Last valley standing

Rocklin residents to vote on Clover Valley development

Sierra Club Placer Group chair Marilyn Jasper overlooks Clover Valley.

Sierra Club Placer Group chair Marilyn Jasper overlooks Clover Valley.

SN&R Photo By Anne Stokes

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The general public cannot access Clover Valley, as “No trespassing” signs restrict entrance to the privately owned 622-acre area. But photos of the ecologically rich area in the Sierra Nevada foothills show steep hillsides, wetlands, a creek, meadow, riparian woodlands and a canopy of roughly 28,000 oak trees spanning the only undeveloped valley in Rocklin.

The ecosystem houses hundreds of animal species, including the threatened Central Valley steelhead trout and elusive black rail—a bird extinct or threatened in many parts of its native North American homeland because of habitat loss.

Other photos of the land, which borders Lincoln and Loomis in Placer County, show evidence of ancient burial sites, ceremonial grounds and bedrock mortars marking the Valley’s prior occupation by the Nisenan Maidu tribe. An archaeological study of the Valley found 33 sites dating as far back as 5,000 B.C. The Valley has been placed on the California Register of Historical Resources and is eligible as a National Register of Historic Places archaeological district.

But if developers and proponents of Measure H have their way, the wetlands will be filled in, slopes bulldozed, trees cut down and prehistoric sites paved over to make room for roughly 500 upscale houses, a 5-acre commercial and retail center, and a two-lane cross-valley road, with about 300 acres of open space retained.

On February 5, Rocklin residents will vote on Measure H. Passage would ratify Rocklin City Council’s approval of the Clover Valley Lakes development plan.

The battle over Clover Valley began in 1981 when the land was pre-zoned for nearly 1,000 houses. Then in 1998, the city of Rocklin entered into a development agreement with Clover Valley Partners (the city was legally bound to accept a project that conformed to its general plan).

Fast-forward to August 2007, when the Rocklin City Council approved a scaled-down 558-home development project, enraging two citizen coalitions—Save Clover Valley and the Clover Valley Foundation. Volunteers obtained nearly 5,000 signatures on a petition for a referendum to halt construction, which was almost double the 10 percent of registered voters needed.

“We’re trying to preserve our quality of life. When you have development after development, there gets to be a point where we need to stand up and say no, and that’s what the people of Rocklin are doing,” said Elaine O’Deegan, who has worked on the Save Clover Valley campaign for the past decade.

“Rocklin’s elected officials are out of step with their constituents,” she said, adding that in the past six months, her group raised more than $60,000 from residents, a success for the grassroots effort, but not much when compared to the opposing side’s substantial funding flow (the developer partnership includes Philip Oates of Buzz Oates fame).

In October, following the submission of the petition, council members could have rescinded their earlier decision but voted instead to put the issue on the ballot.

Opponents of Measure H cite a list of concerns with the development plan: destruction of open space; removal of oak trees; mistreatment of American Indian artifacts; and construction of a road that would bring in an estimated 14,000 more cars a day and the pollution they carry.

In terms of tree removal, the developer’s Web site states, “ … [O]ur reduced plan retains or replants trees so that at least the same number of trees that exist today will be there in the future,” and shows a photo simulation of the area after replanted trees are grown. The site doesn’t mention that development necessitates the removal of thousands of mature oak trees that took decades to grow and would replace them with twig trees, nor does it mention the wildlife that will be displaced when their habitat is uprooted.

Concern over a two-lane cross-valley road brought the town of Loomis into the battle. In September, the town filed a lawsuit against developers and the city of Rocklin, citing traffic mitigation.

According to Loomis City Manager Perry Beck, the environmental impact report for the project did not consider the impact on roads to schools in Loomis and failed to adequately address improvements to Sierra College Boulevard to ensure traffic safety.

This was the second lawsuit to be filed against the project. The Clover Valley Foundation and Sierra Club filed the first one in September, claiming that the city of Rocklin violated the California Environmental Quality Act with its approval of the project, according to Marilyn Jasper, chair of the Sierra Club Placer Group and president of the foundation. For instance, the development plan encroaches on a required 50-foot setback from the creek that runs through the Valley, she said.

The joint lawsuit wasn’t the first time CEQA compliance came into question.

A letter dated July 26, 2007, written by state historic preservation officer Milford Donaldson to Rocklin city planner David Mohlenbrok, contended that the final environmental impact report for the development project did not comply with CEQA’s requirement for the treatment of cultural resources, because it lacked the required feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to lessen significant adverse impacts. CEQA requires that public agencies not approve projects if feasible mitigation measures exist.

According to Donaldson’s letter, the Clover Valley District consisted of minimally 34 cultural resources, but in actuality, there may be many more. A site visit by the State Office of Historic Preservation staff found several historical features not identified in previous reports, and Donaldson even called into question the methodology used in these reports. He advised the city to “resurvey the project area and issue a new cultural resources study which looks at the existence of historical resources which clearly have been overlooked to date … . ”

Ultimately, it’s up to the courts to decide if the city council’s approval of the development plan complies with CEQA.

When it comes down to it, opponents of Measure H want to preserve the pristine two-mile long stretch of land, and at times, this seemed to be a viable possibility. Back in 1999, Jasper said, she and others contacted the developers and indicated a willingness to buy the 622 acres. Unable to obtain written proof of a willing seller to give Placer Legacy—a county program that acquires and preserves open space—the effort fell by the wayside until several years later, when developers granted permission for potential buyers to see the land. Jasper said several agencies and foundations visited the site and expressed interest in forming a consortium “to take the Valley out of harm’s way.” However, with the lawsuit and referendum, the developers withdrew permission.

Earlier this month, the United Auburn Indian Community announced plans to purchase 65 acres of culturally sensitive land along the Valley floor if the measure passes. But this is just a drop in the bucket.

“We’d like to buy it and make it a state historic preserve,” Jasper said. “That’s always been our vision. Clover Valley is quite a spectacular place.”