The comment letter below was sent on behalf of the Sierra Club Lake Group on May 19, 2005. Although it is by no means exhaustive it touches on many of the potential environmental impacts of the Provinsalia project. For more information, send an email to Victoria Brandon (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dear Ms. Moore:
The following observations are submitted on behalf of the Sierra Club Lake Group to Comment on the Notice of Preparation of the Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Provinsalia Golf Community Project in the City of Clearlake. Most of the considerations mentioned follow the order of the Environmental Checklist prepared on April 21, 2005, but the first, and possibly the most consequential, falls outside the framework of that document.
1. Piecemealing. The property consists of more than the 292 acres now proposed for development: it actually includes 510 acres, partly within the Clearlake city limits and partly under county jurisdiction. Wherever the legal parcel lines may fall, this is one contiguous piece of land containing many interlaced habitats whose functions do not respect distinctions between City of Clearlake and County of Lake. As structured, the EIR will ignore the impacts upon that portion of the property outside the city limits, addressing only the 292 acres within the city that is proposed for development at this time. But this procedure is forbidden by CEQA guidelines requiring that an entire property be analysed as a unit, and the impacts of both its present and its probable future disposition be addressed. ³Piecemealing² is in violation of state standards. For example, according to the Initial Study (IS) a preliminary biological assessment was conducted on the entire 510 acres, and some habitats ³suitable for some special status species² were discovered. But the IS then says that since ³the project site will only occupy 292.2 acres,² the special habitats on the remaining land need not be considered. The Sierra Club does not not consider this assumption to be acceptable.
2. Aesthetics. Esthetic impacts will be drastic and complicated. One aspect that that the IS does not mention explicitly is Provinsalia¹s close proximity (less than a half-mile) to public land that is being managed as wilderness and will be officially designated as Federal Wilderness if and when pending legislation becomes law. Portions of the wilderness area would directly overlook the Provinsalia development, and its presence in the viewshed (and the ³noiseshed²) could substantially degrade the wilderness character of a particularly precious remnant of our wild heritage.
3. Air Quality. Thousands of additional vehicles will circulate through the immediate area and through the larger community if this project comes to fruition. Automobiles belonging to Provinsalia residents will create only a part of the extra traffic; services to Provinsalia will generate an additional burden, and so will the additional infill development that will inevitably ensue. A negative impact on air quality will be unavoidable, and could be severe.
4. Biological Resources. The IS proposes ³a field search in early spring 2005² to discover rare plants, especially in the vicinity of an isolated vernal pool. Did this search take place, and if so what was discovered? The threatened elderberry beetle is already known to exist on the property. The IS categorizes the impact on this species as ³less than significant with mitigation,² but the proposed mitigation measures (removing and replanting the elderberries to portions of the property outside the current development site and transporting the beetles) are entirely inadequate. Such a proposal can only originate from a profound misunderstanding of the complex web of life that exists in natural habitat. Such habitat can be destroyed very easily and reconstructed only with great difficulty, and certainly not by merely planting isolated examples of sensitive native vegetation. To return to the subject of piecemealing, the ultimate disposition of ALL the elderberries on the property, not only those ³within the development area² must be discussed at the present time. Preservation of natural habitat within the undeveloped area (as, in a minor way, is being proposed by the elderberry-transplantation proposal) might, under some circumstances, provide suitable mitigation measures for the destruction accompanying a massive development, but this compensation could only become operative within the context of a plan for the whole entity. Using bits and pieces of the undeveloped area as an unofficial holding area for individual species (or for communities, or for habitat) without establishing its status permanently is not protection, but a virtual guarantee of ultimate destruction. As for the two specific elderberries, a decent standard of protection for the beetles requires that not only the bushes but a significant area of vegetation surrounding them be maintained in its natural condition. Similar considerations apply to wetland degradation. The fact that ³only 0.2 acres² of the 20.92 acres of identified riparian wetlands fall ³within the development area² does not by any means ensure that the remaining portions of this particularly sensitive habitat will be unaffected by a project of this magnitude. The time to address those effects is now, before irreversable changes have taken place.
5. Cultural Resources. Paragraph (b) states that three archeologically significant sites have been identified, and that additional studies are in progress. In the text the impact is identified, very correctly, as ³potentially significant,² but on the checklist this has erroneously been included in the ³less than significant² category. The possibilities of disturbing human remains is also categorized as ³less than significant,² which is a most improbable assumption in an area that has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for many thousands of years, and which is already known to contain several archeological sites. All these impacts should be fully addressed in the EIR.
6. Geology and soils. Erosion and other impacts of grading have been categorized as ³less than significant with mitigation² because it is the intent to prepare engineered grading plans for the steepest slopes and to follow established erosion control practices. But unusually heavy precipitation during construction, to say nothing of seismic events, can overwhelm the best laid plans and make the wisest practices inadequate. Because of the project¹s location immediately adjacent to Cache Creek the possibilities of catastrophic degradation cannot be ignored, and -- again -- should be fully addressed in the EIR.
7. Hazards. Both of the significant hazards which have been identified in the IS (regular passage of propane tanker trucks and the risk of wildland fire) ultimately relate to the extreme inadequacy of Dam Road to service a project of this magnitude. Geographic constraints, to say nothing of the presence of many existing residences, severely limit the possibilities for widening and straightening Dam Road, but even if it were improved beyond a standard that seems at all feasible this large community could still, in a worst-case scenario, wind up in what would be in effect a fiery death trap.
8. Hydrology. Hydrological impacts are immensely complex, and potentially severe. The fullest investigations are essential. Two categories of potential contaminants warrant particularly close attention: runoff from roadways, which always carries a heavy load of vehicular pollutants, and runoff from the proposed golf course, which will be saturated with pesticides and herbicides. The site¹s location on a major watercourse makes adverse effects particularly probable and their consequences particularly devastating.
9. Land Use and Planning. The IS assertion that the developer¹s application for a rezone and General Plan amendment eliminates any conflict with an ³applicable land use plan² is circular reasoning to say the best, since the EIR is being prepared in order to support his application. The project is NOT in conformity with existing planning guidelines; those guidelines should only be revised if the revision will promote the general good of the community, and his application to change them for his own profitable purposes cannot be presented as substantiation of itself.
10. Noise. As acknowledged in the IS, several potential impacts from noise and vibration are inevitable in a project of this magnitude, and they should all be explored fully in the EIR.
11. Population and Public Services. The IS refers repeatedly to a proposed ³720 dwelling units² but the project description included in the Notice of Preparation describes it as consisting of ³720 single family² units PLUS ³120 attached residential units² -- in all, 840 units, not 720. Which numbers are correct? In either case, such a large augmentation to a small rural community¹s population will create drastic changes, and could easily alter its character irreparably. Prudence demands that the city government investigate the wisdom of transformations of this magnitude. Unprecedented demands for public services are only the most obvious of a host of concerns.
12. Recreation. The IS states that the project does not intend to construct ³recreational facilities which may have adverse effects on the environment² -- thus completely disregarding the potentially destructive effects of the proposed golf course.
13. Transportation/traffic. The IS acknowledges the enormous increase in traffic that this project will inevitably generate, and proposes to address them in detail in the EIR. It is difficult to imagine the adequacy of any proposed mitigation. 14. Utilities. The IS also acknowledges potentially significant impacts on sewage treatment, water supply, and waste disposal. Mitigation measures will have to be complex, and should certainly include mitigation for the inevitable financial burdens. Determinations of who should pay for what, not only during development but permanently, must be incorporated in the plan from the beginning.
Lake Group Chair