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County of Marin Found to Be in Violation of CEQA in Approving New House on Sensitive Creekside Habitat

Marin County, CA– Late Friday afternoon (11/07/03) Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee ruled last week that the County of Marin was in violation of CEQA(California Environmental Quality Act) when they approved the development of a new house in “sensitive creekside habitat” without first completing the proper environmental review.

Environmentalists filed suit in Marin County Superior Court against the County of Marin over continued illegal approval of developments along one of California’s most important wild coho salmon spawning streams in west Marin’s Lagunitas Watershed. According to environmentalists, the action follows the County’s continual refusal to heed their concerns, voiced often and vocally in numerous public hearings over the past few years, to follow its own policies and California law to protect critical habitat for coho salmon, steelhead trout and the habitat on which they depend.

“The days of the county ignoring its own 100 foot stream conservation area setback and allowing continued development that is pushing endangered salmon species to the brink of extinction are over,” commented a very happy Todd Steiner, the director of the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (or SPAWN) the lead plaintiff in the complaint.

The suit filed was filed by Marin County-based groups, SPAWN and the Tomales Bay Association and alleged the County abused its discretion by failing to proceed in the manner required by law when it approved a development permit to construct a 3,649 square feet house with an additional 768 square foot garage, parking for five vehicles and intermittent sand filter septic system, located on San Geronimo Creek, on a currently vacant parcel, 20 feet from San Geronimo Creek without first conducting the environmental review required by CEQA.

“The county of Marin illegally exempted this project from the environmental review process required by CEQA” stated Michael Graf, attorney for the petitioners. “A project such as this one located in sensitive stream-side habitat is not immune to such laws and must be subject to a proper review process under CEQA. The result of this lawsuit is that the County must review this current development and similar future developments in the stream conservation areas in accordance withCEQA. Such environmental review is also required by the County General Plan.”

“Since 1994, the County policy has included a provision to protect a 100-foot “stream conservation area” that they have ignored to the detriment of endangered salmon, as well as the creek ecosystem.” said Reuven Walder, Watershed Biologist for SPAWN. He continued, “We must look at the cumulative impacts of years of abuse and we cannot allow the County to continue to unlawfully determine that each small assault is negligible without understanding the collective impacts.” He contends the purpose of the lawsuit is to ensure that a proper environmental impact report be prepared that considers the cumulative impacts of past, current and future development of the salmon’s critical habitat.

Ken Fox, President of Tomales Bay Association, observed that the “County process of approving development in the stream conservation areas needs to be improved. This lawsuit has resulted in the Court instructing the County to follow proper procedures, things they have been continuing to ignore for some time now, so we’re very hopeful that the (County’s) unofficial policy of operating on unwritten rules and creative interpretations is finally over.”

“The Lagunitas Creek is already listed as ‘impaired’ by the State of California for pathogens, nutrients and sediment and we must take actions to reverse this condition, not exacerbate it further, so we can make the waterways healthy again,” said Todd Steiner, director of SPAWN. “Because these creeks run through our neighborhoods, ultimately what is good for the salmon is also good for the well being of our families as well.”

FOR COPY OF THE JUDGES DECISION CONTACT SPAWN AT 415 488 0370 EXT. 103

The Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (SPAWN) works to protect threatened coho salmon and steelhead and the environment on which we all depend. The protection of these keystone species leads to the protection of all the wildlife of our community, and indeed the protection ourselves. SPAWN uses a science-based, multi-faceted approach to accomplish our mission, including research and monitoring, habitat restoration, policy development, environmental education, collaboration with other organization, and media campaigns. SPAWN is a project of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The Tomales Bay Association monitors state, regional, and local laws, regulations and policies governing management of local resources. When necessary, TBAasserts independent, well-reasoned action to enforce the laws that are meant to protect the public trust resources. TBA is an all-volunteer, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization which depends on both monetary and hands-on volunteer contributions from its members.”