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Valley attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan

Posted on July 26, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Superior Court Judge Nancy Case Shaffer in Santa Rosa has ruled in favor of local Sonoma Valley attorney Jerry Bernhaut’s lawsuit challenging Sonoma County’s Climate Action 2020 Plan. A lawyer with River Watch, a Sonoma County firm active in filing environmental challenges, Bernhaut’s suit argued that the county’s plan violated various provisions of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Quoting from the 41-page ruling: “The court finds that the Sonoma County Regional Climate protection Authority’s Final programmatic EIR (“the Peir”) for Climate Action 2020 and Beyond, its Climate Action Plan (“CAP”) and the County of Sonoma”s approval of the CAP violate CEQA, in that the inventory of greenhouse gas emissions is based on insufficient information, the PEIR fails to include effectively enforceable, clearly defined performance standards for the mitigation measures regarding Green House gas (“GHG”) emissions, identified as “GHG reduction Measures”, and fails to develop and fully analyze a reasonable range of alternatives.”

Commenting on the ruling, Bernhaut said, “The court’s ruling validates River Watch’s contentions that:

1. By failing to account for GHG emissions from global tourist travel and global distribution of wine and other Sonoma County products, the CAP grossly understated the true GHG emissions generated by activities in Sonoma County.

2. By failing to identify clear and enforceable reduction measures, the CAP failed to provide  reasonable assurance that it’s program would result in the projected reduction of the County’s GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels, as predicted in the CAP, or even to 1990 levels by 2020, consistent with AB32.

3. By refusing to evaluate an alternative involving a moratorium or any form of control of growth in tourist destinations and/or wine production, the CAP failed to consider environmentally superior alternatives which are necessary for any realistic hope of reducing Sonoma County’s contribution to global GHG emissions to levels required to avoid reaching tipping points for irreversible catastrophic global warming.”

Bernhaut added, “It’s time to admit that perpetual growth on a planet with limited resources and carrying capacity is not sustainable.”

The County’s Climate Action Plan 2020 was adopted by Sonoma County last year, but River Watch’s legal action has placed the program on hold. The plan was that all nine Sonoma County cities would join the county and sign-on to the plan, conforming to its goals and methodology. That process was halted while the lawsuit proceeded, and now that the court has made its ruling, it’s unclear as to the next steps. The county can appeal the court decision, or it can decide to revamp and reissue the plan in accordance with the corrections and changes the court decision highlights.

Of particular note is the court’s reference to the need to use VMT calculations (Vehicle Miles Traveled) to better asses and calculate the full impacts of GHG (Greenhouse Gas emissions). During the recent, successful appeal of the certification of the EIR for the proposed hotel on West Napa Street, appellants objected to the fact that VMT methodology was not used to calculate the project’s GHG impacts, but city staff and the EIR consultant argued that calculations using VMT need not be used. It’s unclear what, if any, this court decision will have on that EIR, which is currently undergoing review and amendment.



9 thoughts on “Valley attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan

  1. Thanks and kudos to Jerry Bernhaut and River Watch for holding the wine industry to the same standards of environmental sustainability that everyone else has to adhere to. Why should the wine industry be exempt from adhering to the same standards as every other business has to adhere to? Because they’re big and successful? We need citizens and businesses to work together to minimize further environmental degradation.

  2. Here is a citizen we can be proud of. Perpetual growth is unsustainable but perpetual growth has become the norm. A vibrant economy is important but profit can’t be the only value. Slow down.

  3. Let’s all hope the County accepts the court’s ruling and doesn’t waste any more precious time by taking this to appeal (where it is only likely to lose again).

    The court has made it clear that, at least for the short term, we need to DECOUPLE the programmatic EIR checklist (which was conceived as a way to help developers streamline new projects) from all the commonsense GHG reduction measures that RCPA and local planning staff worked so hard to get into the plan. As the City of Sonoma came to realize last October, we can’t afford to keep delaying implementation of these consensus policies any further. The time to take action to fight climate change is now.

    Going forward, we need to accept the inconvenient truth that global tourism and trade (on which our local economy depends) have real GHG impacts, and begin to plan accordingly.

    Sonoma County can lead the world if we choose to, but only if our locally leaders actually lead.

  4. Curious that the Index Tribune and the Press Democrat — owned by some of the same people who are heavily invested in or close pals with wealthy owners/investors in the county winery & hospitality industry — haven’t mentioned this lawsuit, which could have significant impact on future growth of everything from vineyards, wineries and event centers to hotels and tasting rooms. But then some of those same people recently lost a citizens appeal of an EIR for a giant hotel in Sonoma. Their hired hordes of spin doctors are taking an unusually long time to polish this turd in their punchbowl of Endless Growth.

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