Villages of Lakeview would threaten wildlife refuge, air quality, say opponents
■ Chronicle News Service
RIVERSIDE, Calif.— The Riverside County Board of Supervisors today approved a massive sprawl development that will threaten the nearby San Jacinto Wildlife Area while worsening air quality for county residents, according to a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Today’s vote resurrects the Villages of Lakeview project with only minor cosmetic changes after the Center for Biological Diversity and allies successfully challenged the development in 2012, when a judge blocked the project over environmental concerns. The reworked Villages of Lakeview would still bring 8,725 homes and 1.38 million square feet of commercial uses to a rural agricultural area that provides vital habitat for imperiled wildlife.
“Riverside County supervisors just greenlighted dumb growth at its absolute worst,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center. “Villages of Lakeview threatens the beautiful San Jacinto Wildlife Area, a haven for hikers, birders and hunters. This massive development will also impose a crushing burden of traffic and air pollution on a county that already has way too much of both.”
Villages of Lakeview would dirty the county’s air and disproportionately increase greenhouse gas emissions by placing thousands of residents far from jobs, public services and transportation, according to the Center. Riverside County already routinely receives “F” ratings from the American Lung Association for having some of America’s most dangerously unhealthy air quality. Poor air quality causes asthma, lung cancer and other health problems.
Today’s vote leaves the public with approximately 30 days to file litigation challenging Riverside County’s environmental review of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act. The Center has raised concerns in comment letters and public hearings that the environmental review did not adequately disclose or mitigate the development’s substantial environmental impacts.
If allowed to move forward, the development would remake San Jacinto Valley, which is home to numerous imperiled wildlife species, including burrowing owls, Swainson’s hawks, tricolored blackbirds, willow flycatchers and Stephens’ kangaroo rats. The valley is also one of Southern California’s most important areas for migratory birds and renowned as a habitat for birds of prey, including bald and golden eagles and peregrine falcons.
The development will also increase traffic while doing nothing to address California’s housing shortage.
“The county’s own analysis concedes that the project area already has too much housing and not enough jobs,” said Rose. “This project will worsen that imbalance and take Riverside in the wrong direction.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.