Wild Heritage Planners - Sustainable Solutions, Urban Policy Analysis, Environmental Advocacy
DISASTER IN THE GULF OF MEXICO ILLUSTRATES THE RISKS OF OFFSHORE DRILLING – GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER BACKS DOWN FROM PXP-TRANQUILLON RIDGE PROPOSAL FOR THE SANTA BARBARA COAST
The harsh reality of the oil blowout-sunken rig disaster in the Gulf convinced Governor Schwarzenegger to withdraw his support for the bid by Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) for the first new offshore drilling lease in the California Coastal Tidelands Sanctuary in 41 years. The proposal for Tranquillon Ridge, Santa Barbara County, would have been a bad deal for the State of California, with major risks to coastal economies and ecosystems without assurance of the purported benefits; as well, it most certainly would have led to increased drilling at a beachfront near you. Read the opinion-editorial piece by Jack Eidt in the Orange County Register here University Link Magazine
We laud the Governor’s decision and welcome a broader dialogue with actors on the many sides of the debate. We can only hope this horrible tragedy still unfolding on the Gulf Coast after many months, coupled with the continuing climate change discussions and the coming scarcity of dirty dangerous fossil fuel supplies, will inspire the creation of a clean, renewable, and sustainable national energy portfolio.
On January 29, 2009, the California State Lands Commission, headed by Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi and Controller John Chiang, voted down a proposal by PXP and Santa Barbara environmental groups to slant drill about eighteen new wells from existing Platform Irene into the state waters. PXP promised a $100 million up-front “signing bonus” and a couple of billion dollars for state and local coffers over the life of the project. As well, they pledged to close operations at four platforms and two onshore processing plants within 15 years, donate 4,000 acres of land in Lompoc and Gaviota, and contribute $1.5 million towards hybrid buses. After the State Lands staff found the deal to have unenforceable end dates, many questions about title on donated lands, and significant concerns about oil spills and blow-outs on the coastal ecosystem, the commission voted 2-1 against the proposal.
Not least of the issues is the political precedent of allowing the first drilling in the state sanctuary since the Santa Barbara spill in 1969. Though proponents of the deal claim that this would have been a one-time exception, Californians must face the reality that offshore drilling leases will be offered in state waters from Mendocino to La Jolla as soon as it is again politically feasible. Though the moratorium against drilling in the federal Outer Continental Shelf is in effect until 2017, this can be repealed or reconsidered should the political winds change.
The false assertion that new technology has made oil blowout disasters a thing of the past was made painfully clear by recent events, a repeat of the massive spill from the West Atlas Rig in the Timor Sea off the magical West Australian Kimberley Coast during August through October of 2009. No end is yet in site for the Gulf Coast, its fisheries, ecosystems, tourist industry: the entire coast is now threatened with the spewing of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil creating a slick the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Because of the logistics involved, the gushing oil cannot be capped for possibly months, severely impacting migrating whales and turtles and causing an expensive clean-up with no guarantee of sopping up the crude.
See Jack Eidt featured in regarding WHP’s opposition to the Tranquillon Ridge Proposal.
Read the letters published by Wild Heritage Planners and the organized opposition to the original deal in the Santa Barbara Independent…
TEJON RANCH: A SPRAWL TOO FAR?
On October 5, 2009, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the Tejon Mountain Village (TMV) Specific Plan, the first phase and most environmentally damaging part of the largest development project ever proposed in the State of California by an LLC composed of the Tejon Ranch Company and DMB of Scottsdale, AZ.
The TMV Specific Plan endeavors to build 3,450 homes (including condominiums, apartments, and townhouses) in a private gated community on lots ranging from 6,700 square feet to over 20 acres. They also seek authorization for 160,000 sf of commercial buildings, 750 resort hotel rooms, two heliports, two 18-hole golf courses and about 320,000 sf of support space for commercial amenities.
All of this is slated for ridges and hillsides mapped by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as Critical California Condor Habitat, including flight pathways, the only significant feeding area close to the Sespe-Piru nesting site, and the Tejon deer herd — a forage source for the wild population. In 1987, there were only 22 condors left in the world, and after the most aggressive effort to bring an endangered species back from the brink of extinction, the Condor Recovery Program has increased the population of wild birds to 188 in California. Protection of critical habitat is integral to the bird’s continued survival. The FWS still has not approved Tejon’s Habitat Conservation Plan and Incidental Take Permit and is not expected to do so anytime soon.
The project also threatens to overwhelm Interstate 5 with traffic; poses serious questions about water availability; impacts Native American sacred sites; will expose thousands of new residents and millions of dollars of real estate to serious threat of wildfire destruction as residents of the neighboring Angeles National Forest can attest; and begs the question how much more can we stress our environmental sustainability as our urban boundaries continue to encroach on the already encroached-upon wildlands. The Center for Biological Diversity along with local groups have filed suit against the Kern County decision.
An agreement in April 2008 between five major environmental groups and the Tejon Ranch Company has arranged for the long-term preservation of 90 percent of Tejon Ranch, the largest contiguous privately-owned piece of land in California, 270,000 acres, located 100 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Comprising four distinct bioregions, where the Sierra Nevada rolls into the coastal range, and the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert join together across 7,000 foot mountains, its protection is the keystone to California’s natural legacy, and is a significant achievement.
As part of the deal, however, the groups have agreed not to oppose major development projects proposed for the remaining 10 percent of the Ranch. These include in addition to Tejon Mountain Village, the massive Centennial, 23,000 homes or maybe 70,000 new residents to the highlands, and the I-5 Tejon Industrial Complex. See http://www.tejonpreserve.com/ for details. WHP asserts that these projects would not only spell jeopardy for the condor, but the regional environmental sustainability of Southern California as well. See WHP’s response in the LA Times to this destructive urban sprawl, the press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, and the original article in the Times. See also www.savetejonranch.org/
TRESTLES BEACH AND THE SAN MATEO WATERSHED SAVED!
COMMERCE DEPARTMENT UPHOLDS COASTAL COMMISSION DECISION TO DENY THE EXTENSION OF THE SR 241 TOLL ROAD THROUGH SAN ONOFRE STATE PARK.
The Department of Commerce denied the bid by the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agency to override the California Coastal Commission’s decision last February denying the Coastal Consistency Permit for the SR 241 toll road extension. Federal officials could only override the state’s decision if the project had no alternatives or was necessary to national security, and the announcement on December 18, 2008 said neither of those criteria were met.
The Coastal Zone Management Act, approved in 1972, was designed to protect endangered species, wetlands, archaeological sites, public access, and recreational resources. Proposed through San Onofre State Beach and the Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy, the Coastal Commission did not consider the merits of building a new road worth destroying a popular campground, a world class surfbreak, the Native American sacred site of Panhe, and a wilderness conservancy protecting one of the last undeveloped watersheds in Southern California. Wild Heritage Planners has worked with the TCA, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), as well as all local and regional governing bodies to identify alternatives that would preserve state park and wilderness areas while providing for future mobility given the proposed 14,000-home Rancho Mission Viejo project slated for inland South Orange County.
Thanks to all of you who wrote letters, showed up to hearings, and displayed your Save Trestles bumper stickers. It was through your participation that this destructive and unnecessary project has been denied further consideration. The TCA will most definitely propose alternative routes, but they are facing a business model that is financially upside down as witnessed by their October 2008 request for a $1.1 billion bailout from the federal government. Private financing of public infrastructure sounds great to politicians upfront, but the truth is the public pays in tax revenues and toll fares while our existing roadways and mass transit plans are relegated to the back shelf. This is a wake-up call for Orange County officials to face reality that toll roads through state parks to service unsustainable development projects will no longer be tolerated.
Wild Heritage Planners is a consultant and advocacy organization dedicated to improving urban centers and existing neighborhoods through smart growth and sustainable environmental planning, formulating transportation alternatives, while preserving wilderness and open spaces.
WHP collaborates with local and regional governments, land developers, non-profits, neighborhood groups, and private citizens to offer educated and balanced solutions to environmental and urban growth issues that maximize public benefit while protecting property rights and sensitive habitats.