The South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) has reached a major milestone by receiving permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a water quality certification from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
A permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife also is under preparation and anticipated soon, HCP spokesperson Gene Endicott said in a July 29 news release.
“The South Sacramento HCP is the first habitat conservation plan in the country to integrate endangered species and aquatic resource permitting into one locally-managed process,” Endicott said.
The plan established a joint power authority, the South Sacramento Conservation Agency (SSCA), as a one-stop shop for developers to get their state and federal permits. The SSCA will use developer money to buy agricultural easements from willing sellers. Developers will pay the conservation agency to use those easements as mitigation for their projects.
Endicott quoted Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli in his press release, noting that he represents much of southern Sacramento County and chairs the SSCA Board of Directors.
“Many years of hard work by a whole lot of folks have resulted in the South Sacramento HCP becoming a reality. The plan is structured to effectively balance habitat preservation, efficient project permitting and protections for farming and ranching operations,” Nottoli said.
Supervisor Sue Frost also sits on the SSCA Board.
The HCP multi-jurisdiction partnership includes Sacramento County, the cities of Galt and Rancho Cordova, the Sacramento County Water Agency, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, and the Capital South East Connector Joint Powers Authority.
Cosumnes Community Planning Council (CCPAC) members criticized the plan when Sacramento County planners presented it at four meetings in 2017 and 2018. The last meeting was on April 25, 2018 when five members of the council voted against recommending the plan. The two CCPAC members who lived in Rancho Murieta abstained since their community was excluded from the HCP.
Off and on for more than 20 years, the plan addressed the fact that permitting for development in south Sacramento was very inefficient. Not only was it costly and time-consuming for developers to get permits from local, state and federal agencies to mitigate damage to endangered species, open spaces and water resources, but also the project-by-project permitting process wasn’t good for conservation.
The HCP area encompasses 317,656 acres bordered by Highway 50 on the north, San Joaquin County on the south, El Dorado County to the east and the Sacramento River to the west, and includes Galt and most of Rancho Cordova. Within the SSHCP plan, 36,282 acres would become part of an interconnected preserve system, including approximately 1,000 acres of vernal pool habitat. Twenty-eight plant and wildlife species, and their natural habitats will be conserved under the plan.
At the early CCPAC meetings in Wilton, council members were worried about preserving agricultural land and objected to another layer of bureaucracy.
One of the more interesting CCPAC meetings was on Aug. 23, 2017 when two large ranch owners disagreed on how conservation easements would affect agriculture.
Stan Van Vleck told the group he has almost 1,000 acres with an agricultural easement (not HCP) that he uses to graze cattle. He said selling the easement gave him the money to buy out family members who wanted out of the business. He said it has worked well for the past 10 years.
Jay Schneider, who owns a large ranch in Sloughhouse, said selling a conservation easement would be cheating the next generation. Van Vleck disagreed, saying the easement sale money realized allowed him to expand his business. Nor did he have to pay capital gains taxes.
Rich Radmacher, the county senior planner, told the meeting that HCP easements have very simple restrictions and only bar orchards and vineyards but no other agricultural uses.
“We are not here to see you guys fail. We need you to stay in agriculture,” he said.
CCPAC Chairman Fred Hegge and council members Dan Reid and Jim Perham said another major objection was that no one would represent them on the joint powers conservation agency. County Consultant Bill Ziebron assured them that the technical committee handling the day-to-day work would have an agricultural representative.
Despite the efforts of the county representatives to come back with answers to their objections and to win their approval, CCPAC members remained skeptical. Their opposition culminated at their final meeting on April 25, 2018 when they voted not to recommend it.
Councilmember Reid summed their sentiment by saying the only real winners would be the developers.
“Consolidating the permits at a one-stop shot is an added level of bureaucracy for the ease of the developers,” he said.
According to the HCP website (www.southsachcp.com), the SSCA board made four appointments to the Implemental Review Committee in June. That group will oversee the issuance of permits, buy conservation easements from willing sellers and perform related day-to-day work. The appointees were Bob Shattuck, Shattuck Planning & Management, Inc., representing the business community; Mike Wackman, Wackman Consulting, representing the agriculture cropland community; Pat Kirby, Sacramento County Farm Bureau member and rancher, representing the agriculture rangeland community; and Sean Wirth, Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Sierra Club, representing the environmental community.