Villages of Lakeview project threatens the county’s quality of life, environmental groups claim

Villages of Lakeview threaten wildlife refuge, water supplies and air quality

■ Chronicle News Service

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society sued Riverside County Jan. 9 for approving the Villages of Lakeview, a massive 8,725-unit development that they say will threaten the nearby San Jacinto Wildlife Area and worsen air quality and traffic for county residents.
The lawsuit claims the development will use an astonishing 1.5 billion gallons of water per year, but the county refused to consider the impacts of additional water use on California rivers and streams.
“As climate change pressures California’s water supplies, county supervisors are ignoring the risks of building another remote city in arid Southern California,” said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This massive development is an enormous threat to air, water and wildlife.”
Because the development is located far from existing jobs and services, residents would travel approximately 500 million miles in vehicles per year. These added trips would disproportionately increase greenhouse gas emissions and further contaminate the county’s air, which routinely receives “F” ratings from the American Lung Association because it is dangerously unhealthy, according to the complaint.
“This ill-conceived sprawl project will undermine California’s climate goals, exacerbate traffic, and increase air pollution for county residents,” said George Hague of the Sierra Club’s San Gorgonio Chapter.
The project would radically reshape rural San Jacinto Valley and destroy habitat for imperiled wildlife species, including burrowing owls, Swainson’s hawks, tricolored blackbirds, willow flycatchers, and Stephens’ kangaroo rats.
“Adding tens of thousands of people next to the sensitive San Jacinto Wildlife Area is incredibly irresponsible planning,” said Drew Feldmann of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “Why is the county so intent on ignoring the wishes of the rural Nuevo community and rolling out the red carpet for a mega-developer?”
The Center and allies successfully challenged the development in 2012, when a judge blocked the project due to its environmental impacts. Now the developer has made minor changes and the county has re-approved the project.
The lawsuit is one of a series of court challenges to push Riverside County to seriously consider the far-reaching harms and risks of sprawl development in California. The California Environmental Quality Act requires that when environmental impacts are significant, the approving agency must adopt all feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to reduce those impacts. The county did not require adequate mitigation for the developments impacts on air quality, greenhouse gases, and wildlife, according to a statement issued by the groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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