United States: California Construction And Industrial Materials Association Files CEQA Lawsuit Against Ventura County To Protect Important Mineral Resources

On April 25, 2019, the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association (CalCIMA) filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief ("Petition")  in Ventura County Superior Court challenging the County of Ventura's approval of a proposed "Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor" Project and its implementing regulations.  The Project was approved by the County Board of Supervisors in March 2019 and is intended to "discourage" development within the Project area.  The County approved the Project without completing environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Project is essentially an overlay zone that is several hundred thousand-acres in size and includes thousands of acres of important mineral resource deposits (construction aggregate) that have been previously identified by the California Geological Survey and, in some instances, designated by the State Mining and Geology Board (both of which are separate divisions of the Department of Conservation) as being "regionally significant" in meeting the region's building material needs. These important mineral deposits are a protected natural resource under CEQA and are necessary for use in future housing projects, road construction and repairs, and public infrastructure projects.

Due to the importance of these mineral resources, the County previously approved a Mineral Resources Protection overlay zone intended to ensure the resources were available for future extraction, and not encumbered by incompatible land uses.  The County also enacted specific "Goals, Policies and Programs" in its General Plan to provide enhanced protection for these mineral resources.

Despite the importance of these mineral resources, the County approved the Project overlay zone without completing any CEQA review.  The County concluded that CEQA compliance was not required because the Project is intended to benefit the environment.  However, notwithstanding these potential benefits, the Project and its implementing regulations will cause significant environmental impacts that require environmental review in accordance with CEQA, including the Project's effects on future efforts to extract critical mineral resources.

As alleged in the Petition, the Project and its implementing regulations will impede, hamper, preclude, and interfere with access to and extraction of mineral resources, including the thousands of acres of State-classified and -designated mineral resources located within the Project overlay zone, which constitutes a significant environmental impact under CEQA and violates the mineral resources protection requirements of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA).

Furthermore, it is well-settled that when local and regional sources of mineral resources are not preserved for future extraction, local agencies are forced to obtain the resources from other jurisdictions located farther away, thereby causing additional truck trips, greenhouse gas emissions, and air quality impacts.  This is why the State of California operates a comprehensive Mineral Protection Program to identify, classify, designate, and protect critical mineral resources. (See https://www.conservation.ca.gov/cgs/mrp; https://www.conservation.ca.gov/cgs/minerals/mineral-land-classification-smara).

Land-use regulations that impact communities, industries, wildlife, and the environment are likely to create controversy on all sides. The recent lawsuit filed by several environmental organizations against Los Angeles County for approving development within an unrelated wildlife corridor is a case in point. (See https://www.courthousenews.com/la-county-sued-over-wilderness-housing-project/). Before establishing such regulations, local governments would be wise to ensure that all state and local requirements are followed, including the requirements of CEQA.

CalCIMA is represented by Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell.

A copy of CalCIMA's Petition is available here: https://www.calcima.org/Files/Publications/CalCIMAvCountyofVentura.PDF

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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