California AG settles with developers of huge Guenoc Valley tourism project in Lake County

The California Attorney General’s Office has withdrawn its objections to the proposed Guenoc Valley ultra-luxury resort and residential project for southeast Lake County after obtaining concessions from developers related to wildfire risk, evacuation safety, and Emissions of greenhouse gases.

The deal brings Lotusland Investment Group and its supporters one step closer to realizing long-standing plans for a 25-square-mile patch of fire-prone landscape east of Middletown that they hope will one day boast an “international luxury” with five boutique hotels, some 600 resort-style rooms and apartments, and 1,400 residential villas.

Additional amenities planned for the property about three miles east of Highway 29 near the Napa county line include a golf course, polo fields, spa and wellness facilities, an equestrian center, and business services and high-end retailers.

Many local officials see it as a potential economic engine, creating construction and other jobs, and attracting new residents and visitors to a region that has struggled economically.

But after a local superior court judge last year found the environmental review of the 16,000-acre complex inadequate, Lake County supervisors were forced to decertify the environmental impact report and rescind previous approvals. of land use, so Lotusland still has a ways to go before it can proceed with development.

He has yet to complete a new analysis of the accumulated evacuation needs and the impacts of adding what the judge said would be up to 4,070 new people in an area that already has about 10,160 residents. That report should be circulated for public review. Any comments must be addressed and the final outcome approved by the board of supervisors before officials can issue land use approvals and construction can begin.

“The agreement definitely does not give the green light to this project or allow it to go forward tomorrow,” said Peter Broderick, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The nonprofit, along with the California Native Plant Society, led the charge against the proposal and filed suit in a local court in 2020. Both still have pending appeals against Superior Court Judge J. David’s ruling. Markham.

In addition to contesting the wildfire risk, public safety concerns and greenhouse gas impacts highlighted by then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra when he joined the legal challenge in February 2021, they say Markham ruled too narrowly. when he confirmed most of the elements of the environmental report and said that only the analysis of the evacuation routes of the community was missing.

They are still challenging the project on other grounds, including negative impacts on critical wildlife corridors and the habitat of sensitive and threatened species.

“We appreciate the attorney general’s involvement on this important issue,” said Nick Jensen, conservation program director for the California Native Plant Society. “However, the state’s agreement does not negate the fact that the project will have worrying impacts on rare plants and vulnerable serpentine habitats, while concentrating many more people in an area with a long history of wildfire. CNPS and the Center for Biological Diversity will continue our call.”

Attorney General Rob Bonta said compliance with the agreement would satisfy the developer’s responsibility to address the reality of Lake County’s wildfire history and the fact that the project is proposed for an area designated as a high-risk fire zone that it has burned repeatedly in recent decades.

That includes the historic Valley Fire in 2015, which burned 18 miles in a 12-hour period and ultimately burned 120 square miles of land, destroying 2,000 structures, including 1,281 homes.

Most recently, a large portion of the 16,000-acre site burned during the lightning-sparked LNU Complex fire, which scarred 363,220 acres as of August 17, 2020.

But the developers say they designed the project around those risks, incorporating exterior sprinkler systems, underground utilities, fire breaks, an on-site fire station and a helipad.

They say their project would make the area safer.

“In the years since the Guenoc Valley Project was originally designed and approved, the science and best practices for fire-safe development have advanced,” said Chris Meredith, project partner. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Attorney General that reflects those advances and builds on our shared goal of protecting communities and the environment.

“From the beginning, we have placed the highest importance on safety and sustainability and have worked closely with Lake County and the local community to ensure that it is built responsibly,” he said.