Subject: CEQA issues, weed management of
our grasslands and wildflowers, 12 questions
Date: Mon, 23 May 2011 13:23:58 -0700
Dear Mid-pen Board and Managers, and WMA members,
To the WMA group--this message is why we need
to get our WMA together
in July about grasslands issues, so that instead of destroying grasslands and wildflowers while we are managing weeds--we actually take care of the grassland natural resources of San Mateo County.
I want to thank the Board of Mid-pen for your
letter, but it did not
contain any details about the massive environmental cumulative damages to the
Russian Ridge preserve native grassland and wildflower resources, or how the fire damages were going to start to get mitigated?
I have been measuring those damages since 2003,
and have estimated it
will cost millions of dollars for mitigation, to bring the resource back to
their 1996 pre-burn conditions.
So let's start putting down in writing, specific
answers to questions
about what has happened so far at Russian Ridge, and the details about the
damages caused by the numerous fires conducted by CAL FIRE, and how
the mitigation is going to start this year?
The information that forms the preamble to
each of the twelve questions
that I am submitting to the Board in this email, is from
The purposes of CEQA are to:
1. Provide information about the environmental
effects of projects.
2. Identify ways that environmental damage can be avoided or
3. Prevent significant environmental damage through mitigation
4. Disclose the reasons why a project was approved despite
QUESTION 1 to the Board: For the five burn projects that have been
conducted to date at Russian Ridge, and for the other burn projects on other
preserves since 1995--does the Board agree that the four purposes for
CEQA were never complied with for any of the burn projects?--Similar to
what happened with the McQueen v. Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space
(1988) 202 Cal. App. 3d 1136 decision that the District lost?
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A PROJECT UNDER CEQA?
A project is a discretionary proposal (or any
part of a proposal)
which might result in physical changes to the environment.
QUESTION 2 to the Board: Do you agree that the whole purpose of
conducting a fire within a grassland habitat is to make a physical change to the
environment--hopefully to kill the weeds and not snuff out the
wildflowers and native grasses--so is it true that all the burns conducted within
your District, were projects according to CEQA
WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW?
Environmental review is the evaluation process
that CEQA requires public
agencies to conduct before taking action to approve a project.
Environmental review is a set of procedures used to identify a project's potential impacts, develop ways to reduce those impacts, and report the results of the
analysis to the public.
QUESTION 3 to the Board: Is it true, that no Environmental reviews
were done for any of the burns on any of the District's preserves, and no reports
were ever submitted to the public, outlining the potential impacts, or reporting the results of the analyses?
WHAT IS AN EXEMPTION?
CEQA permits the exemption, from environmental
review requirements, of
certain types of projects which are not expected to damage the environment.
The State Secretary of Resources reviews candidate
classes and lists them as
exempt when appropriate. Some examples of class, or Categorical Exemptions,
are: (1) repair, remodel or minor additions to existing facilities; (2) construction of a single-family residence; and (3) gardening, landscaping, or minor grading for a driveway or sidewalk. General Rule Exemptions are sometimes applied to proposals which are not expected to harm the environment.
QUESTION 4 to the Board. In 2001, the Board in passing Resolution 01-29
to adopt guidelines for CEQA, gave the District a Categorical Exemption,
Section 5(iv) Maintenance of existing native vegetation.
Apparently, that exemption was not to exempt
maintaining a landscaping
around some District buildings, but was painted broadly to cover all of the
District's tens of thousands of wildland acres.
Mid-pen was sued in 1988 for painting their
exemptions too broadly, in
the court case the District lost, the McQueen v. Mid-Peninsula
Regional Open Space case. Your 1988 court case is cited at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/guidelines/art19.html as a bad example, showing exactly what an agency is NOT supposed to do, regarding CEQA exemptions, and you can read the details of the decision at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/cases/1988/mcqueen_071888.html
In McQueen, the court reiterated that categorical
construed strictly, shall not be unreasonably expanded beyond their terms, and may not be used where there is substantial evidence that there are circumstances
(including future activities) resulting in (or which might reasonably result in)
significant impacts which threaten the environment.
A lawyer today, could practically cut and paste
the 1988 court case
into a new lawsuit covering the numerous burns conducted without any
EIRs on the District's preserves.
Furthermore, Categorical Exemptions are void,
whenever the use of
pesticides is involved--pesticides as defined in Section 12753,
Division 7, Chapter 2, Food and Agricultural Code. So the current
herbicide spraying of Russian Ridge preserve, should have had an EIR
Does the Board agree that the 2001 exemption
is illegal under CEQA
because the Board is painting the Title 14 of the California Code of
Regulations, Section 15300 et seq. exemptions much too broadly, and
the Board agrees that it will start the process to amend that
Resolution, and cancel that exemption?
WHAT IS A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT?
The term "significant impact" means
substantial adverse damage to the
Physical environment. An initial study is prepared to assess a project's potential for causing environmental damage. The initial study will use the CEQA
implementation guidelines which contain a list of the types of
projects which generally cause environmental damage. Examples of projects on the state's list are any which: substantially pollute water supply; use prime
farmland for non-agricultural purposes; or cause substantial flooding, erosion or
The CEQA analysis relies upon independent judgment
to decide whether a
project may have the potential to cause substantial environmental
harm. The CEQA process also evaluates local circumstances not considered by the state when developing its impact list. Sometimes, significant impacts are
identified which can be eliminated or significantly reduced using
various strategies. In these cases, impact reduction strategies (mitigation measures) will be recommended rather than stating that expected damage is potentially significant.
If significant impacts are expected, an EIR
will be required. During
that process, damage will be assessed and quantified so that scientifically
based findings of significant impact can be accurately reported.
In replying to these questions, please refer
to the court's rulings
against your District in the McQueen case.
QUESTION 5 to the Board: Does the Board agree, that fires set within a
native grassland and wildflower field, might reasonably result in
significant impacts which could threaten the environment, and make a
significant adverse impact on those
- Does the Board agree, that since there should have been an
expectation by the District, that the burns could cause a significant
impact to the environment, EIRs should have been prepared?
- Does the Board agree that the vegetation within the burn
project sites should have been monitored before and after each fire, to
assess and quantified any damages, so that scientifically-based
finding of significant impact could have been accurately reported?
- I have been reporting the multi-million dollar damages to
the Russian Ridge preserve environment caused by the fires, in over
200 emails since 2003, in scientifically based findings so that the
Board could have commissioned their own independent reports on the environmental damages.
For any of the fires at Russian Ridge or any
of the other burns on any
other District preserves, were the damages to the environment ever assessed,
quantified and written into any reports for the Board and public, and
do those reports exist?
WHAT ARE CUMULATIVE IMPACTS?
Cumulative impacts represent the sum of many
smaller impacts from many
different project proposals. For example, a project site might be
located in an area which has poor drainage. An agency may know that every time it approves a construction project site, runoff will increase downstream flood
potential to some degree. The project's impacts become significant
when added to those caused by many others in the project area.
Examples of cumulative impacts include air and water pollution, traffic problems, and farmland loss.
QUESTION 9 to the Board: I have been monitoring the native and
weed vegetation since 2003, and measuring the cumulative environmental
damages to the environment at the Russian Ridge Preserve north end,
from the numerous fire projects conducted by CAL FIRE. I have been reporting my measurements to the Board in over 200 email since 2006.
Did the Board know that every time it approved
a burn project on any
preserve, that each burn can increase the spread of weeds on the preserve, and cause cumulative damages to the sensitive native grass and wildflower
WHAT IS A MITIGATION MEASURE?
A mitigation measure is a strategy taken to
reduce or eliminate a
project's expected environmental damage; e.g., "No heritage oak trees may be
removed." Sometimes, mitigation measures are designed to repair, restore or
rehabilitate a damaged area; e.g., "All illegal fill will be removed
from the floodplain and natural vegetation restored." Others may
provide compensation for losses by
providing substitute resources or environments; e.g., "Trees will be
planted off-site to replace those removed during construction.
QUESTION 10 to the Board: Do you agree that the District or CAL FIRE,
or both, should pay to mitigate the damages to the Russian Ridge preserve
native grasslands and wildflower fields done by the five illegal
fires, to bring those resources back to their pre-burn conditions?
DOESN'T CEQA STOP PROJECTS THAT HARM THE ENVIRONMENT?
An agency is permitted to approve projects
which cause significant
environmental damage. However, the agency must make findings which
clearly explain the circumstances surrounding the project analysis and the
approval. Then, the agency must explain their decision to approve the project,
despite expected environmental damage, by adopting a Statement of Overriding
Considerations. This type of statement points out the reasons why a
project's benefits outweigh its environmental costs.
QUESTION 11 to the Board: Do you agree that in approving the burns on
District lands, that the District knew the burns have the potential to
cause significant environmental damages?
- Did the Board ever adopt a Statement of Overriding
Considerations for any of the burn projects on any of your preserves?
I look forward to your detailed answers to my specific questions.
Sincerely, Craig Dremann
Box 609, Redwood City, CA 94064 (650) 325-7333