OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a settlement that will address wildfire ignition risks and greenhouse gas impacts from the proposed Guenoc Valley development project. The Guenoc Valley project, as originally proposed, would have been a low-density, luxury development located in a very high-risk fire hazard severity zone in Southeast Lake County. The settlement follows a decision by the Lake County Superior Court vacating the County’s EIR certification and approval of the Guenoc Valley project, and requiring supplemental environmental review on community evacuation for any re-approval. Today's settlement requires a revised version of the project that has a smaller, higher-density footprint to reduce wildfire risk and additional measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Every year, devastating wildfires burn through California, forcing evacuations, destroying homes, and threatening lives,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Developers have a responsibility to build in a way that recognizes this reality and to make smart decisions at the front end so people's lives are not endangered down the line. Today's settlement is an example of responsible development, demonstrating how developers can reduce both wildfire ignition risks and greenhouse gas impacts at new developments.”
The Guenoc Valley Project site is largely designated as a very high fire hazard severity zone, and was burned by wildfires in 1952, 1953, 1963, 1976, 1980, 1996, 2006, 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2020. As originally proposed, the project would have expanded the boundary of existing development into thousands of acres of existing open space and brought an estimated 4,000 new residents to an area with an existing population of approximately 10,000. Last year, Attorney General Bonta, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and California Native Plant Society, secured a decision by the Lake County Superior Court finding that Lake County’s Environmental Impact Report failed to adequately analyze the project’s impacts on community evacuation given the evidence that the project may significantly exacerbate existing wildfire risks.
The settlement is designed to minimize the risk to current and future Lake County residents and the environment. The settlement allows the developer to move forward with a smaller, denser version of the project that includes measures to reduce wildfire ignition, evacuation risk, and greenhouse gas emissions generated by the project, contingent on the resolution of other pending litigation challenging the development. Specifically, the settlement requires that the revised project include measures to reduce wildfire ignition risk, including the removal of three development clusters outside the core of the proposed development; various additional road connections to reduce the number of dead-end roads; improved hardscape; and retention of a wildfire expert. It also requires measures to address greenhouse gas impacts, such as the installation of solar panels and electric vehicle charging equipment at all residential and commercial buildings and the annual purchase of greenhouse gas offset credits. In addition, under the writ issued by the court, the County will also take additional steps to analyze and address evacuation of the project.
As a result of the settlement, the Attorney General filed a request to dismiss DOJ's appeal against the developers. Two other petitioners, the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, were not party to the settlement and continue to challenge the project on appeal.
A copy of the settlement and request to dismiss the appeal is available here and here.