LA Superior Court Sends Agoura Hills Development Back for Full Environmental Review

Contact: Liv O’Keeffe
916-447-2677, ext. 202

May 30, 2018, Los Angeles — In an important local victory for cultural and natural resources, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel ruled against the City of Agoura Hills, suspending its approval of an 8.2-acre mixed-use development in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Aerial view of the proposed Cornerstone mixed-use development project, Agoura Hills, Calif.

Strobel’s May 23 decision cited inadequate environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a violation of the City’s Oak Tree Ordinance, and the potential for irreparable impact to an identified prehistoric archaeological site. The written decision notes the city’s failure to contact local tribes, a CEQA requirement, after the city’s expert consultant determined the site “should be avoided” and was eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources.

“This victory is an example of the people holding our elected officials accountable to the laws of Agoura Hills and the State of California,” said Steve Hess representing the community group Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll (STACK) who led the public outreach campaign to stop the development.

Petitioners, the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and STACK, fought the Cornerstone development for 16 months, documenting the project’s potential harm to biological, cultural, and aesthetic resources. CNPS filed an appeal after the Agoura Hills City Planning Commission approved the project in January 2017 without requiring a full environmental review.

The proposed project site includes the Agoura Cornell Knoll, which is located within a known wildlife corridor. The land is home to two endangered and one rare plant species, including the spring wildflowers, Lyon’s pentachaeta and the diminutive Ojai navarretia. Plans for the Cornerstone development would destroy 90 percent of the existing habitat. The project would also remove an exceedingly large number of the oak trees (at least 49 percent), in direct violation of the City’s Oak Tree Ordinance, which caps oak removal at 10 percent of the canopy for any project.

CNPS/STACK attorney Dean Wallraff said the Superior Court decision sends a strong message that sensitive resources must be protected with projects of all sizes.

“Nature is being nibbled to death with small developments that flaunt local laws and ordinances,” added Steve Hartman, CNPS Board President and member of the CNPS Los Angeles / Santa Monica Mountains Chapter that filed the suit. “It’s time for communities to step up and protect our California native plants, because our local wildlife depends on them for survival.”

With Strobel’s decision, the City of Agoura Hills must conduct a full environmental review and scale back oak tree removal to legal compliance.

The defense of the region’s oak trees is especially critical and part of ongoing CNPS efforts to protect and restore oak woodlands, explained CNPS Executive Director Dan Gluesenkamp. According to CNPS scientists, a single oak tree can support hundreds of animal and insect species, making these trees ecosystem superstars.

At a time when climate change, development, and disease threaten our native species, citizens must be vigilant in protecting vital habitat, he added. “Unfortunately, we see that too many decision-makers are willing to green-light projects in spite of the law. It’s up to all of us to uphold the law and preserve what rightfully belongs to all Californians, today and tomorrow.”

STACK is an organization of concerned citizens who share a common responsibility as stewards of the land.  STACK and its many supporters will continue to pursue responsible land use planning and policies in Santa Monica Mountains.

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