Eblast July 20, 2022

  • Desert Wise Virtual Landscape videos released
  • Planning Commission to vote on Housing Element
  • Industrial Scale Renewable Energy Threats to the Desert

Hello, MBCA members and supporters!

Desert Wise Virtual Landscape videos released
This year’s spring landscape tour brought over 220 visitors to five in-person sites, after a two-year hiatus. Responses from attendees were enthusiastic after a hiatus of in-person tours in 2020 and 2021. In this year’s “hybrid” tour, we also produced 4 video virtual tours of additional sites throughout our High Desert environment. They include residential landscapes, the Harrison House Music Arts and Ecology Center, and the demonstration garden at the Mojave Water Agency. The caring and intentional use of our most precious resource, water, is the common element of all the sites featured. We encourage you to ‘Enjoy the Show’ and see how these varying sites incorporate Desert Wise Living.

All our desert-wise living programs are possible due to grant funding from all local water districts and the Mojave Water Agency. We also offer many thanks to our generous sponsors of gift certificates for the Landscape Tour Essay Contest winners: Unique Nursery in Yucca Valley, Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley, and The Dez in Joshua Tree.

Planning Commission to vote on Housing Element
The San Bernardino County Planning Commission will vote on the Housing Element of the County Wide Plan this Thursday, July 21, 2022. The stated purpose of the Housing Element is: to increase the housing supply and mix of housing types, tenures, and affordability in an equitable manner. MBCA has expressed a number of concerns in the prior draft plan, including how short-term rental properties were counted. More background can be found in our July 5 News post.

The County staff report for Thursday’s single-item agenda is the current Draft Element that, if approved, will be then voted on by the Board of Supervisors and subsequently sent to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for final approval. The state approval deadline is October 2022. At the previous Planning Commission ‘Workshop’ on this important component of the County Wide Plan, the County’s consultant, Placeworks, made a presentation of the latest draft of this element. MBCA made comments during that meeting asking for clarification on the status of ‘Program 4’ where the county has committed to performing studies of the effect of Short Term Rentals (STRs) on the housing supply within areas afflicted by a surfeit of STRs. The 45-day pause in the issuance of new STR permits has now passed and we had hoped that during the pause, efforts to begin the studies described in Program 4 would have commenced. As of this writing, we have not received any indications of movement or engagement from the County.

We are encouraged that the County has committed to the studies described within Program 4 and look forward to their commencement and implementation.

Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, beginning at 9:00 am, will be held both in person and remotely:

County Government Center
Covington Chambers
385 N. Arrowhead Avenue, 1st Floor
San Bernardino, CA 92415

Video conferencing facilities will be available to view the meeting to and make oral comments at the following locations:

Bob Burke Government Center
63665 Twentynine Palms Highway 1st floor
Joshua Tree, CA 92252

High Desert Government Center
15900 Smoke Tree St.
Hesperia, CA 92345

Industrial Scale Renewable Energy Threats to the Desert
We have recently become aware of several significant pieces of legislation that could incentivize industrial-scale renewable energy projects in the California deserts. Assembly Bill (AB) 205, which Governor Newsom signed into law on June 30, 2022, expands the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) authority under the Warren-Alquist Act to now cover solar, wind, and other select clean energy projects. The governor and lawmakers hope the expanded authority will streamline the environmental review and authorization process.

Of particular concern is this Bill would allow the development of projects irrespective of existing local ordinances and regulations, and without their having to undergo environmental studies as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This exemption will apply to both the renewable energy projects and the transmission lines needed to carry the energy to cities where it will be utilized. We are concerned that this will reverse the protections gained through San Bernardino County’s adoption of the Renewable Energy and Conservation Element of the County Wide Plan. Known as RECE 4.10, this regulation prohibits the installation of industrial-scale renewable energy projects in RL zoning districts and within Community Plan areas. With many Industrial Scale Renewable projects in the pipeline in Lucerne Valley contingent upon construction of the Calcite Substation, we fear the flood-gates may be opened.

On the Federal level, a bill now being reconciled could have significant impact on the implementation of the California Desert Renewable Energy Program (DRECP). Known as the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (PLREDA) this bill would facilitate the deployment of industrial-scale renewables on public lands. Originally drafted in 2019 this bill has been opposed by many environmental organizations, however, there remains a serious concern it may be passed and signed into law.

These bills are poised to have significant effect on our desert environment even as the California Public Utilities Commission is seriously considering a Net Energy Metering 3.0 proposal supported by the Investor Owner Utilities (IOUs) that would impose a so-called ‘Solar Tax’ de-incentivizing the installation of rooftop solar.

MBCA continues to advocate for a distributed electrical generation system where every rooftop has solar.

The effects of climate change are becoming ever more apparent and real, and we believe the natural environment must be protected and recognized for the services it provides for all life on this planet!

Steve Bardwell
Your MBCA Board:

Steve Bardwell, President
David Fick, Vice President
Laraine Turk, Secretary
Cathy Zarakov, Treasurer  
Pat Flanagan, Director;
Stacy Doolittle, Director

Brian Hammer, Director
Janet Johnston, Director
Sarah Kennington, Director
Arch McCulloch, Director
Gary Stiler, Director

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