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JACKSON, CA – On Thursday, February 4, 2021, the Friends of Greater Ione (Friends) and Jackson-based nonprofit conservation group Foothill Conservancy (Conservancy) filed a lawsuit against the County of Amador in Amador County Superior Court. The suit challenges the Amador County Board of Supervisors’ December 15, 2020, decision to rezone 1.8 square miles of land outside Ione, known as the Edwin Lands, for manufacturing uses.
In making its decision, the board of supervisors rejected the Amador County Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the rezone and the many objections from Amador County residents. It also ignored significant new information about groundwater availability in the Cosumnes River Subbasin, where the project is located, as well as surface water supply from the Amador Water Agency.
“In our land-use planning work, we try hard to find solutions, and we consider litigation to be our option of last resort,” said Foothill Conservancy Board President, Marta Johnson. “We only undertake it when there are serious community and environmental issues at stake, decisionmakers ignore community concerns, and there is no other option left. This is only the fifth lawsuit we’ve filed over the last 31 years, and only the second against the County of Amador. But this issue was serious enough, and the legal violations clear enough, that we felt compelled to join with Ione-area neighbors to challenge the County’s decision.”
“The board decision is an end-run around the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the County violated its own general plan in the rezoning,” Johnson said. “The decision is based on only cursory environmental review with no assurances that water will be available for future development. A rezone of this size needs complete environmental review that takes into account the latest information and studies.”
In addition to the water supply issue, the previously zoned residential-agricultural land was rezoned to allow uses that are not compatible with Ione’s residential neighborhoods or nearby Ione Valley working farms and ranches. In rezoning the property, the County did not include any conditions to protect the human and natural environment.
Numerous local residents attended public meetings and submitted written comments to protest the zone change, concerned about the effects on their farms and ranches, property values, community, health, and the unique Ione Valley environment and quality of life.
Friends’ representative and 5th generation Ione Valley resident and farmer Susan Port, stated, “Local residents have joined this litigation because we are tired of the county ignoring our concerns. Nearly every Ione-area resident who commented on this project was opposed to it. We are worried about what it could bring down the road in terms of noise, air pollution, traffic, groundwater depletion, and odors. We are worried about water for our neighbors’ ranches, the health of our children and elders, and the real threats to our rural and small-town quality of life.”
Groundwater on the project site—part of the Cosumnes Subbasin—is known to be overdrafted, and ranches near the site rely on groundwater for irrigating pasture and watering livestock. Approving new manufacturing and industrial uses in the area requires a clear and realistic plan for future water supply. New development—especially high-water use development—runs the risk of depleting groundwater at a faster rate.
This was confirmed in a letter to the board dated December 14, 2020, from groundwater expert Steven Deverel, Ph.D., which stated, “ … it is important that water use for future proposed land uses are fully and collectively evaluated as part of the CEQA analysis for the Edwin Lands rezone and any other proposed land uses in the subbasin. Because there is subsurface flow from the Foothills to the Plains subarea and the ESJ (Eastern San Joaquin) Subbasin, additional pumping in the Foothills could potentially adversely affect groundwater storage in the Plains subarea of the Cosumnes Subbasin and ESJ Subbasin.”
As the Amador County Planning Commission concluded in its opposition to and recommended denial of the rezone, the county should require a specific plan or a master plan when it rezones this 1.8 square mile-area from residential-agricultural to manufacturing uses. At minimum, the county should require a study to identify road and utility requirements, how they will be funded, and how they will affect the community and the environment.
The litigation will be heard in the Amador County Superior Court at a future date. For more information, including how you can donate to support this important planning and legal effort, email Marta Johnson, 209-223-3508.