Saturday, 26 November 2022

Lyons: Concerned about excessive grading in the name of vegetation management

Extensive clearing on Point Lakeview Road near Lower Lake, California, points out the problems with Lake County’s hazardous vegetation ordinance. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — An extensive unpermitted grading project at 10919 Point Lakeview Road demonstrates a serious problem with the county of Lake’s hazardous vegetation ordinance.

Last spring I saw a “notice to abate” posted on this property and became concerned that some overzealous clearing may take place.

Then, in April I noticed a substantial part of this property being graded. I called the Lake County Planning Department and was transferred to Tod Elliott, the county’s grading enforcement officer who responded to my concerns.

Elliott went to the site and halted the grading. In a followup call, I learned from Elliott that the grading had been allowed because of a “miscommunication” between the county planning department and the property owners, Jordan Lane Properties LLC.

Only bare dirt remains in most of the graded area. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

Elliott told me that workers were on their way to clearing the whole 60-acre property and thanked me for reporting the violation.

When I asked if any mitigation would be required for clearing of approximately 15 to 20 acres of native California chaparral habitat during nesting season, Elliott told me that he wouldn’t require mitigation because it really wasn’t the property owners fault, it was a “miscommunication,” and he felt it unfair to penalize the property owner.

I filed a Public Records Act request with the county to find out how this was allowed and who gave the permission to grade the hillside. What exactly was the “miscommunication?”

The answer I got was that the only communication was the “notice to abate,” that was placed on the property. There was no other communication between anyone at the county.

Jordan Lane Properties LLC is owned by Bruce J. Myers and Thomas K. Meyers of Colusa. They created the LLC in January 2018 according to the Secretary of State’s Office. They are linked with agricultural companies in Colusa, including a rice mill, California Family Foods.

Elymus Glaucus is a native bunch grass that grows along county roads. It remains green much later into the dry season than non-native grasses and is less flammable. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

As an LLC, Jordan Lane Properties owns over 200 acres of native chaparral in this vicinity along Point Lakeview Road. I sent them a certified letter regarding this situation which they have signed for, but have not replied to.

As conservation chair for the Redbud Audubon Society and someone who has been an active environmentalist in Lake County for decades, I have long been attempting to reveal to county residents and officials the value of Lake County’s main habitat — chaparral.

I understand the need for vegetation management along roads, near property lines, and near homes. I clear shrubbery around my home. I live here too and am as concerned about fire as anyone.

However, if you look at the county’s vegetation management ordinance, it essentially says that any vegetation in the unincorporated areas of Lake County is hazardous.

The ordinance needs to be clarified. When a property owner’s land is posted, they need to understand what is expected and what is not allowed, and not use the notice as an excuse for unpermitted grading.

Piles of brush have been left on the graded property. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

Also, if it is truly a fire concern issue, are we going to grade all of our native vegetation out of existence because of fear of fire?

Chaparral sequesters carbon like any other green living plant. Extensive destruction of vegetation exacerbates climate change which is the driving force behind the catastrophic wildfires we have seen over the past years.

Chaparral is a unique biome, native only to California, parts of Southern Oregon and Northern Mexico. It is home to many song birds like California towhees, wrentits, scrub jays, California thrashers and more.

Small mammals also make chaparral their homes. Songbirds nest in chaparral and the fact that such extensive destruction was done during nesting season is unconscionable.

Along with birds and mammals, chaparral also hosts a variety of native plants, many of them flowering plants that provide nectar for both honey bees and many species of native bees.

On the one hand, the County’s Tourism Improvement District is constantly touting the scenic beauty of this area, while on the other hand the county is allowing uncontrolled grading and other unsightly projects.

More unsightly grading on the Jordan Lane property. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

This isn’t the first time that a property owner has seemingly taken advantage of a vegetation management warning to do wholesale grading of their property. The county grading ordinance requires that no more than 10,000 square feet of native vegetation can be graded without a grading permit. Such a permit often requires some California Environmental Quality Act review and, for larger projects, biological studies.

I’ve been battling destructive grading projects for years. At least when a property owner goes through the process, they are required to do proper studies, including erosion control and biological review.

The Audubon Society has worked with local grape growers and managed to get some concessions regarding wildlife corridor protection and other mitigating factors. When someone just starts grading, with no permit, many environmental protections are not possible.

My concern is that this company will someday be applying for permission to plant a vineyard or a cannabis development. Also, because there is no mitigation, the site is a total eyesore on one of the most scenic roads in the county.

Native Salvia, or Sonoma sage has been completely graded. Salvia is an effective ground cover, not as flammable as non-native grasses, and is a source of nectar for pollinators. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

The property owners were required to do some “cleanup,” but the property still looks terrible, compared to the better-managed shaded fuel breaks around communities and along other roads.

There needs to be smoothing out of the land, replanting of some shrubbery and native grasses and forbes and removal of piles of dead shrubs and boulders.

One of the things that happens when all native plants are removed is that non-native grasses invade. These grasses are highly flammable, light easily and carry flames quickly to bordering chaparral.

The intelligent form of vegetation management along county roads is shaded fuel breaks, leaving the native forbes like Sonoma sage and native grasses in place, to hold in the soil and prevent invasion of star thistle, non-native grasses and thistle.

Since my initial contact with Tod Elliott, I have not had any questions answered or concerns acknowledged.

This causes grave concern to me, and should to other county residents who care about the health and beauty of what remains of our countryside.

Roberta Lyons lives in Lower Lake, California.

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