CNPS Sues Lake County Over Risky Guenoc Valley Development
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Liv O’Keeffe
916-447-2677, ext. 202
The California Native Plant Society sued Lake County this week for its rushed approval of a 16,000-acre luxury complex north of Napa County in fire-prone Guenoc Valley. CNPS, the California Attorney General’s Office, the Center for Biological Diversity, and others point to the project’s safety concerns, inadequate environmental review, and questionable public review process.
Since the county’s July 21 approval of the Guenoc Valley Mixed Use Planned Development, a significant portion of the project’s footprint burned in California’s worst wildfire of 2020, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire. The Guenoc Valley area has a history of frequent wildfire with portions burning in the Butts Fire in 2014 and the Jerusalem and Valley Fires in 2015. Addressing wildfire concerns, a comment letter from the California Attorney General’s Office noted the failure to address the project’s impact on wildfire risk and mitigation, including its effects on the nearby community’s ability to evacuate should wildfires occur.
“I can’t even believe we’re talking about this project given our current wildfire crisis,” CNPS Lead Conservation Scientist Nick Jensen said. “It just seems like a no brainer, even before we begin to address how it’s going to hurt sensitive habitat and endangered species.”
According to the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), Lotusland Investment Holdings, plans to build a nearly 25 square mile luxury resort with five hotels, residential “estate villas,” a golf course, polo fields, spa, retail facilities, two wineries, and a float plane dock and heliports to be used during special events like polo tournaments. Its proponents predict nearby jobs and boosts to the local economy, but CNPS Executive Director Dan Gluesenkamp is skeptical.
“Lake County needs our support, and this isn’t it,” Gluesenkamp said. “Instead of promoting supermansions for jetset global investors, Lake County should invest in housing and jobs that grow the local economy. It’s a bargain with the devil, gambling public safety and irreplaceable natural resources in the hope these kinds of developments pay off for the community.”
The project would destroy flower-rich serpentine habitat, wild native grassland, and sensitive plant communities. It also will threaten at least two endangered plant species: the state-listed Lake County western flax (Hesperolinon didymocarpum) and the federally-listed Keck’s checkerbloom (Sidalcea keckii).
The Center for Biological Diversity and the California Wildlife Foundation documented additional environmental impacts, including the project’s impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and oak woodlands. Despite the Final Environmental Impact Report’s (FEIR) acknowledgement that the project would have a significant impact on vehicle miles traveled in the county, it failed to commit to reduction in GHG emissions.
Beyond direct project impacts, opponents voiced concerns about its transparency and public review process.
“They really ran this project through under the cloak of COVID when everyone was distracted and away,” Gluesenkamp said. “We found out about it at the very last minute, and it’s been incredibly hard – even for conservation professionals – to track what is happening every step of the way. I can only imagine how hard it would be for people to get involved who don’t have the advantage of it being their job to monitor this sort of thing.”
After postponing its decision twice, the county issued a 27-page “Errata” with substantive changes to the project on a Friday, less than two business days before its final hearing to approve the project on July 21. An Erratum is a document typically used to communicate corrections to an EIR; instead, the 27-pages included a new General Plan Amendment and, for the first time, a disclosure that the project would exacerbate wildfire risks, according to comments from the Attorney General’s Office. Such changes should have required the recirculation of the FEIR, opponents said.