Attention: please return to this post as pictures and links are added through the end of October.

The Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) proposed expansion parcel of more than 3000 acres, otherwise known as Tesla Park to those supportive of its preservation, is not yet safe from the impacts of Off- Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation. Unfortunately, on Friday, October 21, 2016, the OHMVR Commission convened in Sacramento to approve the General Plan and certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the existing park and expansion. In my three minutes at the podium, I presented a few main points from our EBCNPS letter to the OHMVR Commission. I held out hope that comments from all of the groups in attendance on Friday, may have swayed the commissioners to delay a decision. Our organization has advocated for years that the plan lacks: admission of the significant impacts of OHV recreation to biotic resources; adequate mitigation measures incorporated into this EIR; and most importantly, adequate plant surveys.

The OHMVR Commission heard public comments from about 50 people, approximately 11:00am to 3:45pm, with a lunch break. A multitude of organizations, individuals, politicians, local government agencies, and state government agencies have opposed this expansion project. Read the full list here. Members from several of these groups attended an in-person meeting with OHV Division Deputy Director Mathew Fuzie, on October 12, but this did not result in action to stop the Final EIR and General Plan approval process. On a happy note, related to our organization’s past advocacy at several meetings with the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee, ALOSC submitted a letter declaring their support for prioritizing funding applications for acquiring or conserving the Tesla expansion area. Commissioners on Friday took only about 15 minutes to review the stack of letters submitted into the record, and then continued with questions for staff regarding some of the comments heard from the public. A couple of public agency representatives also returned to the podium for a few minutes of commission questioning.

By this point, astute listeners realized the public had not yet seen a document referenced to several times throughout the day, and this realization resulted in a big hiccup. The commission had referenced the existence of a CEQA document called a “Statement of Overriding Considerations,” as an existing document already created by the Director of State Parks. This type of document is important for understanding how an agency addressed environmental impact analysis concerns, because it provides an outline that typically both acknowledges significant impacts and declares the agency- level (State Parks’) reasoning for ignoring these impacts. In a last minute twist before a commission vote, the commission broke to tell the remaining audience we would receive a copy of this Statement so as to read it, immediately followed (about 10 minutes later) by a supplementary public comment period. The text of two resolution documents were distributed, which referenced the Statement. But, it ended up that the meeting was adjourned without the public ever having seen the text of this Statement (still unavailable as of this writing). The commissioners themselves appeared not to have read this Statement yet, or know whether or not it existed. Remaining members of the public were allowed two minutes to comment on the resolutions. In my brief reading, these resolutions did not provide substantive information on the agency’s reasoning for dismissing significant impacts. They simply declared the OHMVR Commission’s intent to approve the General Plan and certify the Final EIR. Certainly, under no circumstance is a 10 minute review of any document sufficient for public comment. Minutes later, the commission adopted the resolutions. The ultimate meaning of this hasty action will be addressed by Friends of Tesla Park and others undertaking likely future litigation.

Read EBCNPS comment letter here.

Our conclusion holds that Tesla is not an appropriate place for OHVs, and comparing areas within it to each other to find a “relatively” appropriate development area for OHVs is inappropriate. The General Plan’s Preferred Concept Map clearly demonstrates project intentions for construction of facilities of all types, including trails. Think of this: A programmatic EIR is the last and only environmental analysis document that would look at the Carnegie SVRA and Tesla as a whole recreational facility. Did I mention, that Carnegie SVRA’s only recognized significant impact in these reports, was impacts to air quality?

In the coming months, return for updates on the status of the ill-conceived Carnegie SVRA Tesla expansion project. Following certification of an EIR, the public is also notified of State Parks’ intention to carry out the project when they file a Notice of Determination. We hope that Carnegie SVRA understands that work cannot proceed until at least this notice is posted, as well as a 30- day period following the posting. Additionally, although we question Carnegie’s allegiance to this fact, this Final EIR commits to subsequent environmental review processes before any project proceeds. Regardless, the valuable resources on Tesla should not be consumed as they would be with OHV recreation activity, and we continue to hope Tesla will be preserved.

 

A few main points I covered, also in the EBCNPS comment letter dated October 21, 2016:

The conclusion of no significant impact on biotic resources is not supported. Facility siting and trail design so as to avoid sensitive species and communities is not viable. This avoidance strategy is demonstrated as ineffective based on the history and currently regular occurrence of illegal and unmitigated off-trail damage occurring at Carnegie SVRA even in trails-only areas. Additionally, the vaguely qualified standards of success for project goals are stated as “relative” to an uncertain and unclarified standard of time or management, without descriptions of quantifiable failure or success measurements. Certainly these have been learned from years of Carnegie SVRA operations. Leaving past work and lessons learned unrecognized will place natural resources at risk.

Plant Goal 1 and Plant Guidelines 1.1 to 1.6 of the General Plan will not adequately protect special-status plant resources or sensitive natural communities. The General Plan’s goals and guidelines for plants are necessary but insufficient to identify and avoid special-status plants during planning of future projects. This General Plan is intended to be “sufficient for future planning processes,” including expansion into Tesla. Approval of this document in its current condition, would set a guideline for unacceptable baseline inventory criteria throughout the Carnegie SVRA. The Final EIR and General Plan lack suitable rare plant survey efforts that don’t allow for true impact analysis.

Even the currently deficient state of surveys for this EIR demonstrate an abundance of overlapping rare plant occurrences, habitats, and sensitive natural communities, all with legitimate legal protection status. Already, the opportunity for on-the-ground protocol project surveys which would assist in determining cumulative impacts over the entire project, has been pigeon-holed into checking in on known occurrence information which is itself from spottily- acquired and outdated original survey work. Where there could be significant impacts, it is inadequate to defer impact analysis and/or mitigation measures to subsequent CEQA analysis, especially as there are not any provisions ensuring that impact analysis and/or mitigation would occur.

Apparently, no combination of resources (biotic, cultural, etc) is deemed valuable enough to completely ban OHV facilities from any area of Tesla or Carnegie SVRA, according to the project’s Preferred Concept Map legend descriptions in the General Plan. A reasonable consideration and preparation for avoidance is required before an agency is allowed to delve into mitigation measures. Supposedly limiting trails to the “minimum necessary to serve their intended purpose” is simply appropriate protocol for management of a trail located anywhere. An actual commitment to avoiding impacts on sensitive resources would specify at least some areas where all OHV facilities are banned with no exception, or would provide language on methods of avoidance, with at least as much specificity as proposed mitigation measures. The EIR needs to take into account potential impacts from imperfect enforcement and management mis-steps, not rely solely on perfect management as its own class of mitigation measure.

Some of the inadequately acknowledged/ surveyed rare plants we have brought to their attention include an unidentified Fritillary species (Fritillaria sp.), and CNPS Rare Plant Rank 1B species such as bent-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia lunaris), recurved larkspur (Delphinium recurvatum), Tracy’s eriastrum (Eriastrum tracyi), Mt. Diablo phacelia (Phacelia phacelioides), and many others. EBCNPS Rank A species also previously mentioned include shredding evening primrose (Eremothera boothii ssp. decorticans), green fiddleneck (Amsinckia vernicosa), large flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia grandiflora), few flowered buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum var. pauciflorum), and many others. These species have been overlooked as “unlikely to occur” even as “potentially suitable habitat” on site is acknowledged, and supporting surveys were not performed.

The OHMVR Commission did conclude that a programmatic EIR was an appropriate level of analysis for this project. Briefly, allow me to explain that opting for a programmatic EIR is not by itself objectionable. For some projects where future project plans are uncertain, this selection of a less-specific analysis document is appropriate. However, in this case, our organization does not recognize that Carnegie SVRA has met the requirements for surveys and impact analysis of even a programmatic EIR. Proper surveys upon which to base a sound EIR are still absolutely necessary. Selection of a programmatic EIR versus a project- level EIR, may not be the correct choice for Carnegie SVRA given that their project plans are actually quite well- known. The Preferred Concept Map clearly demonstrates project intentions for construction of facilities of all types, including trails. Think of this: A programmatic EIR is the last and only environmental analysis document that would look at the Carnegie SVRA and Tesla as a whole recreational facility. Did I mention, that Carnegie SVRA’s only recognized significant impact in these reports, was impacts to air quality?

Our conclusion holds that Tesla is not an appropriate place for OHVs, and comparing areas within it to each other to find a “relatively” appropriate development area for OHVs is inappropriate. Additional important points our organization has made on why this project does not adequately analyze native plant resources present, include:

  • Mapping units (such as acres) are unclear on the maps, map legends, and survey records. Also, maps do not show all relevant survey results, including appropriate areas and population sizes.
  • All vascular plants need to be identified to a taxonomic level allowing rarity to be determined. State Parks has yet to analyze the genetics of a Fritillary (Fritillaria) which could not be identified by professional botanists using available keys. This means it may be an undescribed species new to science. Until identified, this species merits default treatment as special-status and rare, and thus requires adequate surveys and mapping throughout the project area.
  • Native grass surveys identified species which are indicative of sensitive native grassland communities [purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra), California melic grass (Melica califonica), June grass (Koeleria macratha), curly blue grass (Poa secunda)], but surveys for these communities were not performed, their identification and potential presence as grassland communities was not disclosed, and thus these individual species and their likely sensitive natural community structures were not analyzed for impacts across Carnegie SVRA.

 

The current version of the Final EIR, is the third attempt in 15 years to approve an EIR including expansion plans into the Tesla expansion parcel. All versions contained little significant change to the project, and continued absence of declaration of significant impacts to biotic resources. This is not what usually occurs for public agencies obligated to follow CEQA process.

 

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