Photo by Brad Branan: Osprey nest in the Natomas Basin
May 1, 2023 — By Brad Branan, ECOS Board member, representative of Sierra Club Sacramento
ECOS members are leading efforts to protect the Natomas Basin from several large-scale developments proposed for the environmentally sensitive area.
Developers are proposing three major projects in the basin, including the Airport South Industrial Project (ASIP) on 450 acres of farmland outside the city of Sacramento and the County’s Urban Services Boundary line. Together the projects total 8,191 acres, larger than the entire North Natomas area.
The basin is subject to environmental protection through the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (NBHCP), which was a federal and state requirement in 1997 to mitigate planned development in the City. The NBHCP was later approved by a federal court. The basin, which includes 54,000 acres in Sacramento and Sutter County, from the Garden Highway to the Cross Canal in Sutter County, provides habitat for the protected Swainson’s Hawk and Giant Garter Snake, among other animals.
The developers of the ASIP need approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) so the land can become part of the City of Sacramento.
Habitat 2020, an ECOS committee, opposed the first step taken by the City and LAFCo staff in that process – to make the city and the commission co-lead agencies on the environmental review of the annexation and the project. A law firm hired by Habitat 2020 and Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk sent the commission a letter saying that having co-lead agencies is a violation of state environmental law. They are waiting for a response.
ECOS member and former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, along with the ECOS Climate Committee’s Natomas Team, has been meeting with officials to explain why environmentalists oppose the project. Fargo and other project opponents are meeting with LAFCo members and Sacramento council members and are asking that the proposed annexation be brought to the Council for a public hearing and decision by the city council.
March 01, 2019 02:40 AM, Updated March 01, 2019 07:41 AM
The Sacramento Bee
The project…would be built in an environmentally sensitive and floodable area of Natomas, and already is the subject of numerous concerns.
…environmentalists argue that such a large development means paving prime wildlife habitat and farmland. The project, they say, could undermine existing habitat conservation agreements that limit the amount of acreage to be developed in the Natomas basin.
The site also is outside of the county’s existing urban development boundary. In order to allow development, county officials would have to amend the county’s growth plan and extend the boundary west toward the river.
On Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 2:15 pm, the County of Sacramento Board of Supervisors will consider starting a master plan process to urbanize 2,000 acres of prime agricultural land in Natomas (covering most of the existing farmland between the City limit and Sacramento River, south of Fisherman’s Lake). If possible, please attend the hearing. Please send a note to the Board (emails below) opposing this expansion on Farmland. Suggested language follows.
I oppose development of farmland in Sacramento County and ask you to deny the request to create an Upper Westside Master Plan for 2000 acres in the Natomas “Boot.” My reasons are:
This proposal violates County General Plan policies, including the Urban Services Boundary and agricultural preservation policies, to preserve agricultural and open space lands in the County.
There are thousands of acres of vacant land inside the Urban Services Boundary in the County where future urban development is already authorized. There is no economic need to provide for more zoning for urban uses.
There are thousands of vacant acres approved for development in the City and Sutter County portions of the Natomas Basin and these projects have a Habitat Conservation Plan in place to mitigate for their impacts on wildlife and are included in regional air quality and transportation plans. There is no economic rationale for advancing development in the portion of the basin that lacks infrastructure and mitigation programs.
I support the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Urbanization of the Boot area would undermine the effectiveness of the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan and directly conflict with the preserves located in and adjacent to the plan area.
Ask the Supervisors to endorse the Natomas Habitat Conservation Plan as the best plan for the Boot.
Landowners in the Boot area of North Natomas have asked the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to start the legal process needed for approval of a development plan for 2000 acres of urban development in the County covering most of the existing farmland between the City limit and Sacramento River, south of Fisherman’s Lake.
The proposal directly contradicts and would undermine the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (NBHCP) which covers the entire Natomas Basin. This plan — a binding contract between the city of Sacramento and County of Sutter and the state and federal wildlife agencies — relies in part on the Boot continuing to remain in agriculture and open space. It protects the Swainson’s Hawk population which nests along the Sacramento River and forages for rodents in the Basin, including the Boot area. The 2001 Natomas Basin Habitat Plan designates the mile-wide strip of land, in County jurisdiction, next to the Sacramento River levee as the Swainson’s Hawk Zone, which must remain free of urban development for the HCP to succeed.
Most of the proposed Boot development would be within the Swainson’s Hawk Zone. The City’s Incidental Take Permit (issued by USFWS and CDFW) for new development in North Natomas depends on the continued integrity of the NBHCP, including continuation of agriculture and open space in the Swainson’s Hawk Zone, and would be jeopardized by new development in the Boot.
Bob Thomas, who is the project representative, was formerly the City Manager who signed the NBHCP Incidental Take Permit as City Manager, and is very aware of the importance of the Swainson’s Hawk Zone, including the Boot area, to conservation of threatened species and the City’s buildout of North Natomas.
Please help us convince the County Board of Supervisors to deny this request. Letters to the Board members can include these important points:
Urbanization planning in the Natomas Basin is contrary to important County General Plan policies, including the Urban Services Boundary, and policies to preserve agricultural and open space lands in the County.
The Urban Services Boundary (which excludes urbanization in this area) is the basis for our regional air quality and transportation plans which protect our health and prevent the congestion that urban sprawl engenders. This is our region’s core strategy for Climate Action and mitigation for Climate Change.
There are thousands of acres of vacant land inside the Urban Services Boundary in the County where future urban development is already authorized, and thousands of acres of vacant land already zoned for development. There is no economic need to provide for more zoning for urban uses.
There are thousands of vacant acres approved for development in the City and Sutter County portions of the Natomas Basin. These projects have planned infrastructure and mitigation programs. There is no economic rationale for considering development in the portion of the basin that lacks infrastructure and mitigation programs.
Express your support for the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Urbanization of the Boot area would undermine the effectiveness of the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Ask the Supervisors to endorse the Natomas Habitat Conservation Plan as the best plan for the Boot.
For residents of Natomas, public safety, emergency evaluation, freeway and airport access and other issues may come to mind in contemplating urbanization west of El Centro and North of I-80.
The hearing is set for 9:30 am, Tuesday, Feb 26, 2019.
On September 26, 2018, the Environmental Council of Sacramento submitted a comment letter on the Elk Grove General Plan.
Following ECOS and Habitat 2020s’ opposition to the recently adopted Kamerrer-99 Sphere of Influence Expansion, ECOS and Habitat 2020 are primarily concerned with the “study areas” for further expansion proposed in this General Plan Update. Elk Grove’s anticipated growth can be accommodated within the existing City limits, and we find no justification for expansion beyond the Sacramento County Urban Services Boundary (USB) established in 1993 to be the ultimate growth boundary within the County. The proposal is inconsistent with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ (SACOG) Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS) for meeting State mandated greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, Federal mandates for Air Quality Attainment under the State Improvement Plan (SIP), as well as myriad regional goals for social equity, public health and natural resource conservation. There is an extreme lack of certainty that municipal water can be provided to this area without severe regional impacts, and the impacts to invaluable agricultural and biological resources by the proposal are potentially impossible to mitigate.
The justification given for study of further expansion is the need for Elk Grove to correct its job’s housing balance. This is a goal that ECOS agrees with, but, again, the housing and employment that Elk Grove anticipates to achieve from existing planning areas within the current City boundaries already far exceed that of SACOG’S projections for Elk Grove by 2040. If Elk Grove were to achieve these housing and employment projections in the SOIA as well, it would certainly have impacts on housing and employment in neighboring jurisdictions in the region.
While these proposed expansion areas are only “study areas,” it is irresponsible of the City to signal intent for growth that is so divergent from the regional plan, and where the cumulative impacts to the region would be so great.
“This is classic leapfrog development where you are building on green fields instead of brown fields,” said Alexandra Reagan with ECOS.
Reagan says the city should develop existing land within its boundaries. She also says there are 14 impacts that are unavoidable with the project moving forward. They include altering where migratory birds forage and depletion of groundwater resources.
“We feel like those should be addressed before any next steps for planning growth,” Reagan adds.