The City of Turlock has reached a settlement in a lawsuit which challenged the city's General Plan, arguing the document did not do enough to protect agricultural interests.
The settlement requires the Turlock City Council consider a new, right-to-farm ordinance, and a measure forcing the developers of large new buildings to conduct an energy efficiency assessment.
The California Clean Energy Committee, a Davis-based non-profit, filed suit against the City of Turlock on Oct. 9, 2012, shortly after the Sep. 22, 2012 adoption of the General Plan. At the time Eugene Wilson, a lawyer and head of the committee, argued that the plan did not fully comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires cities to mitigate the impacts of development.
“The parties have since engaged in productive settlement negotiations, and have negotiated the present settlement agreement,” the agreement reads. “In making this agreement, neither party is conceding the merits of the other party's legal position. The parties have nonetheless come to a compromise which avoids the further cost and uncertainty of litigation.”
The committee first expressed its concerns with the General Plan, which will guide Turlock land use for the next 20 years, on July 20, 2012. At that time, the committee submitted a 14-page list of 48 concerns with the General Plan's Environmental Impact Report, a document which assesses how Turlock's projected land use would affect the environment. The letter asked for significant additional environmental mitigation measures to be included in the plan, protecting agriculture, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and requiring energy conservation.
“Based on a careful review of the proposed general plan and the EIR, there are a number of areas where either environmental impacts should be more carefully evaluated or feasible mitigation measures should be adopted,” the letter reads. “The EIR should be revised and recirculated.”
The City of Turlock responded point-by-point to the complaint prior to the General Plan's adoption, but Wilson felt the plan's mitigation measures remained insufficient, leading to the lawsuit.
A settlement was reached on March 15, requiring the City of Turlock consider both a right-to-farm ordinance and a measure requiring an energy efficiency review of new large construction. Turlock must also make certain payments, under terms of the settlement.
The right-to-farm ordinance, based on sample language provided, states that no commercial agricultural operation conducted on agriculturally-zoned land can be considered a nuisance. Neighboring residences or businesses must “accept the inconveniences associated with agricultural operations, such as noise, odors, flies, dust or fumes.”
The “right-to-farm” would apply only to agricultural operations in existence for more than three years, which were not considered nuisances when they began.
The “Mandatory Energy Condition of Approval,” would require developers of buildings exceeding 50,000 square feet of occupied space hire an independent expert to conduct an energy efficiency cost-effectiveness study. The study would demonstrate the time it would take for certain energy-savings measures to pay for themselves, and the annual cost savings they would generate. Developers would not be required to install any energy-saving measures.
Both legislative actions must be considered prior to June 30, per the settlement, unless substantial CEQA review is needed. The settlement does not mandate that City Council approve the items, as the city cannot contractually bind itself to take future legislative action, but requires council to consider the actions within the aforementioned time frame.
In addition to the new policies, Wilson will receive a $15,000 cash payment from the City of Turlock for his legal fees.
The settlement will also require the City of Turlock to pay $3,000 per year to the Turlock Farmers' Market for five years, which may only be used to conduct an agricultural marketing program to promote the Farmers' Market.
Members of the Turlock City Council granted final approval to the settlement by a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, with Councilwoman Amy Bublak dissenting.
Bublak voted against the settlement because she believes Wilson was attempting to muscle the City of Turlock into adopting legislation consistent with his views on environmental protection, rather than face potentially costly, drawn-out litigation.
“I just felt like it was inappropriate litigation,” Bublak said. “I don't fold to one man.”