Expanding Elk Grove…

Expanding Elk Grove: Narrow vote allows city to start considering southern development of farmland, wildlife habitat

Environmentalists and farmers say commission vote opens door to sprawl

By Michael Mott

February 15, 2018

Sacramento News and Review

A regional body of elected officials and residents narrowly approved opening the door to development that farmers and environmentalists say could threaten wildlife habitats and conservation efforts south of Elk Grove.

On February 7, the Sacramento Local Area Formation Commission, or LAFCO, approved landowners’ bid to expand Elk Grove’s “sphere of influence” by 1,156 acres, which could lead to a formal annexation and development process. The commissioners’ 4-3 approval came with an environmental impact report that warned development could cause “significant and unavoidable impacts” to wildlife, habitats and groundwater.

Read the full article here.

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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.

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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.
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