Watchdog OpEd to Attorney General: No to ‘Watsonville’

‘Dear Attorney General Brown’

TriCounty Watchdogs Writing Letters Against 557-Home ‘Watsonville’

The TriCounty Watchdogs have dubbed the Frazier Park Estates development in Lebec ‘Watsonville.’ The group is writing urgent letters against a Kern County Supervisors’ decision April 22 to authorize 557 homes. The actual vote is scheduled to take place May 11 in Bakersfield (1115 Truxtun Avenue at 2 p.m.)—Editor

Attorney General’s Office
California Department of Justice
Sacramento, CA

Dear Attorney General Brown:

You are no doubt aware of the various residential and industrial developments planned in the Tejon/Grapevine area, at the intersection of Kern, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We are writing because the Kern County Board of Supervisors is about to approve Frazier Park Estates, 550 homes south of the Frazier Park exit of the I-5 freeway.

TriCounty Watchdogs thinks this is an atrocious project. It is nothing but a bedroom community, 30-40 miles from the closest workplaces, producing thousands of long, daily freeway trips. It will add pollutants and GHG’s to an already dangerous and dirty freeway, in an area close to some of the most polluted communities in the country.

The development violates the zoning restrictions in the Frazier Park/Lebec Specific Plan, and, as far as we have been able to establish, a huge majority of the current residents do not want it. Building permits for 30,000 homes have already been issued in both Bakersfield and Santa Clarita.

It will take many years to build and sell those homes, so it seems irresponsible to approve additional development in outlying rural areas, where it destroys natural resources and generates thousands of long commutes.

We also think the Kern County Supervisors are acting irresponsibly in other respects. Both the Kern County Planning Commission and the Kern County Planning Department recommended to approve only a smaller version of the project, of 188 homes.

The main reason for downscaling was water supply. The developer has been struggling for over 10 years to convince decision makers that the site has enough groundwater. Now the Supervisors seem to want to believe what they have been told by the developer, who says the basin contains enough water for the project.

Experts from both the Kern County Water Agency and the Lebec County Water District have indicated they are not convinced there is enough water, and they are even less convinced that the water is actually available and usable for the project. They also think the project, if developed, will impact supply for existing water users.

The Supervisors, however, simply ignored these expert opinions and relied solely on the consultant hired by the developer. It seems to us, although we are not lawyers, that this development violates the rules of Vineyard vs. Rancho Cordova, and quite possibly SB 610 and SB 221 as well.

The project is quite close, in location, size, and spirit to the Rancho El Contento development, which was stopped by one of the first CEQA lawsuits brought by the People of California on behalf of the Girl Scouts (People vs. County of Kern, 1974).

Then, as now, the issue was groundwater availability. And then, as now, the only people the developer could convince there was enough water were the Kern County Supervisors.

The developer of Frazier Park Estates argues that he has already invested five million dollars in the project, the same argument that impressed the Supervisors, although not the judge, in 1974.

Frank Arciero, Jr. and his consultants have been actively lobbying Supervisors, Chambers of Commerce and Rotaries, by dangling unproven and unprovable economic benefits in front of their noses. We can easily guess whose benefits they specifically have in mind.

This hit-and-run development does not give anything back to the region in which it is built, and it does major damage to our viewscape, our developing ecotourism industry and to the rural character of our mountain environment. It contradicts our community’s Frazier Park / Lebec Specific Plan.

But here in Kern County the philosophy still reigns that ‘all growth is good, no matter what the consequences’ and that the rights of wealthy individuals trump public interests and concerns.

We should also mention that, in addition to the water and air problems, the development is right on the San Andreas Fault, very close to the location of two of the three biggest quakes in California history. It is also in one of the most fire-prone areas of this state. Building a dense bedroom community in such a sensitive and dangerous area seems irresponsible.

We know you are particularly interested in GHG emissions—in this case, those resulting from building a remote bedroom community. But we think the Department of Justice should also pay attention to the potential illegality of approving a 500+ development without demonstrating there is enough water.

Our local organizations do not have the resources to extensively lobby decision makers who are an hour away from where we live, or to hire lawyers, and we have virtually no access to important Bakersfield media and business circles. That is why we turn to you. We hope that your office will sue on the behalf of the People as it did in 1974.

Executive Board, TriCounty Watchdogs,
Jan de Leeuw Secretary
Frazier Mountain Communities

Read additional letters concerning the Frazier Park Estates vote on May 11: Leapfrog Blight, Punishment and Just Stupid

This is part of the April 30, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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