EBlast December 1, 2020


Joshua Tree Candidacy for Threatened Status

Desert Tortoise Candidacy for Endangered Status

Countywide Plan / Repeal of Community Plans

Stagecoach Solar

XPressWest Wildlife Crossings

Stinknet Invasive Plant!

Virtually Attend MBCA Board Meetings

Check the MBCA Calendar for Online Events

Support MBCA through Amazon Smile

Joshua Tree Candidacy for Threatened Status

The California Fish and Game Commission voted 4-0 this September to advance the western Joshua tree to the status of candidate for listing as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). This vote initiates a one-year review. In a second 3-1 decision, Commissioners also agreed to give developers of 15 shovel-ready industrial solar projects in Kern and San Bernardino counties so-called “incidental take authorization” (known by the code section 2084) allowing them to kill Joshua trees. In exchange the developers must pay into a state fund that will be used to purchase and permanently preserve Joshua tree habitat. This exemption applies only during the review period and requires developers to pay approximately $10,000 an acre, based on a ratio of 1.5 acres for every acre of occupied habitat that’s destroyed. Read the details in this Desert Sun article or in the Los Angeles Times about the decision.

Granting of an incidental take permit for every project involving the removal or transplanting of a Joshua tree would be unwieldy, expensive and time consuming. For these reasons MBCA supports the creation of a Natural Community Conservation Plan. This landscape level plan would provide a framework for development and establish a mechanism for streamlined compliance with CEQA. A successful example of such a landscape-level plan can be found in the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

The County of San Bernardino (for the unincorporated areas), the Town of Yucca Valley and the City of Palmdale are in conversation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to discuss a potential additional “2084” regulation that would apply to single-family homes, road repairs and other small infrastructure or construction projects. The Fish and Game Commission will consider this application as well as a regulation dealing with removal of dead Joshua trees at their upcoming meeting on December 10. This meeting will provide an opportunity to again present substantive comments regarding the listing of this special plant.

In the interim, the County of San Bernardino has published an information bulletin providing guidance and direction for developments on properties that contain Joshua trees.

Desert Tortoise Candidacy for Endangered Status

Sharing much of the same habitat as the western Joshua tree, the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) has been temporarily designated as endangered by the California Fish and Game Commission. This is a step beyond its current status as threatened. In accepting the petition and finding that listing as endangered may be warranted, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will now conduct a 12-month evaluation to determine if an upgraded listing should be confirmed. The recognition by the Fish and Game Commission of these two iconic desert species emphasizes the importance of protecting our fragile and special desert environment. Read more in this LA Times article.

Countywide Plan / Repeal of Community Plans

On October 27, 2020 the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors adopted the 2020 Countywide Plan (CWP). This CWP replaces the 2007 General Plan and incorporates both the Policy Plan and the Business Plan. This contemporary, and forward-looking web-based plan will replace the existing paper plan. However the search function has yet to be released making the use of this document extremely cumbersome at this time. While the 2007 General Plan specifically identified the different regions of the County, valley, mountain and desert each with their own special needs and attributes, the new CWP has distilled streamlined policies to ostensibly cover all of these areas.

The CWP can be found here and is guided by the 2011 County Wide Vision. This vision, consisting of broad and generalized aspirations acknowledges the vastly different communities throughout the County, however the decision by the Supervisors to repeal all of the 14 Community Plans codified within the development code belies such acknowledgment.

In lieu of Community Plans, a system of Community Action Guides (CAG) will now be ‘acknowledged’ by the County. These ‘living documents’ are envisioned to be easily changed and the CAGs will rely on grass-roots activism to establish the goals and actions for the communities and will not be included within the Development Code. Unlike Community Plans they are not legally adopted. Communities will need to rely on any help for the actions described within the Guides on a voluntary basis by County Land Use Services (LUS) and through active engagement by the community in evaluating and commenting upon development proposals that will impact them.

MBCA maintained that the existing Community Plans are necessary for unincorporated communities to have a say in future development. MBCA prepared a comprehensive letter that argued for the retention of the Community Plans. Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe supported our position, however the other 4 Supervisors, one of which does not have any Community Plans within their district, did not support their retention. LUS has indicated they are receptive to community input on any deficiencies in policies and will ‘consider’ requested revisions thus the term: ‘living-document’. Regardless of the repeal, MBCA intends to craft updates to the existing Joshua Tree community plan and present the revisions to LUS for ‘consideration’ of a General Plan amendment. A link to the Joshua Tree CAG is included here.

The CWP is the foundation upon which all zoning within the County, and the Development Code must be structured and must be consistent. The zoning map and Development Code have yet to be adopted, however within the CWP Business Plan is an implementation plan that lays out a time line for the completion of these two vitally important components of the CWP. MBCA will continue to monitor the creation of these components of the CWP. An upcoming Planning Commission hearing on December 3, 2020 includes consideration of LUS recommended revisions to the Development Code – including revisions to the Short Term Rental ordinance that us having such an affect on much of the high desert. 

Stagecoach Solar

MBCA prepared oral and written scoping comments in opposition to the latest application for another inappropriate utility scale renewable energy development north of Lucerne Valley. This 3000-plus acre project, on State School Lands and under the control of the State Lands Commission if approved, would be the proverbial ‘camelsnose-under-the-tent’ and facilitate the construction of the Calcite substation which in turn would facilitate the development of many thousands of acres of additional utility scale renewable energy projects. MBCA was pleased to see that Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe and First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood expressed opposition to this project and mirrored many of our concerns. MBCA also signed onto a coalition letter in opposition to the project. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be published in 2021 at which time there will be further opportunities to express opposition to the project.

XPressWest Wildlife Crossings

Earlier this fall, MBCA joined with 23 other non-profit organizations in a letter to CalTrans about the planned High Speed Rail Project from Southern California to Las Vegas. Known wildlife corridors are in its path, including for bighorn sheep, so it is vital that over-crossings and under-crossings are incorporated as part of the project’s development. The letter clearly expresses the need for these accommodations.

Stinknet Invasive Plant!

Via our conservation partners at the Mojave Desert Land Trust we have become aware of this unwelcome interloper Stinknet is an appropriate name for this  plant that is poised to invade our area. This non-native, a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) originally from South Africa, has been seen in Morongo Valley and at the west end of Yucca Valley. It is now in at least eight counties. It is highly invasive here and can even displace Brome grass! It tends to spread along road edges and grows to about a foot and a half in height, maybe a little larger, and about the same in diameter. It appears to have allelopathic properties, inhibiting the growth of other plants. From a distance It appears to be an innocuous native wildflower but it’s far from it! The best way to control a small outbreak is to hand pull the plants, bag, and properly dispose of them. A non-specific herbicide is effective for larger infestations. It is highly recommended to map it in the spring so you can go back and look for new plants early, before it sets seeds (small and many thousands).

Virtually Attend MBCA Board Meetings

Many of us are becoming familiar with meeting virtually and MBCA is no exception! Please mark your calendars for our monthly Board meetings; the second Thursday of the month from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. Please visit mbconservation.org and make a request to receive a link to the meeting. I look forward to seeing you there virtually!

Check the MBCA Calendar for Online Events

We continue to post community events of likely interest to MBCA supporters on our Calendar. There are four such events in December, all posted on the MBCA Calendar of Events.

Support MBCA through Amazon Smile

Purchases through the Amazon Smile program can help support MBCA!  Please select MBCA as the non-profit recipient by typing in Morongo Basin Conservation and then selecting Morongo Basin Conservation Association. Every small amount adds up to help support our mission! Thank you!

MBCA appreciates the efforts of our members and supporters as we all deal with these difficult times. I hope this e-blast finds you all healthy and safe!

Steve Bardwell

Your MBCA Board:

Steve Bardwell, President

David Fick, Vice President

Laraine Turk, Secretary

Marina West, Treasurer  

Pat Flanagan, Director

Meg Foley, Director

Brian Hammer, Director

Janet Johnston, Director

Sarah Kennington, Director

Mike Lipsitz, Director

Arch McCulloch, Director

Ruth Rieman, Director



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MBCA Opposes Stagecoach Solar in Lucerne Valley

The latest large-scale solar development proposed for a problematic desert location is Stagecoach Solar, proposed for the Lucerne Valley area. In this case we are pleased that many of our concerns about the project on behalf of east desert residents are mirrored by the two desert-area County Supervisors, District 3 Supervisor Dawn Rowe and District 1 Supervisor Robert Lovingood. As in MBCA's comment letter, issues mentioned in the Supervisors' letter include existing County land use policies (RECE 4.10 especially), damage to wildlife corridors, and impaired viewsheds. In another extremely detailed and comprehensive coalition letter signed by 67 associations, organizations, and individuals including MBCA, there are numerous carefully researched and verifiable arguments to show why the Stagecoach Solar project would create a cascade of human and environmental difficulties for the Lucerne Valley community, not the least of which is a breach of  environmental justice.
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Wildlife Crossings Needed for High Speed Rail Project

Earlier this fall (September 3), MBCA joined with 23 other nonprofit organizations in a letter to CalTrans officials about the planned High Speed Rail Project from southern California to Las Vegas. Known wildlife corridors are in its path, including for bighorn sheep, so it is important that over-crossings and under-crossings are incorporated as part of the project's development, which is the message outlined in the coalition letter.
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Countywide Plan Adopted and Community Plans Repealed

At their October 27 meeting, the San Bernardino County Supervisors adopted all recommendations from Land Use Services concerning the new Countywide Plan, including repealing the 2007 Community Plans. During Public Comments preceding the vote, five MBCA Directors made public comments from the Joshua Tree and Hesperia video-connection sites, requesting the Supervisors adopt and update the 2007 Community Plans rather than repeal them. Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe asked County staff a number of thoughtful questions, including several related to MBCA’s concerns, then asked that the recommendation regarding the repeal of Community Plans be a separate vote. When that occurred, she voted against the repeal though it passed 4-1.

On the video recording of the October 27th meeting you can view the entire session concerning the Plan, including the presentation by Terri Rahhal of Land Use Services, by scrolling down and clicking on the bar beneath the video titled “100 Countywide Plan, Community Action Guides and Related Actions." It starts at 2:44 and ends at 4:38. You can hear comments from MDLT and from the MBCA Directors between 3:21 and 3:37.

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MBCA Requests County Retain Community Plans

Since the process began over 5 years ago, MBCA has closely followed San Bernardino County's efforts to develop a Countywide Plan. The resulting plan is scheduled for adoption at the Supervisors' October 27th meeting and includes the repeal of the 2007 Community Plans. MBCA maintains that the existing Community Plans are necessary for unincorporated communities to have a say in future development. MBCA's comprehensive letter sent to the County's Land Use Services staff and Supervisors on October 23rd addresses the background and rationale of this argument.  The letter concludes:

Communities want and need the specificity of the Community Plans to ensure the health and safety of their communities.  These plans already exist, are currently adopted into code, and housed in the Development Code that is not part of the vote on October 27th. Keeping these Community Plans ensures that the integrity and character of these communities is respected and maintained.
We respectfully ask that you do not repeal the 2007 Community Plans and initiate community-led updates of the Plans, that can then be incorporated into the forthcoming Development Code update.

Again here is the entire letter.
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Desert Tortoise Becomes Candidate for Endangered Status in California

tortoise_in_yard.jpegThe California Fish and Game Commission has temporarily designated the desert tortoise as endangered, a step beyond its current status as threatened. Similar to the action reported in our most recent News Update about the status of the western Joshua tree, a year-long review period will precede a permanent designation. Read more in this LA Times article.

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Joshua Trees Voted as Candidate for Threatened Status

The California Fish and Game Commission voted 4-0 on September 22 to advance the western Joshua tree to the status of candidate for listing as threatened under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This vote initiates a one-year review. In a second 3-1 decision, 15 large-scale solar projects nearing construction will be permitted to move forward under a seldom-used emergency provision "2084." Read the details in this Desert Sun article or in the Los Angeles Times.
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Comments on Environmental Justice in Countywide Plan

MBCA has sent a letter to San Bernardino County Land Use Services and the Countywide Plan Coordinator with concerns about the Environmental Justice Policy proposed as part of the Countywide Plan. The Plan is due for consideration at a September 17 Planning Commission meeting. Of special concern is why Lucerne Valley has not been designated an "Environmental Justice Focus Area" (EJFA), and why other communities that should qualify by state descriptions do not qualify for the same protections.
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Countywide Plan Public Comment Controversy

MBCA emailed San Bernardino County's Countywide Plan Coordinator Jerry Blum on September 4, 2020, expressing concern and dismay about the short timeline for public comment preparation before the Countywide Plan's appearance on the agenda of the Planning Commission on September 17. There had been only limited public messaging about the "finalized documents" and the scheduled meeting. The County's website announcement includes links to the hundreds of pages of documents. Here are four emails that explain our concerns and include the County's response. You can find additional background on our County Plan page including MBCA's previous comments since the process began in 2014.
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MBCA Joins Coalition Requesting I-15 Wildlife Crossings

MBCA has joined a coalition of 25 non-profit organizations requesting that wildlife over-passes and under-passes be constructed as part of the XpressWest High Speed Rail Project planned for Victor Valley to Las Vegas. The letter to CalTrans, which is the agency contracting with the developer for right of way across the I-15 median, explains the need and notes related legislation in both Congress and the California Legislature.
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