[Action quote, last paragraph. -DS]
January 21, 2009
Citizens for Adequate Review (CFAR)CFAR Member Antonio Andrade (707) 462-4930
Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Attorney representing CFAR, Provencher & Flatt, LLP (707) 284-2380
As a result of a law suit filed by Santa Rosa attorney Rachel Howlett on behalf of Citizens for Adequate Review (CFAR), CFAR, Mendocino County, and Diversified Developers Realty (DDR) have reached an agreement which requires environmental review prior to DDR proceeding further with their proposed Mendocino Crossings Development on the old Masonite site north of Ukiah. Under the terms of the settlement agreement between the parties, the existing slabs, buried footings, underground utilities and other improvements at the site of the demolished Masonite facility will remain in place and be included in the scope of environmental review for the proposed Mendocino Crossings Project.
This is an important victory for local control of our community’s development. This agreement confirms that, prior to work beginning, all development proposals must be reviewed, that sites be safe and clear of toxics prior to any permitted use, and that County approval must be obtained.
The issue emerged In July of 2007 when the County issued DDR a permit to demolish the Masonite facility. CFAR asserted the demolition was the first stage in the development of the site for commercial purposes, stating this was a piecemeal approach to development, and a violation of California environmental law. Validating DDR’s investment in the demolition by issuing the permit was setting a precedent to keep moving forward with the project. Concerned community groups and residents found it appalling that the demolition was able to proceed at all when the County had full knowledge commercial development in this area was controversial, including opposition by the City of Ukiah.
DDR identified the site as ‘under construction’ in their filings with the Federal Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), had a project application on file with the County, was holding public meetings promoting their project, and advocated for the project before the Board of Supervisors. Demolition was step one of a multi-staged project that the County should have known required review under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA.) The County Planning and Building Department ignored the magnitude of the structures on site, the air quality impacts from demolishing these improvements, the proximity of the demolition to a school, and also did not send the application to demolish the historic structures to all relevant County departments and agencies for review and comment.
Rather, they treated the demolition as similar to a homeowner wanting to take down a garage, claiming they simply issued a valid ministerial permit with no environmental review being required. Without benefit of a clear and comprehensive review of its potential deleterious impact to the environment, and the community, the County abdicated their responsibility to protect the environment. There was no recognition by the County that by issuing the permit they were effectively eliminating existing manufacturing capacity for future use, and opening the door for DDR to move ahead with a project in an area not zoned for retail commercial use.
CFAR thanks all those who demonstrated their commitment to the quality of life in the Ukiah Valley by funding this costly effort. With the public being taxed by the County to fund its oversight responsibilities and services, an enormous burden was created when citizens had to then undertake suing the County to compel compliance with state law.
Hopefully, with a newly constituted Board of Supervisors, Mendocino County will put aside a ‘development at any cost’ mentality, cohesively organize County departments and agencies so they do not piecemeal their review but rather systematically and comprehensively apply legally established 21st century environmental standards to projects. We live in a beautiful environment characterized by small town values and our governing bodies need recognize its inherent value, and to become vigilant, conscientious stewards.
See also The People’s Business→