The Riverside County Superior Court agreed with EHL that the City of Murrieta had violated CEQA when it enacted a policy exempting smaller parcels from the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Conservation Plan absent environmental review.
All the cities – including Murrieta – that are signatories to the MSHCP reap great benefits: off-the-shelf Endangered Species Act permits, streamlined CEQA review, and the reserve system itself – nearby natural open space for recreation and tranquility. In return, however, the cities must use their land use authority to help assemble the preserve, as well as collect mitigation fees.
Under pressure from a vocal group of “property rights”-oriented landowners, the City of Murrieta – ironically one of the greatest beneficiaries of acquisition MSHCP dollars – exempted parcels less than 30 acres in size from MSHCP requirements to set aside a portion of land as part of the subdivision process. The exemption would have set a terrible precedent, undermining the entire program. The City’s decision was more motivated by anti-regulatory ideology than a real problem in MSHCP compliance.
EHL took Murrieta to court on CEQA grounds, as the City had inappropriately excused its action from CEQA review. The Court ordered that the policy be voided until it complies with CEQA. Moving forward, we urge the City to address MSCHP issues constructively, though creative land planning, such as on-site clustering, and through tools such as density transfer between properties. And if these don’t prove workable, the MSHCP provides for land purchase.
EHL was represented by the law firm of Johnson and Sedlack and by its Staff Attorney, Michael Fitts.