Lawsuit filed on Elk Grove Sphere of Influence

June 1, 2018

Sierra Club, ECOS, et al. File Legal Action to Reverse Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) Approval of Expansion of Elk Grove Sphere of Influence

On June 1, 2018, the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Sierra Club, Friends of Swainson’s Hawk, Friends of Stone Lakes Wildlife Refuge and Habitat 2020 filed an action to block Sacramento LAFCo’s approval of an expanded Sphere of Influence for the City of Elk Grove.  “Numerous legal errors occurred in the Commission’s consideration and approval on a 4-3 vote of this landowner*-initiated amendment to Elk Grove’s potential boundary. The decision permits previously protected farmland to now be considered for annexation into the City,” said Don Mooney, attorney for the environmental groups.  “My clients represent the public interest in curbing sprawl and preserving farmland in this region.”

The Sierra Club, Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and associates have long maintained that the health and sustainability of the Sacramento region depends upon the preservation of farmland and avoidance of further urban sprawl.  “LAFCo has pivoted away from long established regional goals with this approval,” said Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter Conservation Chair Sean Wirth,” and we aim to hold them accountable.  All of our region’s planning for infrastructure, the Regional Transportation Plan, the South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan, water supply, sanitation, and the Air Quality Plan are based on an Urban Services Boundary that LAFCo pushed aside in its February 7 decision.  This blatant disregard for decades of careful planning must be challenged.”

Ralph Propper, President of ECOS, noted that “Although the Sphere of Influence Amendment is just the first step in urbanization  ­—no dirt will be turned soon—, the Environmental Impact Report identified 22 significant and unavoidable impacts from this decision that cannot be mitigated.  This is a damaging land use decision that threatens the health of our community.”

Jim Pachl, Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter Legal Chair, pointed out that “there are over 4000 vacant acres zoned for new development within the City of Elk Grove, including 1800 acres with residential project approvals that remain unbuilt.  Some projects were approved over ten years ago and remain unbuilt.  Lent Ranch Mall remains a half-built shell.  LAFCo lacks a legitimate reason to allow a conversion of farmland for expansion of Elk Grove’s footprint.”

LAFCo denied a request to reconsider its decision on May 2, setting the stage for the filing of litigation. 

*The Sphere of Influence Amendment was sought by landowners of 1,156 acres south of Kammerer Road and west of Highway 99.  The applicants are Gerry Kamilos and Martin Feletto.

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Pitch In!

Lawsuits are pricey! If you would like to provide monetary support for this, you can donate online HERE OR send a check to the Environmental Council of Sacramento, P.O. Box 1526, Sacramento, CA 95812. Please include a notation “for Elk Grove lawsuit” in the memo field of Paypal or your check to ensure that your donation goes to the lawsuit.

In The News

Suit filed to block step toward annexation of land by Elk Grove
June 5, 2018
The Sacramento Business Journal
https://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2018/06/05/suit-filed-to-block-step-toward-annexation-of-land.html

Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Against Sacramento LAFCO, Seek to Halt Elk Grove Expansion
June 5, 2018
ElkGroveNews.net
http://www.elkgrovenews.net/2018/06/environmental-group-files-lawsuit-against-elk-grove-expansion.html

Environmentalists sue to block city’s southern expansion
Elk Grove Citizen
June 8, 2018
http://www.egcitizen.com/news/environmentalists-sue-to-block-city-s-southern-expansion/article_e06d57f0-6b55-11e8-a42c-274a961568ea.html

More Information

Click here for the project application.

Click here for more background information on this issue.

Click here for a PDF of the media advisory.

Letter from ECOS Requesting that LAFCo Reconsider Approval of “Kammerer 99 SOIA” Amendment

May 1, 2018

Patrick Hume, Chair
Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission
1112 I Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814
Via email to commissionclerk[at]saclafco[dot]org

RE: Request to Reconsider LAFCo approval of Kammerer/99 SOIA amendment

Dear Mr. Hume and fellow Commissioners:

I would like to focus on two concerns that ECOS and Habitat 2020 believe were not adequately addressed by LAFCo Commissioners in their deliberations on the Kammerer/99 SOIA Amendment: 1) Cumulative Traffic impacts and 2) County policy regarding changes to the urban service boundary established in the 1993 Sacramento County General Plan and included in the 2011 update of that plan.

1. Traffic Impacts on the SE Connector. On or about February 29, 2018 the Southeast Connector JPA released a Mitigated Negative Declaration for review and comment. The information contained in this document was not available prior to the LAFCo hearing on February 7, 2018. Among other things the document contained a comprehensive analysis of cumulative traffic impacts both with and without the proposed improvements to Kammerer Road.

Most instructive is Table 45, which shows cumulative and cumulative plus project (the road improvement project) Level of Service (LOS) on a segment by segment basis between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 (See Attachment 1). The cumulative conditions for the analysis are based on full buildout within Elk Grove City (although not taking into account casino development) and MTP/SCS traffic forecasts based on projected 2036 development outside of Elk Grove City. This table reveals a number of important points:

• The cumulative conditions for the various segments are based on a minimum of 4 lanes of traffic, rather than the 2 lanes in the LAFCo RDEIR. Our understanding is that the JPA’s intent is to build the 4 lanes with the proposed project, but if funding is short, the project may be phased with just two lanes at first. If so, the expansion to 4 lanes would occur with funding from impact fees on new development collected by the city of Elk Grove (communication from Matt Satow, project engineer)/

• The daily traffic volume for the segments between Bruceville and Promenade Parkway range between 13,740 and 38,300. This compares to an estimated 29,719 vt/d in the RDEIR for Kammerer/99 SOIA.

• The Cumulative Plus Project conditions in Table 45 yield considerably higher daily volumes along the same stretch of roadway. This is largely the induced traffic demand that connecting Kammerer Road to Interstate 5 will generate.

• The segments west of Bruceville are projected to accommodate 28,000 to 32,000 vt/d. Some of these vehicle trips will originate and end from the north on Bruceville; others will continue eastward toward Highway 99.

• Traffic volume in the Cumulative Plus Project scenario for the segments east of Bruceville are projected to increase between 6,300 and 18,240 vt/d, with the amount of increase decreasing from west to east.

• The level of service with the Cumulative Plus Project actually declines along all segments except one. For one segment, the decline is to LOS E.

This analysis does not include either the Bilby or Kammerer/99 requests. It is logical to assume that taken together, these projects would cause traffic levels on Kammerer/99 to increase LOS along much of the SE Connector between Highway 99 and Interstate 5 to unacceptable levels.

It is clear from the comments of LAFCo Commissioners that the presence of the proposed Southeast Connector was a significant justification for approving the project. This new information, not available at the time of decision, raises the important question that the Kammerer/99 SOIA, particularly when taken into consideration of the soon to be heard Bilby Ridge SOIA, will create significant congestion and challenge the ability of the Connector Project to meet its primary goal: to provide an alternative means for travelers to circumvent the congestion of the Sacramento Urban Area by travelling around the southeast periphery of the developed urban area.

We recognize that Mitigation Measure 3.24-1a requires traffic studies and plans for improvements to mitigate traffic to acceptable levels prior to approval of annexation. Yet there has been no discussion in the record as to what the scope of those improvements might be and how they relate to the purpose of the Southeast Connector as a regional road designed to move traffic between Interstate 5 and Highway 50. For a threshold decision regarding urban growth, this is a glaring omission.

In this light, reconsideration of the project is warranted. At a minimum, LAFCo commissioners should ask for an analysis and report back from the Southeast Connector JPA on the impacts of the projects before the Commission, with additional traffic analysis as necessary to be funded by the applicants. Moreover, we would recommend that reconsideration should be considered at the same time and with the available analysis of the Bilby Ridge project, so as to better evaluate the full scope of traffic impacts on the Southeast Connector.

2. Consistency with Sacramento County Land Use Policy LU-127. Our second point is not so much a matter of new information as it is a glaring oversight on the part of LAFCo commissioners not only in framing their decision, but in making the overriding considerations for approving the project in light of 22 significant and unavoidable adverse impacts.

The RDEIR for Kammerer/99 SOIA does identify policy LU127, which reads as follows:

Policy LU-127: The County shall not expand the Urban Service Boundary unless:
• There is inadequate vacant land within the USB to accommodate the projected 25 year demand for urban uses; and
• The proposal calling for such expansion can satisfy the requirements of a master water plan as contained in the Conservation Element; and
• The proposal calling for such expansion can satisfy the requirements of the Sacramento County Air Quality Attainment Plan; and
• The area of expansion does not incorporate open space areas for which previously secured open space easements would need to be relinquished; and
• The area of expansion does not include the development of important natural resource areas, aquifer recharge lands or prime agricultural lands;
• The area of expansion does not preclude implementation of a Sacramento County-adopted Habitat Conservation Plan;

OR

• The Board approves such expansion by a 4/5ths vote based upon on finding that the expansion would provide extraordinary environmental, social or economic benefits and opportunities to the County.

If this expansion request was before the County this is the policy that would guide decision-making regarding SOIA. We recognize that the policy does not bind the decisions of the City of Elk Grove, nor does it strictly bind Sacramento LAFCo decisions. Yet in many ways the policy gets to the heart of LAFCo’s mandates to consider the need for expanding jurisdictional spheres, to protect prime agricultural demand and to ensure adequate services.

Yet, surprisingly, the RDEIR finds that the proposed SOIA is consistent with the policy under the self-limiting logic that no land use changes are proposed that would require expanding the USB:

Consistent: The SOIA Area is currently within the jurisdiction of the County of Sacramento and is entirely outside of the County’s General Plan USB. However, no land uses changes are proposed that would require expanding the USB.

That is entirely beside the point. The simple fact is that approval of the SOIA would lead to the inevitable urban development that the USB is designed to limit. The question at hand is whether the proposed SOIA, if implemented, would be consistent with the county’s policy. We believe that we have provided ample evidence that it would not be. Both the RDEIR and the Commissioners’ approval of the project are deficient in not adequately taking this into account.

Note that Policy LU-127 does give guidance on when it would be appropriate, despite the required findings, to approve USB expansion. They can, by a supermajority vote, find that the expansion would provide extraordinary environmental, social or economic benefits and opportunities to the County.

So it would stand to reason, that LAFCo commissioners might want to consider the same context in their decision regarding the Kammerer/99 SOIA’s approval. Yet what we heard at the meeting were the same “business as usual” types of justifications for approving the project: Elk Grove needs to grow, the project will provide jobs, new development will help Elk Grove improve its job’s housing balance and the like. These are reflected in the Findings of Fact and Overriding Concern, which were not made available to the public until just prior to the hearing, without adequate opportunity for public review and consideration. Nowhere can we find, in either the written or the spoken comments at the hearing, that there were any extraordinary benefits for approving the project despite its inconsistency with County Policy, LAFCo mandates and common sense.

Moreover, your Commission’s decision, in starting the process to allow Elk Grove’s expansion beyond the USB, provides justification to not only Folsom in the area south of its current limits, but the County itself, in the huge North Precinct Development, to justify expansion of the Urban Service Boundary, entirely in the absence of any extraordinary justification, thus continuing the cycle of sprawl many citizens in this County are dedicated to ending.

In view of this, and if for no other reason, we ask that you reconsider your justification and your findings in approving the project.

Sincerely,

Robert Burness, Habitat 2020 Co Chair
Attachments


Click here for a PDF of this letter.

Click here for more background on this issue.

Can Sacramento County save its farmers? Not if Elk Grove expands

By Judith Lamare and James P. Pachl

May 01, 2018

Special to The Sacramento Bee

On Feb. 7, four Sacramento LAFCo commissioners began unraveling of decades of agricultural protection, orderly urban growth and open space planning that relied on a firm urban limit at Elk Grove’s southern boundary.

The split decision by the Local Agency Formation Commission — three commissioners voted no — gave Elk Grove the go-ahead to plan development on 1,156 acres of farmland. Elk Grove’s presentation made clear that it intends to pave over much more than this in coming years.

Environmental groups have asked the commission to reconsider its decision on Wednesday, based on a state law that requires it to ensure orderly growth and preserve farmland and open space when it considers changes in city boundaries.

Vacant land within existing city limits is supposed to be a key factor in calculating whether a sphere of influence expansion onto farmland is needed to accommodate growth. In Elk Grove, there are about 4,000 acres of vacant land zoned and available for development, including 1,800 acres where residential projects remain unbuilt, some for more than a decade. The LAFCo executive director’s report misled the public and commissioners by counting as “vacant” only the land that did not have project approvals. Plenty of vacant land exists inside Elk Grove’s present boundaries for growth.

The commission adopted a statement prepared by staff to dismiss 22 significant and unavoidable impacts that cannot be fully mitigated, including loss of farmland and open space and further groundwater depletion. Also, the sphere of influence amendment conflicts with the Metropolitan Transportation Plan that underpins all federal and state funding. Notably not discussed by the commission was the additional cost to the public to acquire right of way for the planned Capital Southeast Connector bordering the expansion area due to land speculation it causes.

At the core of this decision is the future of farming and Sacramento County’s agricultural economy. One commissioner implied that the decision would not harm farming because so little of the land is defined as “prime.” Yet the environmental report identified significant impacts on agriculture that cannot be mitigated.

If we are only prepared to save “prime” farmland, then California’s agricultural fabric will become more tattered and unsustainable. That fabric includes different kinds of farmland and an infrastructure supporting an industry that produced more than $500 million in revenue last year in Sacramento County.

If the commission doesn’t reverse its decision, we are facing a dramatic loss of farmers in our region.

Click here to view the article on the SacBee website.

Sacramento County doesn’t need more sprawl. Is Elk Grove listening?

By the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board 

February 06, 2018

The Sacramento Bee

Here we go again with another proposal that could pave the way for more urban sprawl near Elk Grove.

On Wednesday, Sacramento County’s Local Agency Formation Commission is to decide whether to add 1,165 acres south of Elk Grove to the city’s planning area. Once again, the commission should just say no.

Read the full article here.

Hearing on Elk Grove’s Latest Attempt to Sprawl – February 7, 2018

January 16, 2017

Below, two updates from our partners at the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter, a member organization of ECOS, from their recent newsletter.


Chapter Chair’s Column

By Andy Sawyer

Fighting urban sprawl has long been a priority for the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter. Sprawl consumes important wildlife habitat and agricultural land. It increases costs of providing urban services. It undermines efforts to provide the compact, transit- and pedestrian-oriented development needed to serve a population that is becoming increasingly transit dependent. The Chapter has been particularly concerned about effects on air quality. Low density urban sprawl increases automobile dependency, requiring driving for commutes and errands that could otherwise rely on walking, bicycling or transit, and the driving distances are greater, resulting in increased vehicle miles traveled and automobile emissions.

Climate change heightens the urgency of stopping sprawl. The transportation sector accounts for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. Reducing automobile use is essential to reducing those emissions. In 2008, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 375, providing for the preparation of sustainable communities with plans designed to reduce greenhouse gasses, and providing incentives for development consistent with those plans. A package of bills enacted in 2017 provides incentives for housing in existing urbanized areas. These incentives will not have much effect, however, so long as our local governments make cheap land available for urban sprawl by rezoning agricultural and open space lands, and state and local governments continue to build highway projects designed to open up new areas to development.

A key element of our efforts to combat urban sprawl is involvement in Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) decisions. Changes in the boundaries and spheres of influence of cities and special districts, which require approval by county LAFCOs, determine which areas are planned for urban development. By statute, the purposes of the LAFCOs include “discouraging urban sprawl” and “preserving open-space and prime agricultural lands.” Too often, however, county LAFCOs ignore this direction, rubber stamping local applications for sprawl and leapfrog development. Four years ago we won an important victory when the Sacramento County LAFCO turned down the City of Elk Grove’s application to sprawl into important agricultural land and habitat in the Delta. But now Elk Grove is back, hoping that changes in LAFCO membership will yield a different result. The Sierra Club has commented extensively on the proposal, and is gearing up for the February 7 hearing on the project, where we will need a large turnout. Mother Lode Chapter Conservation Chair Sean Wirth provides additional information on this below.

We are also working to shift transportation funding from highway expansion to transit. The Mother Lode Chapter is supporting litigation challenging Caltrans’ failure to consider and provide mitigation for the increase in vehicle miles travelled when it approved additional lanes on Highway 50, and is preparing comments on the proposed expansion of Highway 65. We are also working on proposed local transportation sales taxes, seeking to eliminate funds for sprawl supporting highway expansions and increase funding for transit.

Sprawl hurts us all. Fighting sprawl is critical to our success in protecting our environment, both regionally and globally.


Elk Grove and the ecological health of the north Delta

By Sean Wirth

As Elk Grove aggressively continues to try and realize its growth ambitions to the south of its existing city’s footprint, it is important to take stock of what is at stake for the ecology of the north Delta. Elk Grove has made it clear that it wants to grow right down to the edge of the 100 year floodplain, and then mitigate for the destruction of habitat of listed species, such as the Swainson’s Hawk, that resulted from that development by conserving habitat within the floodplain. The Sierra Club has long been concerned about the loss of upland habitat south of Elk Grove because the Consumnes River floodplain is an active floodplain that is inundated cyclically every seven to ten years, like it did dramatically last winter season.

The land conservation for the majority of north Delta species, especially the Greater Sandhill Crane, has been done within floodplains. When the cyclical flooding of the Consumnes River occurs, many of these species need to seek higher ground for their survival. For the Greater Sandhill Crane, it needs nearby upland areas for foraging and feeding when those floods occur. Though the Greater Sandhill Crane roosts in shallow wetlands at night, and though it will also forage in freshly flooded fields, the vast majority of the calories that this bird relies upon in our region comes from the grains that escaped agricultural harvest, such as corn, rice and wheat.

Sandhill Cranes are unusually loyal to their specific wintering geography and rarely travel more than two miles from their selected roost sites. When the cyclical flooding occurs, these birds look for the closest upland forage opportunities to their roost sites. All of the unincorporated lands south of Elk Grove serve this important purpose and the prospect of all of those lands being developed down to the floodplain would be catastrophic to the Crane and many other species that rely on un-flooded terrestrial habitat for their survival.

What complicates this problem even further is that the most conservative modeling for the impacts of global sea level rise in the north Delta indicate that basically all of the current lands set aside for the Greater Sandhill Cranes, and hundreds of other terrestrial species, are going to be threatened with permanent inundation as the symptoms of climate change accrue. This reality elevates the importance of the lands south of Elk Grove as a critical pathway to get our North Delta species over to the higher ground in the east. And clearly, this pathway is not going to be effective if it is paved over for low density sprawl neighborhoods and their associated malls.

Voicing these concerns is going to be an important part of convincing LAFCO that allowing Elk Grove to pave over this critically important geography is not in the interest of our region. Please join us on February 7th to demonstrate your concern at the hearing. The hearing starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be held at the Board of Supervisor’s chamber at 700 H Street in downtown Sacramento.

2017 Habitat 2020 Accomplishments

Habitat 2020 is ECOS’ Habitat & Conservation committee. Habitat 2020 is a coalition that works to protect the lands, waters, wildlife and native plants in the Sacramento region. The great Central Valley of California has been identified by the World Wildlife Fund as one of North America’s most endangered eco-regions. Preserving its remaining open space and agricultural land is essential for sustaining native plants and wildlife, and ensuring a high quality of life for ourselves and future generations.

In 2017 Habitat 2020 had a continued engagement in a broad range of Sacramento regional environmental protection efforts that no singular organization could address alone.

These crucial activities include:

  • Continued promotion of the Heartland Project Vision for a regionally coordinated and connected system of parks, preserves and working lands:
    • Successfully negotiated a new contract in with the UCD Information Center for the Environment and the Capitol Southeast Connector JPA to continue development of the Sacramento regional natural resources data inventory and modeling project, in accordance with the ECOS-Connector JPA Settlement Agreement.
    • Aided in visioning and oversight of the SMUD carbon sequestration inventory for Sacramento County, the first application of the UCD-Heartland Natural Resource inventory.
    • Aided in the acquisition of a $600k Federal Environmental Protection Agency grant for UCD to continue a second phase of development for the natural resource inventory to cross analyze public health factors with environmental sustainability factors to better illustrate relationships between human and ecological health in the Sacramento Region.
  • Continued a decade-long resistance to irresponsible expansion of the City of Elk Grove in an effort to protect critical habitat for myriad species in the Cosumnes River corridor, including Sandhill Crane and Swainson’s hawk. Elk Grove is currently updating its General Plan and has three current Sphere of Influence Expansion Applications. A primary concern is the Kammerrer-99 SOI proposal, outside of the long-standing County Urban Services Boundary and the Regional Sustainable Communities Strategy. Habitat 2020 engagement and commentary has so far led to the decision to recirculate the Draft Environmental impact report to better address important concerns raised with the EIR’s initial analysis. The Final EIR has recently been released and great concerns for the project remain. The Local Agency Formation Commission hearing to consider approval of the project is scheduled for February.
  • Continued critical representation of the environmental community in development of the final South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Report and Statement released this year, after decades of evolution. Habitat 2020 engagement was essential to this process, being the only group to review the entire public draft of the Plan and the environmental documents, over 3300 pages. The extensive commentary Habitat 2020 has provided is aimed at correcting some long standing issues that remain before certification.
  • Partnered with Friend’s of the Swainson’s Hawk to negotiate an agreement with the City of Sacramento to preserve the integrity of the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan in mitigation of their approval of the Greenbriar project.
  • Provided expert testimony to the ongoing CA WaterFix hearings concerning important terrestrial impacts posed by the proposed Delta tunnels project with H2020 partners, including Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and SOSCranes.
  • Tracked initial local implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, offering in depth commentary on the pros and cons of the Sacramento Central Groundwater Authority’s proposed Groundwater Management Plan Alternative, with the aim to outline a constructive path forward to address current deficiencies with increased public participation and oversight. We continued our active presence at the Environmental Caucus of the Water Forum, and this last year Ted Rauh of our Water Group became an alternate South Central Groundwater Committee Board member representing environmental interests.
  • H2020 Partner, SOS Cranes, continued participation in the Statewide Sandhill Crane Conservation Strategy Technical Advisory Committee in development of a plan due for release in 2018.
  • Continued participation in the Sacramento Area Council of Governments “Sounding Board” advisory committee for development of the 2020 Metropolitan transportation Plan Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS), emphasizing the need for smart, more compact regional growth that simultaneously provides greater, more equitable access to non-auto modes of travel, and preserves natural and agricultural resources. Habitat 2020 has also offered important representation in the SB 375 target revision process currently underway at the CA Air Resources Board, with an aim to determine the most ambitious GHG reduction targets feasible for the Sacramento Region’s MTP/SCS.
  • Supported Audubon Society efforts to preserve essential Purple Martin nesting habitat in the City of Sacramento’s I St bridge replacement project.
  • Supported International Dark Sky Association recommendations to the Cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento for reducing light impacts to aquatic and terrestrial habitat on the Sacramento Riverfront.
  • Supported Folsom community residents in a campaign to develop an alternative plan for storm/waste water infrastructure improvements to minimize impacts to Hinkle Creek and its surrounding forest.
  • Coordinated broad regional stakeholder input into a robust set of recommendations for the City of Sacramento for the consideration of investment in a regional educational facility focused on the region’s unique natural resources.