In 2003, EHL filed suit on California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) grounds against Riverside County’s General Plan Update. This suit has now been settled to add protections to rural and habitat lands.

Under the settlement, once the County follows through on specific actions, the lawsuit will be dropped. The first set of actions improves the “foundation” system of Rural, Agricultural, and Community Development land use designations put in place by the 2003 Update. To combat piecemeal general plan amendments (GPAs) and potential sprawl, a “Certainty System” was adopted in 2003 that limits changes between foundations to 5-year intervals, when comprehensive planning updates occur. Under the terms of the EHL settlement, the cycle interval will be increased to 8 years, which further stabilizes the land use process and also accords with new State planning cycles. Very importantly, the settlement also ensures that all GPAs proposed during the comprehensive cycle – whether county-initiated or landowner-initiated – are considered and analyzed together. This will improve upon the current situation in which the two tracks are bifurcated to the detriment of comprehensive planning.

Another problem with the 2003 Update was the presence of study areas for so-called “Rural Village Overlays” covering thousands of acres of habitat lands. In actuality, these overlays would have allowed “leapfrog” urban development into high fire hazard areas. Thus, in the second set of actions called for by the settlement, the two most harmful overlays – near Aguanga and in the hills east of Lake Elsinore – will be removed from the General Plan. While these deletions could theoretically be reconsidered during the Update cycle scheduled for completion in 2010, the precedent put in place by the EHL settlement was strengthened when the stakeholder advisory committee for the current Update independently recommended elimination of the two overlays.

EHL thanks the Board of Supervisors and County staff for working with us so constructively to achieve these planning benefits. The law firm of Johnson and Sedlack in Temecula and staff attorney Michael Fitts represented EHL in this multi-year litigation.