June 20, 2009

Biological Resources Evaluation and Jurisdictional Waters Delineation

Warning….breathy post follows:

The Biological Resources Evaluation and Jurisdictional Waters Delineation for APN 7237017006 (Sean Hitchcock's parcel adjacent to Loynes Dr., just west of Studebaker Rd.) came out this week.

I downloaded my version at the Press Telegram in Joe Segura's article "Shore Patrol: Los Cerritos Report - Wetlands or Not?" Interesting read.

This report was prepared by Ty Garrison of SWCA Consultants at the request of Mr. Sean Hitchock. Mr. Garrison was tasked to investigate two subject matters: 1) the general biological conditions of the site, including the potential for the site to support sensitive biological resources, and 2) a wetland and jurisdictional waters delineation.

Mr. Garrison conducted pedestrian (walking) surveys on April 13 and 20, 2009. It is notable that heavy equipment was working on site during the survey(s).

Mr. Garrison concluded that, "there are no state or federally listed or otherwise special status species occupying the project site." Additionally, "there are no wetlands or jurisdictional waters of the U.S. or waters of the state or riparian habitats under the jurisdiction of the CDFG or RWQCB on the site."

Now I have some questions (surprise, surprise). I should probably start by saying that I am privy only to the publicly available material (the Grunion article, the PT article and the report), and my questions/concerns exclusively stem from the released information. It is distinctly possible (and likely probable) that the public release of additional information and/or further explanation as to the process at hand would answer my questions and/or assuage my concerns. But ya gotta play the hand you are dealt.

First off, the report is ostensibly silent with regards to the Coastal Commission regulations, process and/or involvement. Why?

The subject lands are within the Coastal Zone. Mr. Craig Beck (Department of Development Services) indicated that the Coastal Commission will ultimately be approving the report. Yet the report ignores the Coastal Commission process? If the Coastal Commission has decision making authority (as Mr. Beck indicates), why does the report not identify that authority within the regulatory framework of the produced document? Why is the Coastal Commission voting on a "project" which ignores the existence of their involvement?

So I guess the question of the hour is, "why was this report prepared?" If it was prepared to satisfy a permit requirement, shouldn't all regulations be followed, including those associated with the California Coastal Act? If, however, the report was prepared to enable the Corps to make a determination as to whether or not they (the Corps) have any sort of "regulatory authority" (i.e. jurisdiction), why are the Planning Commission and Coastal Commission involved as decision makers? I don't understand.

Further, the report attempts to make a determination as to whether or not the subject lands are wetlands, identifying the regulatory requirements of the responsible agencies (identified as the Army Corps of Engineers, CDFG and the RWQCB). Again, what about the Coastal Commission requirements for wetlands determinations?

As stated earlier in this blog, the Coastal Commission has a "one-parameter" definition to establish wetlands presence whereas the Army Corps of Engineers has a "three-parameter" definition (parameters being wetland vegetation, soils and hydrology). Mr. Garrison's report identified the presence of wetland vegetation (rabbits-foot grass and broad-leaved peppergrass) within portions of the undisturbed lands. How does that factor into the wetlands determination equation (an equation seemingly absent the Coastal Commission variable)?

Additionally, and as referenced above, Mr. Garrison conducted the pedestrian surveys while heavy equipment (identified as a water truck, several dump trucks and a bulldozer) was working on-site. Okay, really?

First off, a portion of a biological survey is auditory. By that, are there species of birds present which you hear, but don't necessarily see? Was Mr. Garrison's hearing ability diminished by the earthwork occurring on-site?

Further, and perhaps more importantly, birds and other critters generally tend to avoid "loud" noises, such as those noises associated with construction activities. Why would Mr. Garrison conduct his biological survey while earth-moving activities were simultaneously underway? If he was looking to determine which species exist on-site, why did he go out there at a time when the heavy machinery activity and resultant noises were potentially keeping species away? I mean, it's not like the earthwork was scheduled to take forever to complete; it was finished within a matter of days. Couldn't wait? Why not?

Lastly (and more for clarification than anything else), it would also be helpful to know the acreage of the project site, and how many of those acres were subject to the illegal scraping activity, and how many acres remain undisturbed.

So where to go from here? Next post.