A coalition of environmental groups on June 1 filed a lawsuit to challenge the city of Elk Grove’s expansion beyond its southern border.
The Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) this February approved a request by a group of developers to expand the city’s Sphere Of Influence (SOI) over 1,156 acres south of Kammerer Road.
This expansion could allow city officials to annex that rural land and approve development there.
Opponents charge that the commission made their approval without properly reviewing the environmental impacts.
Many of these opponents filed the joint lawsuit against LAFCo this month after the commission denied their appeal last month.
The plaintiffs include the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), Sierra Club, Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk, Habitat 2020, and Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
These petitioners are seeking a decision from the court whether the environmental review satisfies all environmental requirements. The city was named as a party of interest in the lawsuit.
They claim that LAFCo relied on an environmental impact report (EIR) that failed to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for disclosure, analysis, and/or mitigation of significant project impacts.
The environmental groups who initiated the lawsuit also state that the project interferes with longtime planning efforts designed to prevent urban sprawl, preserve wildlife habitat and protect agricultural lands from development. They allege that the EIR “fails to mitigate for loss of farmland of local importance.”
In a June 1 press statement, Jim Pachl, legal chair of the Sierra Club’s Mother Lode Chapter, stated that more than 4,000 acres of vacant land are zoned for new development within city limits, and 1,800 of those acres are residential projects that were approved, yet are unbuilt.
He mentioned that some of those projects were approved more than a decade ago, and that the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove mall at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road remains half-built.
Pachl concluded that LAFCo does not have a “legitimate reason to allow a conversion of farmland for expansion of Elk Grove’s footprint.”
In the same press statement, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Don Mooney, wrote that his clients “represent the public interest in curbing sprawl and preserving farmland in this region.”
Overall, the environmental groups seek a new EIR for the project, and a suspension of any approvals for construction and the elimination of all activities that could result in changes to the physical environment until its CEQA compliancy is reviewed.
Although not involved in the lawsuit, the Sacramento County Farm Bureau has held firm to its opposition of an expansion of the city’s sphere of influence in this area.
Lindsey Liebig, executive director of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau, commented on the SOI approval for this property, which includes previously protected farmland.
“Sacramento County Farm Bureau opposed the Elk Grove sphere of influence amendment based upon our land use policy, adopted 2007, which states that while we respect the position of the city and county’s need to grow to accommodate future growth, agriculture should be of highest priority and protected against urban sprawl,” she said.
While speaking at LAFCo’s February meeting as an Elk Grove resident and not on behalf of the city, Elk Grove Vice Mayor Darren Suen mentioned that the SOI approval would help Elk Grove’s jobs-to-housing imbalance.
“Expanding the SOI will enable us, the city, to drive the planning process and analyze uses that will support that vision,” he said. “The current land inventory that we have simply does not support the desired jobs-housing balance that we need.”
Pat Hume, the commission’s chair and a member of the Elk Grove City Council, could not be reached for comment, as of press time.