(The Case involved Sierra Pacific Industries' Lands around 15 miles northwest of the town of Truckee which are part of the "checkerboard" of lands given to the railroads in the 1800's, with the federal government retaining every other square mile)
February 27, 2009, Sierra City--The High Sierra Rural Alliance announced the successful settlement of a lawsuit the group brought against the County of Sierra and Sierra Pacific Industries. HSRA had challenged the County's approval to rezone over 7000 acres of forested lands from a zone which limited development to a zone which would encourage development. Under the agreement the property owned by SPI in a remote and environmentally sensitive area within the checkerboard of the Tahoe National Forest will remain protected from premature development.
Under the settlement the County has agreed to rescind the disputed approval. Sierra Pacific Industries has agreed to cover all of HSRA's attorney's fees and court costs, and HSRA has agreed not to pursue the litigation in court.
The HSRA contended the rezone was not consistent with the County's General Plan; and, the exemption from environmental analysis the project received was inappropriate. "The suit challenged the legality of the rezone. The settlement was the most cost effective solution for SPI, if they believed their legal position lacked merit," said Michael Graf, attorney for HSRA. With the intent of expanding into the real estate business, the rezone was one in a series of rezones totaling more than 40,000 acres SPI has sought across Sierra Nevada counties in California. The HSRA argued such a vast project by the largest landowner in the state required environmental review. The project was approved with an exemption from analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act.
HSRA spokeswoman, Stevee Duber, stated," the settlement is great news for the integrity of the Tahoe National Forest. It doesn't make sense to convert remote forested lands for development in view of the environmental challenges we are facing due to climate change and the critical role forests play in enhancing watershed and habitat health,."
"Sierra County's General Plan is very specific about encouraging development around existing communities and discouraging development in areas remote from existing services. It's a Smart Growth principle which is widely accepted and supported by a diverse group of organizations, industries, local governments and most recently the State of California in Senate Bill 375" continued Duber, "When these sorts of policies are easily overcome, land speculation and escalating prices result, which in turn creates more pressure for random, unconstructive development."
The rezone, along Henness Pass Road between Perazzo Meadows and Jackson Reservoir would have opened the Tahoe National Forest to significant environmental impacts, as well as alter the rural qualities of Sierra County. Not only would it have removed valuable timberland from production, it would have compromised the commercial use and the forest health of the remaining productive timberlands by introducing incompatible uses. Development on private in-holdings within the National Forest alters the forest structure, can interrupt ecological processes; increase the potential for invasive species, disease and insect infestations; increase fire danger and promote rural sprawl.
Just a few weeks ago it was reported that the Northern Sierra Partnership acquired Perazzo Meadows, a 932 acre parcel, bordering the 7000 acres saved from rezoning by the HSRA. The acquisition is part of a broader plan to permanently protect the forest by purchasing as much as 200,000 acres of private in-holdings within the National Forest. The parcels, which had been slated for rezoning, are shown in red on the map below.
For the past three years the HSRA has been watch-dogging Sierra and Plumas County land-use decisions. The organization is a nonprofit based in Sierra City committed to preserving the rural qualities of the area. They believe rural values provide a balance between human, economic and environmental wellbeing. For more information, visit http://www.highsierrarural.org/.