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MAY 2002

Point Reyes Housing Project Approvals Appealed To Coastal Commission - By Louis Nuyens

Following a slurry of County approvals on 19 March 2002 for the Ecumenical Association for Housing's (EAH) Point Reyes Station (PRS) project, which seemed to guarantee the end of open public hearings on the project, an appeal to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) has been filed that may result in project review beginning again, essentially from scratch.

The appeal was submitted on 11 April 2002 by Tomales Bay Association, and by Mark Warner and Elena Belsky, who had sponsored the study that comprises part of the substance of the appeal. At press time, letters of support for the appeal were still arriving from Point Reyes Station residents and environmental and community groups.

The decision whether the appeal should be upheld and taken to a full hearing is scheduled for 9 May 2002 in Santa Rosa (Hilton Sonoma County, 3555 Round Barn Blvd., Santa Rosa). An agenda is available at the CC website (www.coastal.ca.gov).

Because the project site is in the "coastal zone," the CCC has authority to override County permits and approvals. Should the CCC choose to hear the appeal, the Coastal Commission authority will immediately supersede the County of Marin as the lead planning agency; new testimony and evidence may be submitted, and all prior evidence will be reviewed.

The County is apparently preparing to justify its decision-making process to the CCC. In a letter released on 24 April, and addressed to EAH Director Lamar Turner, Marin County Community Development Agency Director Alex Hinds paints a rosy, party-line picture of the County's role in managing the project applications, and makes a case that the project will be perfectly fine if all existing conditions of approval are met.

Hinds' letter to Turner states that, "Over the past two years, this project has undergone a rigorous and extensive review by the County and independent consultants for all aspects of developmentÉ" The letter alludes to the 'recent' concerns supported by Fall Creek Engineering (FCE) studies, but argues that the conditions of approval will, "maximize the protection of groundwater, wetlands, and other coastal resources."

In contrast, the appeal-relying in part on studies by Fall Creek Engineering (FCE) that were sponsored by Warner and Belsky to investigate concerns raised early on by local residents-asserts that the project as currently proposed does not ensure adequate safeguards even if existing conditions of approval are met. The appeal cites two primary concerns, "1) the conditions related to wastewater/storm water management are not supported by substantial evidence; 2) the proposed septic system(s) for the project have not been adequately addressed."

Hinds' letter neglects to mention that concerns recently supported by FCE reports were voiced early on by local citizens, that the County's oversight of the disputed aspects of the project was far from rigorous until the appearance of FCE reports, concerns over whether the County lacks the expertise for adequate oversight of such a project, and that the County has had to be forced by public demands and outside agencies into most of the conditions of approval it placed on the project.

In one point of interest, Hinds' letter conspicuously sets up use of "pretreatment devices" should initial septic system design prove inadequate. The County has recently been accused in open hearing of poor planning and attempts to circumvent its own regulations regarding new developments by use of a 'technique:' approving new developments with septic systems designs that are likely to quickly fail, in order to subsequently substitute an alternative/experimental system under the more lenient rules governing repair of existing systems, thereby evading County regulations that prohibit use of alternative/experimental systems in new developments.

Projects that fall within certain criteria and locations, as set forth in the Coastal Act, and Local Coastal Plan (LCP), may be subject to review by the California Coastal Commission. While the CCC normally allows local governments to issue Coastal permits, an appeal of a County or City's decision may trigger a full review by the CCC of all prior planning decisions and permits related to the project in question. The Commissioners have the option of refusing to hear the appeal, and thereby decline to review the local government's decisions, or they can decide that the appeal has merit, and schedule a full hearing.

If the CCC does not take up the appeal, verification that EAH project conditions of approval are met would be left to the County, without open public input. And the project could proceed and be well-under way or nearly complete before all conditions of approval are met; begging the question of what the County would or would not do if the project was nearly complete and it became clear that one or more conditions of approval would not going to be met?

 

 

 

 

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