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.