Appeals court drops the ax on county oak woodland plan

By From page A1 | January 27, 2012

In a unanimous decision, the Third District Court of Appeal overruled El Dorado Superior County Judge Suzanne N. Kingsbury, and rejected the County’s Oak Woodland Protection Plan.

The decision, which was released Jan. 20, means the case will now be remanded back to Kingsbury. The Court of Appeal also set aside the negative declaration and Option B of the ordinance associated with the management plan.

The Oak Woodland Management Plan, as approved by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, offered two options for protecting county oak woodlands. Option A allowed developers of more than 10 acres to remove only a certain portion of trees on site. Option B allowed developers to remove trees if they paid a mitigation fee of 40 percent of the value of the land under the oak canopies that were to be removed.

According to Planning Director Roger Trout, “Option B has now been litigated and we no longer have that as an option.”

Legal objections to the Oak Woodland Protection Plan date back to 2008. Groups, including the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth, and the California Oak Foundation, challenged the plan in Superior Court, stating that it was contrary to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as well as the county’s 2004 General Plan.

The trial court denied the petition in February 2010 but the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation appealed.

The Court of Appeal apparently agreed with the conservation groups, ruling that the county’s plan violates CEQA. It also held that the county is required “to prepare a tiered EIR for its oak woodland management plan that includes the Option B fee program prior to its adoption of the plan.”

Lou Green, county counsel for El Dorado County, said that they are still deciding whether or not to ask for a review by a higher court. If not, it will go back to Kingsbury and the initial ruling will be set aside,” he said.

Dawn Hodson

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