Ventura County Wildlife Regulations Met Major Resistance | Commissioners Have Reservations Moving Forward

By Debra Tash

On January 31, 2019, a late January storm raged outside while another storm raged in the County Government Center today.  A Planning Commission hearing was held in an attempt to enact major restrictions on property owners in the unincorporated area.  County personnel had to open up the lower plaza room as well as placing television monitors in the atrium for the overflow crowd which showed up despite the blustery weather.

County Planning staff, along with Seth Riley from the National Park Service and Kristeen Penrod, who has served as Executive/Conservation Director for the SC Wildlands, presided over the presentation of the ordinance.  SC Wildlands is the organization which produced the map/study used as a basis for the County’s latest set of restrictions. 

Riley began the presentation noting the loss of genetic diversity in various wildlife populations, including Mountain Lions. Mr. Riley noted a male lion that has fathered his daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters.  Yet Riley did not address if this is out of the ordinary.  He did site that male lions have fought. He also stated that those lions in the Santa Monica Mountain Park are less genetically diverse than their northern cousins. When prompted later in the meeting on how long they had before species in the county were lost, Riley said 50 years.

Kristeen Penrod and Seth Riley

Staff then began their presentation which ran for over 3 1/2 hours. It was led by Shelley Sussman, the senior planner on the project which produced the 29 page document in question. Indirect/direct barriers/fences were discussed all the way down to what light-bulbs could used by property owners.  Staff even included putting caps on fence posts to prevent birds and small animals from falling into the open pipes. These regulations will be placed on 7380 parcels encompassing 397.535 acres. Parcels of two acres and up would be affected. The wildlife passage  is contained in three wildlife corridors depicted below. It also includes the Simi Hills. If passed, this will be the largest wildlife crossing in the United States.  Only 20% of these parcels are held by governmental agencies and 100,000 acres fall within the Thomas/Hill/Woolsey fire areas.  The city of Moorpark is looking to do their own wildlife restrictions based on the County’s.

The Largest Proposed Wildlife Corridor in the United States

During a break, Citizens Journal briefly interviewed Ms. Penrod from the SC Wildlands, which completed the South Coast Missing Linkages project in 2008.  She was asked how much field work had been done specifically in Ventura County.  She answered a total of two weeks of such work, concentrating on the transportation routes.  Ms. Penrod founded SC Wildlands in 2001 after a conference that did an overview of wildlife crossings in California.  After that conference, on the way to the airport, Penrod discussed with a few other attendees about starting an organization to study wildlife passages.  SC Wildlands is a nonprofit which has been given governmental grants and grants from private foundations/NGO’s Non-governmental Organizations.

Representatives from Thomas Aquinas College and Channel Islands University were concerned about the lighting restrictions which would be detrimental to their students’ safety.  They also related their experience in both the Thomas Fire as well as the Woolsey/Hill Fires that lead to the evacuation of their campuses.

A large contingent from the Lockwood Valley, which is in the far northweastern reaches of Ventura County near the Kern County line, attended the hearing.  They asked to be removed from the Wildlife Ordinance.  They are surrounded by National Forest and did not see the need for further restriction on their properties when wildlife has hundreds of thousands of acreage as habitat already in the area.

Planning did not go through the CEQA process when crafting the ordinance.  CEQA is the review process all discretionary applicants are subject to.  The California Environmental Quality Act is a state law.  From their website: “CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.”  It was later commented on by County Counsel.  Counsel said staff took the position under CEQA that the regulation was done as a way to help the wildlife movement and therefore exempt from the process. 

There were 125 people who signed up to speak, the majority being against the ordinance and many of those were farmers and ranchers.  By the end of the day, the audience thinned out quite a bit and many missed their opportunity to speak. Mr. Peter Carniglia, who lives in Bell Canyon and claims he that support for the ordinance had been wrongly attributed by the Acorn, which had interviewed him.  His speech, which he did not have time to wait to give, was left with us.  In it he wrote, “We all want to protect and mange our wildlife, but this ordinance as it applies to Bell Canyon will probably have quite the opposite effect, it is so flawed.”  It was a sentiment expressed by many who asked that the ordinance be sent back to planning to rework and those who have a real stake in the outcome be consulted. 

Planning Commissioners then asked staff questions after public comments ended. Shelley Sussman, the project lead, defended the process, claiming that three workshops were held with land owners and farmers, though many said they were not informed of any workshops.  She said, “We think we heard you.”

When asked by the Planning Commission’s scope of responsibility in denying or changing the ordinance, Counsel said that they were to act in an advisory capacity.  Counsel denied that the regulation is a taking in violation of the 5th Amendment as stated by some speakers. Yet it was noted that it could be seen as a regulatory taking but it cannot knock it out (void) the ordinance entirely until it is applied.

Maggie Kestly, who is the temporary acting commissioner for District 3, asked if the Lockwood Valley could be removed from the corridor.  

Commissioner Phil White for District 1, Steve Bennett’s appointment, moved to vote for the staff report with addressing issues raised by the public, such as lighting, existing conservation easements, safety, fire risk, clarifying stream bed designations, and that the Santa Ana Susanna field lab be included.  Commissioner Richard Rodriguez, District 5 for Supervisor John Zaragoza had problems moving the ordinance forward, which he deemed was flawed. He spoke of how it will affect farming in the county. He felt that the ranchers/farmers are the best stewards for the land. Commissioner Kestly wanted the Tierra Rejada Valley removed from critical habitat, setbacks reduced, lighting and, fire load issues addressed. Commissioner Jim King, District 4, Supervisor Bob Huber’s appointment, had more reasons not to support it and he said he just didn’t see it ready to go to the Board.

Supervisor Linda Parks was the initiator of this ordinance. Her case is that many species of animals are being/can be adversely affected by development which impedes their free passage through the lands of the county and that this can reduce biological diversity and their numbers. Rural lands appear to be the target. Though there were supporters for what Planning had done, some property owners, some from groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, they were outnumbered. Opponents of the initiative deny the extent of claimed impedance of animal mobility, challenge the lack of proof and cite infringement on their constitutionally protected property rights.

County Counsel said it will still go forward since the Board initiated the project.  However they can recommend what should be fixed before it is sent to the Supervisors.  This is what the Commissioners did with a laundry list of reservations, including removal of the Lockwood Valley, that will send Planning Staff back to work.

The Motion of Approval from the Clerk Recorder: Planning.Commission.Direction.Wildlife.Draft.1.31.2018

 

Photos Credits, Debra Tash

Debra Tash is Editor-in-Chief of Citizensjournal.us, past president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, business executive and award-winning author, residing in Somis.


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4 Responses to Ventura County Wildlife Regulations Met Major Resistance | Commissioners Have Reservations Moving Forward

  1. William Hicks February 1, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Unfortunately NGO’s are considered shareholders in this conversation. Most of these “shareholders” don’t live here and will not be negatively affected by such laws.

    The only way this can be rectified is that the definition of a shareholder only include those that actually live in the affected areas.

    Reply
  2. William Hicks February 1, 2019 at 12:58 am

    Linda Parks is my County Supervisor, and again, she puts environmentalists needs ahead of human needs.

    She, and another NGO affiliated person designated the “wetlands” in Newbury Park an area where a self described rare plant would be negatively affected. I did my research on said plant and based on Department of Agriculture information found out that it was just a widespread invasive weed that was no more endangered than the crabgrass in my lawn.

    She is consistently more concerned about such projects than the people who have foolishly reelected her over the years because most of those in her district are never affected negatively my her machinations.

    Reply
  3. Citizen Reporter January 31, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Once again the county knowingly supports an ordinance that is not really fact/research-backed on the impact on animals or people and arguably violates the Fifth Amendment. Is it really true that a County official thinks the purported benefits outweigh the Bill of Rights (takings clause) and that this position is unchecked by any other official/branch of government?

    It was interesting and unfair that the 3 1/2 hours of presentations were virtually all advocacy- devoid of opposition positions and that opposition was relegated to their 2-3 minute ditties. Many of the 125 enrolled speakers couldn’t stay all day and part of the night to utilize their opportunity to speak.

    Looks like a great opportunity for PJI or other legal advocacy group to right this wrong, although first they will need a tragic “tort” to do so.

    Reply
  4. Susan January 31, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    The People are stepping forward to protect private property rights. This is a circus initiated by Ms. Parks to take private property without justifiable facts. Inadequate research/study. The People are the best stewards of the land and their property must be protected.

    Reply

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