Faced with a filing deadline, Fresno's City Council directed its city attorney Dec. 5 to file a lawsuit against Madera County to force the county to make concessions to the city due to the recently approved "Tesoro Viejo" development.
The 1,656-acre, 5,190-home planned community, including about three million square feet of commercial space, located on the east side of Highway 41, about three miles north of Ave. 12, was approved Nov. 5 by the Madera County Board of Supervisors.
The council, after a closed session, voted 5-2 to have their city attorney file the suit after Madera County declined to enter a 'tolling' agreement with the city of Fresno, an agreement that would have suspended the suit.
The council requested a 'tolling' agreement which would have extended the mandatory lawsuit filing period against the county from 30 days to 180 days on the development.
Fresno filed the suit Dec. 7 over the project's Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), although David Hale, Fresno assistant city attorney, provided no details of the suit.
Norman Allinder, Madera County planning director, said the move by the city council was a surprise to Madera County which has been working on the project with developer McCaffrey Homes for nearly 10 years. The county has provided 10 notices and has invited Fresno representatives to eight public hearings concerning the project over the years.
According to Allinder, Fresno has submitted two letters concerning the project and has never attended a public hearing.
Allinder spoke to the city council before the closed session. He told the council they have had plenty of time to voice concerns over the project.
"Your silence by not attending any of the public hearings was tantamount to concurrence," Allinder said. "It's not neighborly for Fresno to wait until the last minute, then make legal threats."
Allinder said the only comments the City of Fresno submitted concerning the Draft EIR were responded to in accordance with CEQA law.
According to a story in the Dec. 5 Fresno Bee, Brent McCaffrey, son of Robert McCaffrey, president of McCraffrey Homes, told the council Tesoro Viejo will become a statewide model for wise planning and environmental stewardship and asked the council not to sue Madera County.
"The project will generate many jobs during construction and be home to many permanent jobs when completed," McCaffrey said. "There will be five miles of trails and 400 acres of open space."
According to the Dec. 5 Madera Tribune, Michael Prandini, chief executive of the Building Industry Association of Fresno/Madera Counties, asked the council not to hold up the project with litigation.
"We don't think its appropriate that one local agency would sue, especially another county, as to how they should build and plan for their communities and plan for their population growth," Prandini said.
This is not the first time legal actions have delayed the project.
The Madera Oversight Coalition, a group that believes developers should follow the laws to protect the environment, filed suit against the county in early 2009, forcing the developer and the county to provide a revised EIR to include a more technical analysis of roads, traffic and water after supervisors approved the project on Dec. 8, 2008.
The project was reapproved by the county planning commission and supervisors on Nov. 5 after a revised EIR was submitted by McCraffrey Homes.
At that time, attorney Patience Milrod, who represents the coalition along with attorney Sara Hedgpth-Harris, said the revised EIR still did not address the project's huge traffic, noise and water impacts.
"The project will be dumping massive amounts of new traffic daily onto local roads, including Highway 41," Milrod said. "This is especially worrisome because the county is also considering a huge new rock quarry project near the intersection of Highways 41 and 145 ... so imagine all the traffic that already moves up and down 41, plus all the Tesoro Viejo truck and commuter traffic and a 1,000 semi trucks with double trailers full of gravel every day. The EIR includes no guarantees the developers will construct adequate road improvements to handle all that additional traffic."
Also speaking against the project at the November supervisor's hearing were representatives of Revive the San Joaquin and the Clean Air Coalition.
After the Fresno council meeting, Allinder said Madera County did not have intentions of litigating against the City of Fresno.
"But I can't imagine our county would stand idly while our neighbor litigates against us, " Allinder said. "If it comes to a war, let it be known that the City of Fresno fired the first shot."
The Madera County Board of Supervisors convened Dec. 5 in closed session and decided not enter into a 'tolling' agreement with the City of Fresno.
Tesoro Viejo proposes a mixed-use development consisting of 5,190 dwelling units, three million square feet of commercial, retail, office and light industrial uses (restaurants, hotels, medical offices) along with 350 acres of open space and recreational areas including trails and neighborhood parks. About 60 acres has been designated for schools.
Full project build-out, with a population close to 16,000, has been estimated for 2025.
The only master planned project approved by the county larger than Tesoro Viejo is Gateway Village off Highway 41 at Ave. 12. That project, consisting of 6,580 homes on more than 6,580 homes on more than 2,000 acres. The Madera Oversight Coalition filed suit against the county and the developer of Gateway Village, but ultimately settled out of court. Gateway Village was approved by supervisors in 2006. To date, no construction has began at the site.