HELP! (Your Conservation Activities for Native Plant Month)

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Yes, it's really Native Plant WEEK, April 15-21, 2018, but we need a month of work this year. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are things you need to do to help CNPSSD conservation this month. I'm going to highlight some of the same things that Susan Lewitt and Kay Stewart did in their recent article in this blog. Unfortunately for nature, they are not the only things going on right now.

To be blunt, this is the busiest I've ever been as conservation committee chair. Here is what the conservation committee is dealing with, as of St. Patrick's Day:

  • Harmony Grove Village EIR recirculated, comments due April 9. this may have issues with greenhouse gas part of the EIR, since they seem to claim that replacing the native plants with street trees will increase carbon sequestration. My snarky addition to that is, "yes, so long as there is no tree-killing droughts or pests, and the trees don't grow tall enough to block the solar panels you also want to install."

  • Lilac Hills Ranch EIR Recirculated, comments due April 9. See below. This has similar greenhouse gas issues to Harmony Grove, as well as being a zombie project trying to dig itself out of its hole right across the freeway from where the Lilac Fire started last fall.

  • Pure Water North City Reclamation Plant goes to SD City Council for approval April 10. There is a major issue with Geothallus tuberosus, a rare liverwort that occurs on the project site, even though they didn't survey for it. See below.

  • Otay Ranch Village 14 EIR, comments due April 16. This is a really nasty project proposed just west of Proctor Valley. There are a number of rare plant issues, and the environmental community is gearing up for a major fight on this. See below.

  • Save Our San Diego Countryside Initiative, petitions due May 1. See below.

  • Merge 56 Update: Going to the SD City Council for approval, probably May 22. Hopefully I will not be the only person testifying against this.

  • This doesn't count developments like Newland Sierra, Safari Highlands, and DS-24/Borrego Springs Country Estates, which will (likely) come through later this spring or summer.

    Here's the "See belows:"

    1. Lilac Hills Ranch: Yes, this is effectively the same project that you voted against in 2016. It's still alive because they fiddled with it a little bit and added back the stuff they stripped out from the referendum version, thus making it a "new project."

    The issue for CNPSSD is the Lilac Hills Ranch site farm land, so there aren't any big plant issues for us to take the lead on. I will certainly write a comment letter, but it will be focused on their, ahem, new and improved greenhouse gas analysis.

    This is where you come in. You need to contact your supervisor on this issue. Here's how:

    1. Go to: /bos.html

    1. Click on the link to your supervisor, and when you get to their homepage, click on the "Contact" link.

    2. Either call or email and tell them politely that you are one of their constituents, that you are troubled by the new proposed Lilac Hills Ranch Project, that this is effectively the same project that was rejected 2:1 by a bipartisan majority of the County voters in 2016, and that you expect them to respect the will of the voters and to not approve this project when it comes before them. Ask for updates from their office on this project and thank them for their attention to this issue and the time they've spent on it.

    3. If you like, call or email me and tell me how it went.

    What's going on here: The developer knows two things: right now he has a strongly pro-development County Supervisor Board to pass this project, but he probably won't have one as favorable in 2019. He also knows that the SOS initiative is in the pipeline. If it passes, he'll have to face the voters again after 2019 if he doesn't get the project in now. We're holding the supervisors' feet to the fire, since they will likely vote on Lilac Hills Ranch before the election.

    Yes, concerted action by CNPSSD members will be more effective than me just writing a letter. Please step forward and send an email or call.

    2. The SOS Initiative: What I'd add to Susan and Kay's article is that I've got a copy of the petition, too, so if you see me at a committee meeting, board meeting, General Meeting, or the Garden Tour, please take a minute to sign it if you haven't already. If you want to get involved in circulating the petition, contact Sierra Club (858-569-6005) to get involved.

    In a nutshell, if someone wants a General Plan Amendment project that increases housing density beyond what the General Plan allows, they have to do the CEQA process, get the supervisors to pass it, then (the new step) get it past the voters. Hopefully this will hold the supervisors more accountable for the projects they approve, and we'll get better decisions and more projects that fall within the scope of the General Plan. The General Plan favors truly affordable housing and better transportation, so hopefully the SOS initiative will stem the flood of high end fire traps being proposed for the back country (and developments like Lilac Hills Ranch, Newland Sierra, and Safari Highlands have the only minimum, legally required amount of affordable housing required by law, despite widespread ads to the contrary. They will NOT solve the County's housing crisis, but sticking to the General Plan could help).

    3. Geothallus tuberosus and the CNPSSD legal fund.Geothallus tuberosus is this unusual little liverwort that turns out to be really, really rare. I've gotten involved in trying to conserve it, as has the CNPS Bryophyte chapter. We're probably going to send a listing petition to get it protected under the California Endangered Species Act.

    The Pure Water North City Reclamation Project might impact one of the 14 known Geothallus populations. Over the next month, I'm going to try to convince the City to do the right thing, which in this case simply means avoiding the Geothallus, which might turn out to be trivially easy. We'll need to survey the project sites, but it should be a simple matter of mapping Geothallusand avoiding it when the project goes in. However, if they remain as obdurate as they were in their response on the Pure Water EIR, then CNPS may well pursue litigation to protect Geothallus. This is the last option if all else fails, but protecting rare species is one of CNPS' core missions, so this is not something we should turn away from.

    That's not the only thing we're spending our legal fund on. We've been contributing funds to Endangered Habitats League (EHL) to help pay for lawyers' time in responding to the VTP, and we're likely to spend money contributing to the legal response on Otay Village 14. EHL has been doing much of the legal heavy lifting for the southern California conservation community, and where their work overlaps ours, we support each other in combating problematic projects.

    Unfortunately, lawyers are expensive, and our funds are limited. If you can, please contribute to the legal fund. Contact me or the chapter treasurer (Connie di Girolamo), or send your check to CNPSSD, P O Box 121390, San Diego CA 92112-1390, and note in the memo line that it is a donation to the CNPSSD legal fund.

    Thank you for all the help you give. Happy Native Plant April!