[See the file attachment for article in PDF form]
The Placer County Board of Supervisors will consider authorizing the submittal of the Placer County Conservation Plan (PCCP) for federal approval. The item is scheduled to be heard at 11:00 a.m. in the Placer County Board Chambers at 175 Fulweiler Ave, Auburn. It has taken 10 years of collaboration and consensus building to reach this point, an arduous journey according to Supervisor Weygandt. A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a formal Endangered Species Act “permit” approved by the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service. The (PCCP) includes both endangered species and federal Corps of Engineers 404 (Wetlands) permitting features. Among other things, approved HCPs can involve the delegation of federal permitting authority to local agencies that are then required to conform to Plan requirements. Vernal Pools, habitat for an endangered shrimp, are a critical issue in the western portion of the County due to the impact of protection measures on future growth and the corollary habitat conservation values. Of course, federal wetlands issues are also important.
In the early going both the environmental and development communities were skeptical about the merits of pursuing a Conservation Plan. On the environmental side there was concern that the benefits of a Plan would accrue mainly to the development community, allowing the excessive conversion of habitat and wetlands from what would occur if the federal agencies retained primary jurisdiction. On the development side, there was concern that the net effects of an HCP would result in greater regulatory burdens, and giving the federal agencies access to otherwise unavailable local land use regulatory powers via the participation of local government.
In response to these concerns Supervisor Weygandt personally played a key role in convincing all concerned that it was in the interest of the stakeholders to give the effort a chance to succeed, or fail. In other words, the stakeholders should allow a Plan to be considered on the merits of an actual proposal. This didn’t happen overnight. Weygandt characterizes the early years of the program as an exercise in trust and credibility building.
Critical issues emerged quickly. First, there was the question of the geographical scope of the undertaking and what incorporated cities would formally participate? Second, the effort to create a map of land development and protected conservation areas brought into play conflicts between future development and conservation interests. The geographical scope question settled down into a decision to pursue the HCP in Western Placer County with the participation of the County of Placer and the City of Lincoln. For Lincoln in particular, the resolution of vernal pool and wetland issues are critical to the city’s future annexation and development plans under their recently updated General Plan. Also, the Placer Parkway project, a freeway connector between Hwy. 65 and Hwy. 70, is affected by these conservation issues and is critical to future growth in Western Placer County.
The PCCP approach to addressing the mapping issue was innovative and difficult to sell to the federal regulatory agencies. Regulators want as much certainty as possible on the location and timing on lands that will be protected. Thus, an HCP that identifies and commits to the acquisition of specific preserve lands, i.e. a fixed map, provides greater certainty. The PCCP stakeholder interests, including the County and the City of Lincoln, after years of effort, were unable to come to agreement on fixed preserve commitments. The innovative solution involved developing a “standards based” and “land use classification” approach that identified areas where future development could occur without preservation, and reserve areas within which protected areas would be flexibly configured over time with willing sellers according to formal standards. All this would occur within the framework of existing general plans and zoning, however, land use compromises were required to limit the potential for future general plan and zoning changes in Reserve areas.
Years of effort have been required to reach agreement with the federal regulatory agencies that the standards approach would result in sufficient certainty of achieving conservation goals. Supervisor Weygandt’s strong private business and conservation ethic helped reconcile the federal concerns with the interests of local stakeholders. Fundamental federal regulatory issues with the PCCP have been resolved, thus allowing the Placer Board of Supervisors to consider the formal submittal of the PCCP application at the upcoming January 25, 2011 meeting.
There has been ongoing collaboration with the Corps of Engineers, and it appears likely that the Corps will retain permitting jurisdiction over 404 Permits after PCCP adoption. However, Corps permitting will run concurrently with the local land use process, and the Corps will be working within the approved PCCP mitigation framework. This results in tremendous cost and time savings to development applicants, and ensures that a comprehensive mitigation framework is in place. One of the environmental concerns with the Corps permitting process is that it over-emphasizes in-place mitigation and results in the assembly of fragmented, lower conservation value, protected areas.
When questioned about what happens over time if there are insufficient cooperating landowners willing to sell easements or fee interests in protected lands to keep up with the mandated conservation ratios, Supervisor Weygandt responded that the PCCP has a “Stay Ahead” feature, and market forces provide the mechanism to solve the problem. As development occurs in the designated urbanizing areas, fees will be collected to buy preserve easements and fee interests. There is a mandated ratio between levels of habitat and wetland development conversions (i.e. development) and the acquisition of protected areas—in short, the pace of protection has to stay ahead of the pace of development conversions. The market mechanism is that the value of preserve lands will go up as demand increases, thus incentivizing previously unwilling sellers to sell.
On January 25, 2011, at the County Domes, the Placer Board of Supervisors will consider authorization of the federal application submittals, and the commencement of the EIR/EIS and fiscal analysis processes. After many previous Board of Supervisors actions leading to this point, it is unlikely that the Board itself has any major policy problems with proceeding as proposed. To the best of Supervisor Weygandt’s knowledge, there are no major stakeholder issues outstanding with proceeding to file the applications. Of course, the EIR/EIS and fiscal process provide considerable opportunity for the public to express further comments and concerns. Here is a link to a PlacerSustain Blog article that has the 77 page Staff Report as a file attachment.
|Interview w ith weydandt 12311.pdf||20.43 KB|