Image 1 of 5
The Mountain Communities Town Council held three public forums in 2006 for the public to understand what developer Frank Arciero proposed with what he called "Frazier Park Estates." In 2007 the cumulative impact of I-5 corridor development became an urgent concern. In February 2012 the TriCounty Watchdogs finally won their suit against Arciero and Kern County. But this month, Arciero said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Image 2 of 5
Studies by U.C. Davis Resource Specialist Doug Peters showed groundwater levels had dropped 60 feet in 11 years at the Frazier Mountain High School water well which sits next to the site Arciero wished to develop. This occurred even before any building had begun. Arciero tried to persuade the school district to supply water to his development. They refused. Frazier Park's water company declined to provide water for 3000 more people. Lebec County Water District (LCWD) also voted not to jeopardize their current water customers by taking on a new development.
Image 3 of 5
Top: the Kern County Planning Commission, and (inset) Watson-appointee Ron Sprague who spoke about the Frazier Park "hole." Below left, Arciero biting his fingernails as residents testify about his project to the planning commission. Middle, Supervisor Ray Watson frowns in April 2010 as (right) county planner Lorelei Oviatt explains that Frazier Park Estates should be reduced to 188 houses. Watson told her to come back with a way to let the supervisors vote for 570 houses. She did. They did. And then in 2012 the court said they should not have.
Image 4 of 5
(Top) Angry Fallingstar Homes developer Frank Arciero, Jr. literally pinned his consultant, Derrill W. Whitten, Jr. from Cornerstone Engineering to the wall in 2009 after the Kern County Planning Commission turned down the Frazier Parks Estates proposal. Planners said it should be no more than 188 homes. (Above) Chuck Herbert of Lebec voices his concerns at a community meeting sponsored by the elected Mountain Communities Town Hall. (Right) El Tejon Unified School District Trustee Anita Anderson shows shock after the Kern County Board of Supervisors ignored the advice of their planning department and their planning commission to vote 5-0 to pass the project. The water supply of the high school and Lebec could be threatened, scientists said. [Photos by Katy Penland, Gary Meyer and Patric Hedlund for The Mountain Enterprise]
Image 5 of 5
Members of the TriCounty Watchdogs Linda MacKay, Keats Gefter and Jan de Leeuw stand in front of the peaks and slopes at the gateway to the Mountain Communities in February 2012. Developer Frank Arciero, Jr. hoped to bulldoze the mountains to build 740 homes and a 25 acre commercial mall here. The Watchdogs fought in court to keep local self-determination alive against the developer and the county. They won. Now they are raising funds to fight the developer's appeal. [Hedlund photo]
The TriCounty Watchdogs won their lawsuit against developer Frank Arciero’s proposed Frazier Park Estates (in Lebec) and the Kern County Board of Supervisors. But on November 14, Arciero filed an appeal to the verdict. Here is a quick review about the 9 year battle against the development.
By Patric Hedlund
Shaving the tops off the virgin mountains standing as the gateway to the Mountain Communities to replace them with a Castaic-style housing development of 740 homes, a strip mall and a sewage processing plant sounded like a great idea to Kern County Supervisor Ray Watson in 2003.
But Fallingstar Homes developer Frank Arciero, Jr. couldn’t seem to get traction with the local population. His plan—so popular in Bakersfield— was the catalyst for a new organization of contrarians in the Frazier Mountain Communities: the TriCounty Watchdogs.
Arciero’s “hit and run” housing development was the glue that brought this new group together. Several first met the night the Frazier Park Public Utility District, which supplies water to all of Frazier Park, decided not to annex Arciero’s project.
FPPUD’s refusal to supply water to the Paso Robles-based developer left him searching to find another source of water for the 3,000 people who would fill the houses he hoped Kern County would allow him to build.
The night FPPUD said ‘no,’ Frazier Park’s Lloyd Weins asked people to join him at a restaurant in Lake of the Woods called Fire on the Mountain. Perhaps the hot salsa fueled the passions of the group, because they found they had a lot in common.
Musician Keats Gefter, who lives in Lebec, remembers Fallingstar’s plan as “a tract nightmare,” the kind of thing he’d fled Los Angeles County to escape. UCLA Environmental Statistics Professor Jan de Leeuw, who lives in Cuddy Valley, said “we’re not against smart development, but this is stupid development.”
Bringing 3,000 new people to a bedroom community far away from jobs raised alarming questions about traffic and infrastructure.
U.C. Davis Resource Specialist Douglas Peters, of Lake of the Woods, wondered how the developer would find the water to support these new families. He worried that Kern County had conducted no comprehensive water study to know the aquifer’s capacity during drought years.
Eric Anderson, a Piñon Pines resident and an elected member of the Mountain Communities Town Council, doubted such a development would be an attractive entrance to an area hoping to build an ecotourism economy seeking to emphasize mountain recreation.
Arciero’s draft environmental impact report (DEIR) was finally published in 2006. Hundreds of mountain citizens came out to meeting after meeting conducted by the Mountain Communities Town Council, moderated by Bob Anderson. They listened politely to the developer and Kern County Planner Lorelei Oviatt. Over 200 comments were written in response to the Draft EIR, and Oviatt withdrew it for a rewrite. In 2009 Arciero came back for another round.
The development, now named “Frazier Park Estates,” had jettisoned about 70 houses and modified its grading plans, but it wasn’t more popular.
Pulling Frazier Park out of its hole
The Kern County Planning Commission split 2-2, and brought it back for another hearing. Supervisor Watson’s appointee Ron Sprague said this was what Frazier Park needed “to pull it out of its hole.”
The comment raised the ire of the salsa-eaters and almost everyone else. Testimony at the second hearing in Bakersfield was intense. The second vote on October 2009 was 5-0 against the plan. Arciero appealed.
In 2010 he brought his plan and his consultants to the Kern County Board of Supervisors. In April 2010, newly promoted Kern County Planning Director Oviatt told them why she recommended the plan be dropped down to 188 homes and the commercial center.
Supervisor Watson ordered her to come back to the board with a finding that would allow them to vote for a larger development. She did.
On May 11, 2010 the supervisors voted unanimously to certify the project’s EIR for 557 homes and 25 acres of commercial development.
In June 2010 the TriCounty Watchdogs and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit.
On February 10, 2012 Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman agreed with the TriCounty Watchdogs that Kern County had failed to properly assess the impacts of the Frazier Park Estates development.
“If the county is so concerned about economic depression in the Mountain Communities, it would perhaps be a good idea to stop chopping down our old oak trees, ruining our roads, permitting a sequence of environmentally destructive projects, and selling our gateway to hit-and-run builders,” de Leeuw wrote to the Watchdogs.
Then the group began planning a party. The rumor is, there will be plenty of spicy salsa.
UPDATE: The Mountain Enterprise has received a copy of the appeal which was filed on November 14. Calls and messages seeking Frank Arciero, Jr’s comments have not yet been returned. The TriCounty Watchdogs have sent out an email seeking donations for their legal fund to confront the next legal challenge.
FOR THE RECORD: In a small notice [“Business Notes,” November 16] we reported that an appeal has been filed on behalf of Paso Robles developer Frank Arciero, Jr. to try to overturn a California Superior Court decision in February against him and Kern County.
The TriCounty Watchdogs were the lead plaintiffs in that lawsuit, with the Center for Biological Diversity. Our quick mention noted the Condor Group chapter of the Sierra Club, which contributed some funds, along with individuals, but it was the TriCounty Watchdogs which filed the suit to stop Kern County’s certification of the developer’s Environmental Impact Report. Above, “The Long Goodbye” hopes to refresh readers’ memories of this 9-year struggle. We will print more details as they are available.
This is part of the November 30, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.