CNPS Sues Lake County Over Risky Guenoc Valley Development

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Liv O’Keeffe
lokeeffe@cnps.org
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.

Keck’s checkermallow (Sidalcea keckii) is listed as Endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. More than 26 acres and 6,000 individuals of this imperiled species are located within Phase 1 of the Guenoc Project. Photo: Jake Ruygt

“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.

9 Comments

  1. I once sat on a large city’s Subdivision Advisory Committee. Maybe I can help in some way. Contact me by email.

    PLEASE set this up so that a confirmation email is returned to the originator including the comment text.

  2. Yeah, I am glad you heard about it. The talk about the development has been going on for a year. Right now Lake County is doing a lot of destruction. Are you aware of the rape of the land on Hwy 29 going towards Kelyseyville, or the project at 29 and Hartman? You are right about there quick reaction without public involvement.
    Please let me know how I can be an involved community member in stopping this development.

  3. The CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla called in to the Board of Supeevisors meeting the day they voted it through. He urged the board to hold the vote for a few months so the residents of Lake County could have proper input. The Lotusland Lawyer pushed the vote through. Completely sneaky and I’m very glad the environment is getting fair representation in court. This project will not benefit anybody but the Lotusland Investors.

  4. Thank you for your efforts in halting this. Let these investors partner with local tribes to create resorts around the lake and in the mountains like Cache Creek instead of creating a Disneyland for wealthy Asian tourists. They already have Hawaii. County should have sold them on the hotel in Lucerne.

  5. I don’t know about CNPS but in my 40 doing civil construction I’ve seen organizations who will propose the craziest absurdities whenever someone wants to develop land simply because it is a way to extort $$ from deep pockets.

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