundwater flowing beneath our property in California’s Mojave Desert that is currently being lost to evaporation and salt contamination at nearby dry lakes.’  The proponents state that the water would be recovered through seasonal rains, but a number of studies by other researchers counter that finding. MBCA sent a lengthy letter of concern to the Mojave Water Agency regarding the project. San Bernardino County enabled this project to go forward. Lawsuits were filed but dismissed in May 2014, as explained in this article.  
 
In May 2015, an appeal was filed. MBCA Director Seth Shteir reported at our May Board meeting that the appeal was unsuccessful. The next step for final project approval is resolving the railroad right-of-way issue. Because the railroad crosses BLM land, the project must be found in compliance with NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act). MBCA will keep an eye on this and let you know when and where to send a comment letter.
(For additional background on water issues, including “Cadiz”, see MBCA’s water issues page.)

Eagle Mountain / JTNP Boundary Study
Over 10,000 comments from the public were received in favor of returning the BLM Eagle Mountain property to Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP).  Very few comments were expressed in favor of “First Class Miners” rights to keep the land out of the JTNP. MBCA signed a letter in support of the BLM’s preferred alternative that would provide the greatest opportunity and flexibility over time to facilitate the return of lands to the Park as they become available.
 
The Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project for water harvesting is currently moving forward – having received approval from FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). There are obstacles though that may prevent the project from moving ahead: 1) the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District declined to receive water from Eagle Crest due to concerns about levels of Chromium-6 present; 2) transmission lines still need to be permitted for the project to become functional. MBCA, the Desert Protective Society and others are concerned that transmission lines would bring harmful impacts to the environment. MBCA will submit a comment letter for the forthcoming EA (Environmental Assessment) for the Eagle Crest Pump Storage Project.
(For detail and talking points on the JTNP Boundary Study, see this recent document from our friends at the National Parks Conservation Association.)
YV High School student Julia Martinez receives MBCA support
MBCA contributed $200 to Yucca Valley High School teacher Cindy Zacks for a scholarship to a student in her ecology class who plans to pursue environmental studies. The recipient was Julia Martinez who will attend Humboldt State with a major in botany. Julia was also this year’s recipient of the Wildlands Conservancy’s annual scholarship. Congratulations Julia and best of luck in your studies!
MBCA celebrated Emeritus Director Esther Herbert
MBCA Board of Directors celebrated MBCA Emeritus Director Esther Herbert’s contributions this month with a luncheon at her home in 29 Palms.  Esther was on the Board of Directors for 25 years, and served as Secretary for 18 years!
 
Founding & Emeritus Director Susan Lucky Reilly recorded the history of MBCA’s  early days. The very first campaign she and others waged in 1969  (and won!)  was opposing a transmission corridor that Edison threatened to erect through the Basin. We are grateful for Susan launching MBCA and inspired by the legacy of our Emeritus Directors. MBCA is still going strong 47 years since its founding!

2016 Desert Wise Living Landscape Tour a great success!
I want to share Cathy Zarakov’s thanks to Landscape Tour Hosts & Docents:
            Wow, what a successful Landscape Tour we had this year. We're still gathering data but we do know that attendance broke all records tallying over 300 participants. This was the goal we were striving for and we passed it with flying colors. Dozens came from the Coachella Valley, Big Bear and as far away as Los Angeles. This year the Tour received more publicity than ever before. 
            The new two-day format was a big hit with the attendees as well as with many of the site hosts and docents.  As such, we'll most likely use this format again next year.
            Many, many thanks for all your hard work.  We owe the Tour's success to all of you, the site hosts and docents who made the Tour possible. Special thanks and much appreciation to The Desert-Wise Landscape Committee: Claudia Sall, Ruth Rieman, Ann Murdy, Laraine Turk, Sherry Wickham, Cathy Zarakov.  We look forward to working with all of you next year!
 
We’d also like to thank radio station KCDZ for promoting the Tour with Cindy Daigneault’s wonderful complimentary PAs (public service announcements), as well as reporter Mike Lipsitz’s online piece at Z107.7.com. Thanks, too, to the Hi-Desert Star and reporter Hillary Sloan’s enthusiastic article Landscape tour inspires the gardener and poet.  
 
Last, but not least thanks to those who entered essays in the Landscape Tour Essay Contest. You can read all the essays on our Essay Contest webpage. I can hardly wait for next year’s Tour & I bet you feel the same! That’s very good news!
 
Remember: it takes a Basin!

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