The Board of Supervisors approved several key steps recently in development of the proposed Placer County Conservation Plan.
Known informally as the PCCP, the plan would seek to balance growth and the conservation of natural resources in unincorporated areas of West Placer and the buildout area of the city of Lincoln’s General Plan. The plan would be in effect for the next 50 years.
At their July 10 meeting, board members directed county staff to:
- Prepare a new draft of the PCCP conservation strategy that takes into account changed circumstances, updated information, changes in growth estimates, and responses to comments from federal and state regulatory agencies;
- Proceed with an environmental review that will result in the creation of a joint federal environmental impact statement and state environmental impact report; and
- Prepare a PCCP finance plan.
Supervisors Robert M. Weygandt and Kirk Uhler, the county’s representatives on an ad hoc group that is spearheading development of the PCCP, noted that a broad group of interested parties are working together to create a plan that balances growth and conservation.
“Conceptually, I’m of the understanding that everybody is exactly on the same page,” Supervisor Weygandt said, noting that many details of the plan still need to be worked out.
After the board’s unanimous vote on July 10, he said, “I think this is a great milestone.”
Supervisor Uhler emphasized the plan must serve the interests of all stakeholders, including the business community. “Let’s remember that, while it is a conservation plan, the development part of it is critical to its success,” he said.
The PCCP would create a comprehensive framework for complying with federal and state environmental rules.
Under the plan, Placer County and City of Lincoln would assume responsibility for issuing permits to individual projects in many cases and federal and state agencies would monitor compliance with their rules.
The PCCP’s goals include:
- Providing property owners and the business community with a streamlined, more predictable, less time-consuming approval process for development projects;
- Promoting long-range, comprehensive planning that would help protect the area’s high quality of life and preserve its most important natural resources; and
- Providing a landscape that will be managed in perpetuity that can sustain and recover populations of state and federally listed endangered species.
The Placer County Water Agency also is working with the county and city on development of the PCCP and will be seeking regulatory coverage for large-scale water infrastructure projects and small-scale maintenance activities.
At the July 10 meeting, Assistant Director Loren Clark of the county Community Development Resource Agency told the board that development of the PCCP has reached a stage where increased interaction with stakeholders and opportunities for public input will be vital.
He presented a revised PCCP map that groups properties into four categories:
- Areas that already are developed or are expected to accommodate growth over the next 50 years;
- A reserve area that includes properties already permanently protected from development and a proposed Reserve Acquisition Area, or RAA;
- A Stream Zone that represents areas along major stream corridors that would be protected from future incompatible development; and
- Land within cities that are not participating in development of the plan.
The RAA identifies areas that likely would be the focus of conservation efforts, but the PCCP would not change the zoning or land use designations on any properties in the proposed reserve area. Under the PCCP, property and conservation easements would only be acquired from willing sellers and landowners could continue to use their properties consistent with contemporary rules and regulations. Most properties in the proposed reserve area are zoned for farming and are designated for agricultural uses in the County General Plan.
“The entire RAA would not be protected,” explained a staff report to the board. “Only those lands necessary to meet the conservation objectives of the PCCP would be acquired.”
Clark told the board that an economic forecast commissioned by the county last fall projects that West Placer will grow at a slower rate than originally anticipated. If that forecast proves accurate, growth will have significantly fewer impacts on plants and animals protected by the federal and state regulations over the 50-year period. The staff report noted, for example, that the lower projected growth rate would result in a reduction of approximately 7,000 acres of vernal pool grasslands from the path of development.
Development would be restricted in the reserve area only if a property was acquired in fee title for conservation purposes or a conservation easement was acquired. Conservation easements provide restrictions on the amount of development that can occur while allowing farming to continue. Property owners are compensated financially for conservation easements.
If the plan is enacted, Placer County and Lincoln will assume responsibility for protecting habitat for Swainson’s hawks, Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and other species of wildlife covered by state and federal laws. The plan will also emphasize conservation of important wetlands, riparian woodlands and stream systems through what is known as the County Aquatic Resource Program.
Assuming those responsibilities would allow the county and city to establish streamlined, locally controlled permit processes for property owners whose projects impact endangered species habitats or wetlands. Currently, many property owners must obtain permits from several federal and state agencies for development projects in addition to their local approvals.
Federal agencies that must review and ultimately approve the PCCP include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Two State agencies are also involved: the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“We’ve committed to these agencies that we’re going to do a better job than the existing permitting process,” Supervisor Weygandt explained.
The current mitigation requirements for wetlands and endangered species impacts often result in the conservation of small, isolated habitat and wetlands. These areas are difficult to monitor and manage in perpetuity and are often located in the middle of urban and suburban environments.
The PCCP seeks to coordinate conservation efforts so a large, interconnected reserve system is created. A key focus would be on preserving land within the Bear River and Coon Creek watersheds and on protecting vernal pool grasslands, streams and floodplains on the valley floor.
Most of the plan’s one-time costs would be paid by property owners who develop their land. Even if the PCCP is not enacted, property owners will face comparable or higher costs because they already must comply with federal and state laws that require them to mitigate for impacts their development projects have on endangered species habitats and wetlands.
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