TriCounty Watchdogs Sue Kern County over Frazier Park Estates Water

Related Groups Seek Return of Kern Water Bank to Public Control

By Patric Hedund

Two suits have been filed that may slow developers seeking to build along the Grapevine corridor in Lebec. The TriCounty Watchdogs filed on June 22 to challenge Kern County’s certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Frazier Park Estates in Lebec. The suit says the county should not have certified the proposal for 557 homes with 25 acres of commercial development before the builders can show they have access to adequate water to support the plan.

Before the 5-0 vote for the project, Kern County Supervisor Ray Watson said that economic benefits override water concerns. Residents argued that their homes and businesses may be damaged if current wells go dry, as is happening in Rosedale (which is also in Kern County).

“In our petition there are chapters on air pollution, water, endangered species and technical CEQA procedures,” said Jan de Leeuw, of the TriCounty Watchdogs. “We are most concerned that the project was approved without having established a supply of water and, according to our legal people, that is contrary to CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act].”

There is also a question as to whether the input of the community “was taken seriously enough, which has to be decided by the courts,” de Leeuw added.

Lorelei Oviatt, now director of the Kern County Planning Department, minimized the suit, saying “anyone can sue.”

She formerly gave stern arguments for reducing the size of the same project to only 188 homes, but now says that the strong mitigations required of the developer will serve to defend residents’ interests.

Other observers expect that the county rules may change when there is less public focus on the issue, and that certifying the EIR for Frazier Park Estates has made it easier for the county to further erode the community’s Frazier Park/Lebec Specific Plan, the statement of how they wish the area to develop.

An earlier suit was filed at the end of 2009 by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the TriCounty Watchdogs regarding Kern County Supervisors’ 5-0 certification of Tejon Mountain Village’s EIR.

Now a new suit by CBD along with sportsfishing interests, farmers and environmentalists claims that public assets in the form of the Kern Water Bank have been given to private interests and should be returned to the public. Tejon Ranch Company, via its Castac / Tejon Water District, plans to supply the proposed 3,450 homes and eight resort hotels projected to be built in Tejon Mountain Village with Kern Water Bank and California Water Project (CWP) water.

CWP water allocations have been cut to between 20 and 50 percent of contract allotments in the past three years for existing cities and farms because of California’s chronic drought.

In its press release about the suit, CBD states: “California’s state constitution expressly forbids any agency giving away or ‘gifting’ of state assets to private interests. The current lawsuit asserts that the Kern County Water Agency gifted the Kern Water Bank to the Kern Water Bank Authority, a public-private joint powers authority controlled by Paramount Farming Company (one of the world’s largest agricultural and holding companies) and Tejon Ranch Company (the massive landholding corporation seeking to develop several new cities north of Los Angeles — including the largest development ever proposed in California).

“The suit is the coalition’s second in the last month over the State Water Project. The first targeted the Department of Water Resources for approving the Monterey Plus Amendments – a huge set of structural changes for how the State Water Project is managed. In one of those changes, the department transferred the Kern Water Bank to an entity called the Kern County Water Agency. That agency then quickly handed over the water bank to the newly formed Kern Water Bank Authority. The latest suit seeks to bring the Kern Water Bank back into state control.”

This is part of the July 09, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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