Citing a January court order that put plans on hold for the controversial Guenoc Valley resort, Lake County supervisors rescinded a 2-year series of land use decisions made to advance the project in a fire-prone area near the Napa county. line.
But representatives of Lotusland Investment Holdings say that doesn’t mean they have abandoned plans for a 16,000-acre housing and tourism development east of Middletown and Highway 29.
Quite the contrary.
Consultants went to work months ago to try to bolster traffic studies for the master planned community and surrounding area, and to satisfy the judge’s concerns about evacuation routes in the event of an emergency.
A supplemental environmental impact report addressing regional evacuation needs and impacts could be available for 30-day public review in late July, according to Lotusland partner Chris Meredith. It will be followed later by approval from the Lake County Board of Supervisors and Superior Court Judge J. David Markham, if all goes well,
If more time is needed to respond to public comments or make revisions on issues related to evacuation and traffic, that will be done, Meredith said.
But “that’s the only thing on the table,” he said. There is no opening “to re-litigate the project itself”.
In fact, despite broad objections to the Guenoc Valley project from the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, who sued the county and developers over the sufficiency of their environmental review document, Markham found fault only with the findings related to the project’s impact on emergency evacuations throughout the region, according to its Jan. 4 ruling.
That was also the issue that drew then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra into the fray in a case brought by his successor, Rob Bonta.
Becerra joined the lawsuit on behalf of his office and the state, saying the environmental review did not adequately address the increased wildfire risk associated with the development and limited evacuation capacity.
Becerra’s February 2021 motion referred to the recent catastrophic wildfires in the area, including the LNU complex fire that swept through much of the project area just months prior.
Markham also acknowledged the substantial risk of injuries and deaths related to mass runoff during the recent catastrophic wildfires in California, noting that some 4,070 people would ultimately be driven to the southern corner of Lake County if the project were fully built.
“This is a significant population increase considering that the Project is located in Lake County Census Tracts 12 and 13, which had a combined estimated population of 10,163 in 2017,” he wrote. “If a forest fire occurs, the residents of the Project will have to evacuate. These individuals are likely to compete with surrounding residents for safe evacuation routes.”
Lake County’s total population is less than 65,000.
The Lotusland proposal has high appeal, with dazzling descriptions of a high-end sustainable community inspired by the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the landscape built on less than 10% of the total area and designed to accommodate wildlife and agriculture. .
Attractions would include a golf course, polo fields, an equestrian center, spa and wellness facilities and mixed commercial uses appropriate for “a world-class tourist destination,” proponents say.
A fire station and helipad are also part of the plans, as are external sprinklers in all buildings, underground utilities and other fire safety measures.
Although the phased construction could eventually include as many as 1,400 real estate villas and five 600-room boutique hotels and tourist apartments, only one phase is addressed in the existing environmental impact report, Meredith said.
Approvals received from county supervisors and recently withdrawn would have allowed 441 residences and 141 tourist units, for a total of 542 units built in 10 years, as the market demanded, he said.
“We are not going to go in on the first day and there are an additional 2,000 cars on the road,” he said.
The new traffic study will also take into account Caltrans’ future investments in expanding highways and other infrastructure, he said.
Lake County Attorney Anita Grant Proof of the required rescission of general plan amendments, permits and other approvals granted to Lotusland in 2020 will be provided to Judge Markham pursuant to the order, but nothing prevents the board from issue again.
Supervisor Moke Simon, in whose southern district the development would be located, has defended the project as a significant investment in Lake County’s economy and housing stock, while praising Lotusland for its respect for local tribal history and residents’ concerns.
He was not available for comment this week, but in a written statement he said: “Lotusland has well demonstrated its intent to develop a project that is environmentally responsible, respectful of Lake County tribal lands and history, and consistent with our countywide economic vision. . This combination of qualities makes them a highly desirable partner.
“The Lotusland project proposal carries many health and safety and other community benefits, including a fire station and helipad that will enhance disaster resilience in the area, and a much-needed additional housing supply. If this project ultimately doesn’t move forward, it will be a tremendous loss.”
Representatives from the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society were not available for comment Friday.
You can reach staff writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.