Most of us can probably recite the history of Dave McCoy and Mammoth Mountain in our sleep, but what about the history of Mammoth Lakes and California law?
In the past few months, Mono County planners and members of the Board of Supervisors have stood their ground against labor unions that are using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to slow the progress of Ormat’s proposed new geothermal plant. Legal representatives for the labor unions CURE (California Unions for Reliable Energy) and LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America) are arguing that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) produced by the County for the project is not complete and needs further work.
This local example of a statewide issue of alleged misuse of CEQA and the discussions of a potential CEQA rewrite that have followed brought back memories for local attorney Jim Reed, who is representing Ormat, of the last time CEQA was re-written. It was a court case in Mammoth Lakes that created the need for a re-write in the early 1970s, according to Reed.
“Originally, in 1969 when CEQA started, it only applied to publicly funded projects,” Reed told The Sheet recently.
A proposed private development in Mammoth, however, changed all that. The proponent, International Recreation, Ltd, filed an application for a conditional use permit on April 20, 1971, according to the records. The application was for “two multi-story structures housing 64 1, 2, 3, 4 bedroom condominiums plus 120 studio-type condominiums, a proposed restaurant and specialty shops. All for sale. With ample parking and recreational facilities.”
The project would have been built where 1849 Condominiums sits today near Canyon Lodge. However, a group called the Friends of Mammoth strongly opposed and fought against it, eventually filing a lawsuit called Friends of Mammoth v. Board of Supervisor of Mono County, which went to the California Supreme Court in 1972.
The group asserted that water and sewage problems would result from the project and needed to be studied. Members of the Friends of Mammoth were also concerned about snow removal, police protection and the diminution of open space.
According to Reed, Fred Schaeffer and Richard Young were the founders of Friends of Mammoth. According to several online sources, including www.womenshistory.vermont.gov, local environmentalist and world-famous ski-racer Andrea Mead Lawrence also helped found the group and was very involved in the lawsuit.
“Our former judge, Eddie Denton, was DA then and represented the county along with other attorneys in the litigation,” Reed explained.
The principal legal question that arose in the case was whether CEQA applied to private activities for which a permit or other similar entitlement is required.
The court ruled that the defendants (Mono County) were required to consider whether the proposed condominium construction may have a significant effect on the environment and if so, to prepare an environmental impact report prior to the decision to grant the conditional use and building permits. The decision, which became known as the Friends of Mammoth Interpretive Principle, set the stage to require that all California projects going before government agencies be subject to the rules of CEQA.
When the ruling was made in 1972, “all hell broke loose in the legislature,” Reed, chief counsel of the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee at the time, remembered. “It was an enormous extension of the act, which most people thought only covered projects carried out or funded by public entities. I was involved in the re-writing of CEQA after the court decision.
“You never want to watch law or sausages being made,” he continued, referencing German statesman Otto von Bismarck.
In fact, Reed was the typist at the helm as the law was re-written in the form that we know today. “It was signed and became law immediately,” Reed recalled, unlike most bills that have to jump through many bureaucratic hoops.
The Mono County Board of Supervisors approved the use permit for Ormat’s project, upholding the Planning Commission’s decision, on Nov. 13. It is yet to be seen if the Board’s decision to move forward with the project against the wishes of the two appellants (CURE and LIUNA) will be challenged in court. Presently, the appellants have simply requested the minutes from the Nov. 13 meeting, according to Mono County Community Development Director Scott Burns.