Board sends SPI rezone back for environmental review
“If and when SPI brings us their environmental review application, we will process it,” Assistant County Community Development Director Joe Bertotti said on Thursday, March 15.
Since former Community Development Director Bob Sorvaag found the project exempt from environmental review before he retired on Oct. 31, 2006, SPI did not submit the information necessary for environmental review.
Bertotti said the review would usually take a few weeks, but since three of the five positions on his staff are vacant, it may take longer.
An initial study will identify areas where there may be impacts on the environment, County Counsel Craig Settlemire said. If new Community Development Director Conrad Montgomery, who was introduced at the board’s March 13 meeting, determines those impacts are not significant, the county may issue a negative declaration, and require no further environmental review.
Or, it could impose mitigation measures to reduce any environmental impacts to less than significant. If the impacts are significant, the county may require an environmental impact report.
SPI’s plan, which wouldn’t take affect for 10 years, includes rezoning 4,860 acres from timber production zone to agricultural forest and 638 acres from TPZ to Upland Conservation/ Resource Management and Natural Habitat Combining District, known as the UC2 zone.
SPI wants to change the zoning on one parcel at Eagle Lake, one near Westwood east of Goodrich Creek, one near Silver Lake and one west of Susanville. The company has owned the land since the mid 1980s.
District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson cast the only no vote on the motion to send the rezoning applications back for further environmental review. Hanson explained his no vote.
“Had there been something different here on the table, I would have voted to send the UC2 back for further environmental review,” he said.
Hanson said, in his opinion, AF zoning and TPZ zoning are very close.
“I don’t think the question is whether we’re going to do an environmental analysis of any project of a large magnitude. It’s at what point we do that analysis,” he said. “And I don’t think this is the appropriate point to do that environmental analysis.”
Hanson reminded county staff and board members, sending the rezone applications back for further environmental analysis does not mean the county will require and EIR, “as some even within certain agencies have suggested.”
He said, “I still think that we can do our environmental review and we may find that a negative dec or a mitigated negative dec is going to be the appropriate document at this time.”
State policy is to protect timber production by discouraging landowners from rezoning property out of TPZ, according to a Jan. 11 letter to District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle from Alan Robinson, the deputy chief of operations for CAL FIRE, the new acronym for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
CAL FIRE suggested the county come up with some possible development options and do an EIR on them. Bertotti said CAL FIRE wants an “analysis as to a hunch as to what might happen.”
CAL FIRE Lassen Modoc Unit Forester Barney Ward said the agency is opposed to the rezonings because he claimed they don’t comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, which, Ward said, requires an EIR for rezoning TPZ land.
“Eventually somewhere down the road we’ll have to be back here opposing taking timber land out of production,” Ward told the board when it first considered the applications at its Feb. 13 meeting. “SPI is doing this up and down the state. Our unit is also opposed to their 7,000-acre TPZ change in Plumas County, which is in the Chester Lake Almanor area. This is a significant impact to our particular unit.”
SPI’s Cedrick D. Twight told the board on Feb. 13, CEQA does not apply to rezonings.
Owners of TPZ land pay annual property taxes based on the value of the land for growing timber, a lower rate than if the land were valued for its highest and best use. In exchange, the owner agrees to manage the land for timber and compatible uses for at least 10 years. State law allows the land owner to petition to remove the TPZ zoning just as SPI did with the rezone requests.
Both the TPZ and AF zones allow uses associated with timber production. The minimum parcel size in the TPZ zone is 160 acres but there is no minimum parcel size in the AF zone. AF zoning actually limits possible uses of the land more than TPZ, Bertotti said.
Single-family homes and kennels are allowed in the UC2 zone, along with other uses that require a use permit. A natural habitat designation protects critical wildlife habitat on the properties.
A letter Twight wrote to the county in November 2006, said SPI owns 164,332 acres in Lassen County.
In an effort to gain some “flexibility for managing these land assets,” company officials looked to “rezone property near highways, county roads and recreational facilities.”
SPI initiated the rezone “as part of the company’s long-term planning effort. This rezoning evaluation represents a 20-40 year look into the future regarding the present and future uses of our forestlands.”
The letter also stated “other potential land uses are speculative and many other factors contribute to whether a development will happen.”
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