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The Kaweah Coalition v. Tulare County
The 2020 fire season has been brutal. Dozens of small communities around California have burned to the ground, leaving tens of thousands of people living out of their cars, in motels, vacation rentals, or crammed into relatives’ homes. Our small community of Three Rivers faces similar existential threats, to which we are all reminded of daily.
We are only $10,000 away from reaching our fundraising goal of $50,000!
Concerns over wildfire threat and safety have been a cornerstone of our case against Tulare County. By fighting this landmark battle we are helping to set several important legal precedents for stronger and more fire-resilient communities across rural California.
Few communities have been able to resist the economic pressures and encroachment of commercial development into our wildlands, as the juggernaut of local County Supervisors, land-use planners, and attorneys have made this fight nearly impossible for citizens with scarce resources.The buck stops here. We have a golden opportunity, backed by a prestigious law firm, to say ‘enough is enough!’
Take a stand on the right side of history with us!
It has been a monumental achievement to get as far as we have with grassroots community support and a lot of hard work. Because this case is so groundbreaking and important, Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer has offered to represent us pro bono. This is a testament to the validity of our case and our law firm’s confidence in prevailing.
This case represents a crossroads for the Foothill Communities of California: if we prevail, we will be forcing the County to uphold their own laws and development criteria which we, as citizens, have collectively influenced for generations. If we lose, the County will continue promoting their haphazard ‘leap-frog’ development into dangerous areas of rural Tulare County.
Why this is such an important case-
The County is setting a dangerous precedent by allowing commercial development in non-commercially zoned lands along the Wildland Urban Interface, leaving the community of Three Rivers vulnerable to increased catastrophic wildfire threat. Similar violations to zoning ordinances occurred in the town of Paradise, CA for a decade before it was destroyed by wildfire two years ago.
Redwood Ranch would be the first commercial development in Tulare County sited within a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, and the first commercial project approved in highly flammable mixed chaparral.
Redwood Ranch is the first commercial development sited on a single ingress and egress in Tulare County, with no alternative evacuation route.
The County has misrepresented the Fire Safety Plan conducted by the Tulare County Fire Department to the general public, consistently making false statements about a fire evacuation plan from Redwood Ranch in the event of a wildfire.
The Tulare County Resource Management Agency (RMA) has superseded the authority of the Tulare County Fire Department by approving a larger event capacity (250 guests) than the Fire Department approved for the venue site (150), thereby setting a dangerous and illegal precedent to ignore State statutory code under Title 14: SRA Fire Safe Regulations, and Title 24 (The California Fire Code).
Tulare County is blatantly violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which sets a precedent for future development projects to proceed with little or no environmental oversight. The project was illegally approved with no environmental review.
Project applicants (Redwood Ranch) and Tulare County have expressed an intent to “piecemeal” environmental review, opting for a Zoning Variance at a later date to lessen the overall appearance of the project. This is illegal under CEQA and statutory law. Piecemealing allows developers to downplay the size, scope, and impacts of a project.
By refusing to conduct any environmental review of Redwood Ranch, the County has sent a strong message to residents of Three Rivers that they have no care or concern for the health and safety of our community and surrounding wildlife habitat. Without the proper environmental review, potential damages are incalculable.
Zoning and Land Use Violations:
The Redwood Ranch project fails to meet over two dozen Development Standards listed within Section 3.12 of the Foothill Growth Management Plan. By overstepping our county planning documents, the County is effectively undermining our zoning ordinances, making it ‘open season’ for other types of commercial developments to occur in agriculturally zoned areas.
Allowing Redwood Ranch to take advantage of low property taxes on Williamson Act parcels that are zoned for Agriculture, while other businesses are forced to operate in commercial corridors and pay much higher tax rates is unfair and dishonest.
Redwood Ranch would be the first commercial development in Tulare County on substandard roadways which fail to meet County statutory code and engineering requirements. This creates a severe threat to public safety should there be a need to evacuate.
By allowing noise and light levels that are inconsistent with county and state regulations, the neighborhood of the upper South Fork, as well as surrounding wildlife habitat is severely impacted. Yet again, this sets a precedent for surrounding foothill communities, making them vulnerable to the unregulated abuse of sound and light ordinances.
Petition for Declaratory Relief:
As a cause of action within the lawsuit, The Kaweah Coalition has filed a petition for declaratory relief. If granted by the court, this would set case law for all of Tulare County and would effectively mandate the Tulare County Resource Management Agency to abide by the General Plan and County Code and to apply the proper environmental review.
A brief update on the Case-
We are proceeding ahead with litigation. Due to Covid-19 the courts have been delayed, however things are beginning to move now and we anticipate our trial date being set for some time early 2021. We feel extremely fortunate to have been taken on by one of the top 2 environmental law firms on the west coast- Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer.
How Pro Bono works and why we are still fundraising-
Our agreement with CBCM is that they will represent us for free above a cap of $50,000. The cap of $50,000 will kick in about halfway through the litigation process. Without this golden opportunity, we would not be able to afford the high cost of legal fees.
Thanks to your generous donations, we are only $10,000 away from achieving our goal!
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Stand with the Kaweah Coalition as we hold the County of Tulare accountable!
The County of Tulare is approving commercial developments in remote, “open space” lands. This threatens traditional Agricultural land uses, such as cattle ranching and farming, and introduces severe wildfire threats to the community of Three Rivers and beyond.
We object to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) being categorically overridden repeatedly in favor of commercial development, with complete disregard for public safety concerns and open space preservation.
The Kaweah Coalition has secured legal counsel through the services of Chatten-Brown, Carstens, and Minteer LLP, a prestigious law firm based out of Hermosa Beach, CA. With legal aid, the Kaweah Coaltion aims to hold our local planning agency accountable to the enironmental and economic standards established in the Foothill Growth Management Plan and Tulare County General Plan.
Your contribution for this legal aid, even $5 or regular contribution of $1-$5 each month makes a difference!
Let’s set a precedent here and for other parts of our Golden State!
EVERY DOLLAR MATTERS!
The Kaweah Coalition is a recognized 501(c)(3) charitable, nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible to the extent you can deduct charitable contributions.