Wildlife Corridors Ordinance and Lawsuit
Status: Active – Writ of Mandate lawsuit filed by CoLAB and CalCIMA
Why it matters?
- Private property rights
- Wildfire risk
On March 12, 2019, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to establish the “Habitat Connectivity Overlay Zone”. This created “wildlife movement corridors” by adding regulatory restrictions to more than 160,000 mostly privately-owned acres in Ventura County. Within the corridors, landowners are subject to restrictions on fencing, outdoor lighting, the types of plants they can use in landscaping, how much vegetation they can remove from their property, and, in some locations, even where they can build on their own property.
In the two years before the ordinance passed, CoLAB had worked hard to convince the County to make the requirements more reasonable for landowners and more effective for wildlife protection. But instead of working with landowners and conducting biological surveys and gathering actual data about where and how wildlife currently lives and moves in Ventura County, the County relied on 15-year old modeling studies that were based on even older aerial photographs. No actual “on the ground” data was collected or used to create the boundaries of these wildlife movement corridors. That means that entire neighborhoods, industrial areas, irrigated farmland, and freeways were included. And all these properties are subjected to rules that restrict property use.
Even a small project that could increase fire risk must undergo an “environmental impact analysis”. But the County claimed they were exempt from analyzing the fire risks associated with restricting brush removal on over 160,000 acres of the County. After the Thomas, Woolsey and Hill Fires, this was a step too far.
On April 25, 2019, VC CoLAB filed a writ of mandate lawsuit in Ventura District Court on behalf of our members. The lawsuit challenges the County’s lack of a CEQA review (including the lack of analysis of increased wildfire risks to Ventura County citizens), violations of due process, lack of scientific evident to support the corridor mapping, and the unsupported, last minute removal of particular property parcels from one Supervisor’s district.
The UC Irvine Environmental Law Clinic filed a motion on behalf Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Los Padres Forest Watch, and the National Parks Conservation Association to join in the Wildlife Corridor lawsuit.
These activist groups do not represent the property owners who have been directly impacted by the wildlife corridor - and are seeking to lend their national fundraising efforts to help the County with legal representation.
"Intervention" is a procedure where an outside party tries to join into on-going litigation without the permission of all the original litigants. The purpose is often to try to complicate the lawsuit, create unreasonable delays, drive up costs for the smaller party, and allow for access to dollars that "the other" side may not otherwise be able to access.
The intervening parties must prove to the Court that they have an interest and a responsibility that the County does not have. Our lawsuit challenges the County's failure to follow appropriate regulatory procedures and due process - and CoLAB believes this is not a "responsibility" of any extremist environmental group.
The hearing on this issue is scheduled for August 4, 2020.
You can read the entire motion to intervene below.
A Case Management Conference is also scheduled for August 4 – this is a status update for the Court to check on progress in certifying the Administrative Record and to schedule future hearings.
1/19/2021 - Intervention Update
On September 8, 2020, Judge DeNoce filed his ruling allowing four environmental activist groups to intervene in the Wildlife Corridor litigation.
Judge DeNoce wrote the activists would seek to “defend the County’s application of CEQA exemptions” and that, in his opinion, the environmental activists will not “enlarge the issues to matters not” already raised.
While disappointing, Judge DeNoce’s ruling does not change the substantial issues raised in our lawsuit.
We are continuing the fight. And we hope that the judge will support our members’ right to use their own private property - just as he supported environmental activists' right to “recreation and aesthetic interests” on that same private property.
Reassignment of Judge
In October, the Ventura Superior Court informed us that Judge DeNoce would be stepping away from his assignment as the County's CEQA judge and moving into another position. The Court reassigned the Wildlife Corridor lawsuit to Judge Ronda McKaig.
Judge McKaig was appointed to the bench in September 2018 by former Governor Jerry Brown. She is a Ventura County native and grew up in Santa Paula. Judge McKaig began her legal career in private practice, and, in 2014, became an assistant Ventura County Counsel and civil attorney for the Ventura County Counsel's office. She worked for the Ventura County Counsel's office until her appointment to the bench.
As part of her work with the County Counsel's office, she was directly involved in the Wildlife Corridor Ordinance's early drafting.
CoLAB was very concerned that Judge McKaig's direct involvement with the early drafts of the Wildlife Corridor Ordinance and her relationship with the County Counsel's office would prevent a fair and unbiased hearing. In November, after hearing directly from Judge McKaig that she would not recuse herself from this lawsuit, we geared up again to fight the County. We filed a motion to disqualify Judge McKaig from our litigation.
We recently received word that the Court has granted our motion. Our case has been reassigned to Judge Mark Borrell. Judge Borrell was appointed to Ventura Superior Court in 2010 and has presided over civil trials. He has also served as the presiding judge of the court's Appellate Division. We hope to be able to receive a fair hearing from Judge Borrell.
Final ruling on Motion to Intervene (in the email I sent you) (“Intervention Final Ruling” pdf)
To read more about this issue:
- County Map
- Bud Sloan TV interview
- Bud Sloan San Fernando Business Times article
- Chuck and Melinda Carmichael VC Star article
- Motion to Intervene
- Final Ruling on Motion to Intervene
To support our fight and donate to the LEGAL FUND: Click Here
All donations to the VC CoLAB Legal Fund will be used to litigation and legal support for the Wildlife Corridor fight.