Tesla Park Update
Earlier this year, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan introduced AB 1512 and State Senator Steven Glazer introduced SB 799 with the goal of protecting Tesla. Tesla is home to threatened and endangered species and is part of an important wildlife corridor. These bills would direct the State Parks Department to permanently preserve the Tesla area and specifies that $9 million will be provided to the Off-Highway Vehicle Division. The funds have been committed through the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee in Alameda County and no state funds will be required.
Tesla includes at least 42 threatened, endangered and special status wildlife species, designated critical habitats, 13 special status and over 20 locally rare plant species, 7 sensitive vegetation communities, unusual vegetation assemblages, and a critical linkage habitat corridor along the Diablo Range. Tesla’s unique biodiversity is related to its location at the intersection of biotic zones. These factors make Tesla vital for climate resiliency in a time of rapid climate change that threatens species and habitats. This fact was confirmed again by a 2019 UC Berkeley study identifying the area of the northern Diablo Range where Tesla is located, as a top conservation priority for the entire state. Tesla Park’s irreplaceable natural features are matched by its equally important cultural resources from exceptional Native American archeologic and sacred ceremonial sites to the historic Tesla town site.
In January 2021, a court ruled against State Parks and in favor of the County of Alameda’s challenge to the CEQA approval to open Tesla Park to off-highway vehicle recreation and ordered the State to set aside its EIR and General Plan. With this ruling in place, now is an opportune time to pursue a legislative solution.
FOV joined with many other organizations to send letters and voice support for the bills at the legislative committee hearings. SB 799 (Glazer) and AB 1512 (Bauer-Kahan) were passed out of their respective Appropriations Committees the week of May 16 and sent to the floor for a vote. We do not have the date of the floor vote yet, but bills have to pass out of their house of origin by June 4, 2021 to continue to the next house this session. In the meantime, here is what you can do to help. It is important that the Governor understand that there is strong support for preserving Tesla so that he will sign the bills once they are approved. If you have not yet done so, please sign the petition to the Governor NOW to urge him to protect Tesla. We need as many signatures as possible by mid-June. Your support is critical to this effort!
Update on Solar Projects
As you may recall from past newsletters, FOV was actively involved in the environmental review and hearing process for the 100 megawatt, 300 acre Aramis Solar Project in North Livermore. The board concluded that the Aramis Project was inappropriately located, violating Measure D and the East County Area Plan, and harming important habitat for threatened species. Analysis of the environmental impact report found it to be deficient as a matter of fact and law. The board also felt strongly that no solar projects should be approved without a comprehensive county solar policy in place. FOV submitted written comments on the environmental impact report, and board members participated in numerous public hearings culminating in the approval of the project by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. FOV was one of three organizations that filed appeals of the decision, and submitted a detailed brief identifying and analyzing the flaws in the findings and conditions. Attorney Stephen Cassidy represented FOV at the appeal hearing and provided a formal presentation to the Board of Supervisors. Unfortunately, the Supervisors voted to uphold the project despite the evidence presented in support of the appeals.
Twenty years ago, FOV was a strong advocate for the passage of Measure D, intended to protect unincorporated East Alameda County from runaway development and to preserve and enhance agriculture and open space. The Supervisors’ approval of the Aramis Project opens the door to further commercialization of North Livermore and represents a major threat to the aims of Measure D. FOV has concluded that we must continue the fight to protect North Livermore. Consequently we have joined with Save North Livermore Valley and the Ohlone Audubon Society in a lawsuit to challenge the Supervisors’ decision. We believe there are strong legal grounds for overturning the approval, and while we cannot guarantee how the Court will rule, we believe it is important to continue to fight for what we stand for. To support this effort, Save North Livermore Valley has set up a GoFundMe account. All money collected goes to the litigation. To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-north-livermore-valley/
We have good news to share regarding the 6 megawatt, 60 acre Sunwalker Project, also in North Livermore. FOV opposed this project for many of the same reasons we opposed the Aramis Project. In addition, the project would violate the Williamson Act restrictions against covering more than 10% of agricultural land with solar panels and would create cumulative environmental impacts when combined with the Aramis project. The Williamson Act allows landowners to receive reduced property taxes in exchange for keeping their land in productive agriculture. The County staff maintained that the project did not violate the Act. FOV again appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustment’s approval of this project, along with Save North Livermore Valley and Friends of Livermore. The Board of Supervisors heard the appeals on April 22. Karen Swaim, a professional biologist, presented on behalf of FOV. The Supervisors had questions about the Williamson Act and other elements of the project and continued the hearing to June 3. On May 19, we were informed that the applicant has withdrawn its application. This is a significant victory. If we had not continued to fight this project by appealing to the Board of Supervisors and raising the Williamson Act and other issues, this project would have gone forward, further undermining agriculture and open space in North Livermore. If the applicant wants to pursue the project in the future, it will have to file a new application with the county and start the environmental review process all over again. Hopefully, this will not go forward at least until the County adopts a solar policy that specifies the appropriate locations for solar, a process that is currently underway.
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