Court Orders County to Stop Development in Martis Valley
Author: Sierra Watch
Published on May 13, 2005 - 9:47:00 AM

Judge James D. Garbolino of the Placer County Superior Court handed down his final decision yesterday in the case against massive development in Tahoe's Martis Valley. Siding with conservationists, the Court concluded that recent development approvals violate state law and ordered Placer County to suspend all approvals and activities under the Martis Valley Community Plan.

"This is a sweeping legal victory for anyone committed to a better future for the Tahoe-Truckee Region," says Tom Mooers of Sierra Watch, the Sierra-based group spearheading the Martis Valley Campaign. "Hopefully, it will encourage landowners to come to the table and collaborate on a responsible blueprint for Martis Valley."

Martis Valley became the flashpoint for Sierra Nevada development issues in 2003 when Placer County approved the Martis Valley Community Plan, calling for more than 6,000 new houses between Truckee and the Tahoe Basin.

In 2004, Sierra Watch and its conservation allies, League to Save Lake Tahoe, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, Planning and Conservation League, and Sierra Club, filed suit to stop the plan.

In its "tentative ruling" of February 24, 2005, the Court had signaled its intention to side with conservationists. After hearing oral arguments on March 21, Judge Garbolino reaffirmed his conclusion that Placer County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in assessing and approving the Martis Valley Community Plan. The judge's decision is extraordinarily far-reaching in its holdings.

In particular, the Court states that the County's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Martis Valley Community Plan (MVCP) was inadequate in several important respects. It failed to acknowledge the full level of development allowed under the Plan and thereby understated its environmental impacts. And it failed to properly analyze potential impacts on Lake Tahoe, biological resources, air quality, traffic, water resources, and affordable housing.

"The MVCP builds in opportunities to create environmental mischief," writes Judge Garbolino. The judge further noted that "the insufficiency of the [County's] studies has caused a critical failure to analyze the environmental consequences which impact not only the Martis Valley, but the Town of Truckee and the Tahoe Basin as well."

Accordingly, the Court orders Placer County to "set aside" its approval of the plan and "suspend all project approvals and activities that could result in any change or alteration to the physical environment which are based upon the Martis Valley Community Plan."

Placer County and development interests can now either accept the decision or appeal.

According to Rachel Hooper of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, lead counsel for the conservation groups, "the judge's ruling reflects a very careful reading of the law and a mastery of the factual record of this case. We are confident that the decision would withstand any appeal by the County."

© Copyright