Chapter Achievements

Our Tehipite Chapter is now prioritizing two projects for which we need your financial donations:

• A lawsuit against the Merced County Association of Governments to challenge the Merced County 2014 Regional Transportation Plan, filed in October in Merced Superior Court.

• Our Friant Ranch lawsuit against Fresno County. We won in appellate court in May, but now need to defend our victory before the California Supreme Court.

To Make a Financial Contribution to the Tehipite Chapter:

If you do not need a tax deduction:

Simply make your check out to Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter and mail in the enclosed reply envelope.

To make a tax-deductible contribution:

You need to (1) make the check out to The Sierra Club Foundation, (2) write “Tehipite Chapter” in the memo line, and (3) mail it in the enclosed reply envelope.

NOTE: These instructions are essential in order for you to receive a tax deduction.

Merced County Lawsuit

Few may know this, but one of us (Gary) came to California after his college Freshman year in 1976 to be a rock climber. He was hungry to be a Yosemite Valley regular. One hot August afternoon, Gary pointed his Buick east on Highway 120, trunk stuffed with gear. In Manteca, signs appeared: “Melons ahead: 10¢/lb.” Huge, juicy casaba melons. Cantaloupe. Honeydew. A feast awaited. He loaded up 30 pounds to distribute to the hungry climbers in Yosemite’s dusty Camp 4 campground. Manteca was just a quiet road stop at that time — no stoplights — its farm fields baking in the sun.

Today, our Sierra Club members understand the connection between the San Joaquin Valley and our Sierra mountains recreation. Where Manteca was once a dusty road with roadside farm stands, today we have miles of housing, malls and traffic. Our job commutes, trips to Costco, and tourists headed to the mountains … all have transformed our Valley landscape.

Global Warming has recently been driven into the headlines by undeniable, tangible changes in our climate. Scientists forecast for the San Joaquin Valley 100 days per year of 100+ degrees by 2100. Three of the last four years have been the hottest on record. And tree rings show our current drought to be the worst in 1,200 years.

Fortunately, California has taken a leadership role in addressing Climate Change. Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) requires each Regional Transportation Plan to include a land use plan to reduce future sprawl by reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled overall. Regional governments now need to plan to limit sprawl, farmland loss, road construction and traffic congestion. Counties that do not go along with the new rules will lose transportation funding.

Unfortunately, Merced County has refused to comply with the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the State of California.In August 2014, the Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) Board voted to continue its policy of road-building — with no increased funding of public transit and no funding for bicycles — to accommodate future sprawl.

Merced County made two serious errors with its RTP and EIR: (a) it failed to take seriously the new SB 375 planning requirements; (b) it failed to listen to our Sierra Club comments. This year, our Tehipite Chapter retained the finest environmental law firm in California to analyze and make comment on the Merced RTP. At the same time, we laid the groundwork to inform and mobilize residents to become concerned … because Merced County is headed in the wrong direction.

In October, 2014, we filed a lawsuit in Merced Superior Court. Our case, Sierra Club v. Merced County Association of Governments, places us in a position to shape Merced County land use planning for decades to come. The Merced County RTP and EIR scoffs at the State’s SB 375 requirement to plan for climate change. Now these Merced County politicians are in hot water.

Ideally, San Joaquin Valley cities would employ “smart growth” principles, integrate land use planning into the RTP, and add new housing within their borders rather than the surrounding countryside (a novel idea, indeed). This is a small, but crucial, step in the right direction to protect our water supplies, reduce farmland loss and protect against Climate Change.

Our attorneys recently won in appellate court against San Diego County in a very similar case (SANDAG). Our Merced County lawsuit and SANDAG each involve an RTP EIR that (a) fails to analyze project greenhouse gas emissions; (b) fails to mitigate project climate change impacts; and (c) fails to analyze the public health impacts of air pollution to residents near highways.

We ask you to please make a financial donation to our chapter to support all the work we do — including our two lawsuits to improve land use planning in the San Joaquin Valley — which is our priority need for 2015. We have tackled the tough issues to protect our beloved National Parks, our Sierra National Forests on the western slope and the Valley gateways to the high country.

Now we need your help to complete the job. Our fabulous attorneys have provided us an significant discount, but we need to pay them and we can only succeed with your financial support.

Friant Ranch Lawsuit

After three years of work with our lawsuit against the proposed Friant Ranch development, the Tehipite Chapter and our partners, League of Women Voters of Fresno and Revive the San Joaquin, prevailed this May in the 5th District Court of Appeal in Sierra Club v. County of Fresno.

The Friant Ranch developers have, however, successfully petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the case. With this appeal, our work is not yet finished..

Friant Ranch is one of just a dozen housing developments north of Fresno that are proposed to replace what are now farms or grazing lands. Homes for 160,000 new residents would be constructed in Madera and Fresno counties (see map). The Millerton Lake State Recreation Area would be hemmed in on all sides as Fresno’s recreation region is filled with more housing, more shopping centers and choking traffic. The scale of this transformation is simply stunning. Where would the water supply come from? How would the traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions affect the environment, and our public health?

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is supposed to answer these questions in plain English so that residents can understand the logic behind this rush to develop everything north of town and within commute distance of Fresno. The EIR fails miserably in this task because there is no rational explanation for projects of this magnitude.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal held the Friant Ranch Project EIR was deficient for two reasons:

1. The EIR failed to disclose, in everyday, understandable terms, what the impacts from future resident traffic would be on both the environment and public health.

The court clarified that, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the EIR needs to inform the public how an increase in air pollution would “correlate” with real health impacts. These impacts include incidence of asthma, emergency room visits and premature deaths.

The County of Fresno will now need to redraft the Air Quality chapter of the EIR to analyze these impacts and present us with some real-world metrics to measure the harm created by the project.

2. The EIR failed to make a good-faith effort to mitigate the project’s environmental impacts.

CEQA requires the County to include feasible mitigation measures in the EIR in order to attempt to reduce the project impacts to a level of “no significance”. It must select realistic measures that would at least make a serious dent in the problem. The EIR recommendations to plant trees in the roadway median, and recommend a vanpool service are not sufficient to meet CEQA requirements.

This decision was published and sets precedent. Our case is now headed to the California Supreme Court. We are optimistic about our chances before the Supreme Court, but we need funding now for our wonderful attorney, Sara Hedgpeth-Harris, to represent us before the Court. Needless to say, we were not planning on this! But, because we won in the Court of Appeal, our chances are very good.

We ask you to please make a financial donation to our chapter to support all the work we do — including our two lawsuits to improve land use planning in the San Joaquin Valley — which is our priority need for 2015. Your contribution will go 100% toward local issues, making it possible for us to address the problems in our four-county San Joaquin Valley region, from Fresno to Merced.