Judge Rules No Fast Track for SPAWN

05/24/2012

Marin Superior Court issued a preliminary judgment last week on the 2010 lawsuit brought by Forest Knolls-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) against the county, alleging that a 2007 countywide plan failed to protect salmon habitat in the San Geronimo Valley, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The 16-page tentative ruling largely favors the county, repeatedly rejecting the merit of SPAWN’s claims. However, a single line leaves an opening for a building moratorium—a possibility that has concerned some, including the San Geronimo Valley Stewards. “The judgment is somewhat confusing. We agree with 99 percent of it, but it doesn’t make sense to leave room for a moratorium,” Stewards member Taylor Hamblett said. “I believe that same question was sent back to the judge.”

Todd Steiner, executive director of SPAWN, is confident that the final decision will support his organization. “This is a victory for the endangered coho salmon and the reason why we filed our lawsuit—to finally get the county to take action to protect streamside habitat from further degradation,” he said.

Mr. Steiner says coho salmon are caught in an “extinction vortex” and that action must be taken to ensure their survival. While the county already has general rules prohibiting building within 100 feet of streams, SPAWN is asking the county to set up a more expansive stream conservation ordinance. The county is already planning to do just that, but SPAWN wants things to move faster.

In her preliminary ruling, Judge Lynn Duryee wrote that SPAWN is “essentially asking the county to move this program to the front of the legislative line, without regard to the other competing and diverse needs of the county’s residents. When to prepare and place for consideration the ordinance on the legislative calendar is the consummate discretionary decision. Petitioners have cited no legal authority on facts like these, to support their petition.”

Supervisor Steve Kinsey said a court-ordered moratorium would be “Draconian” and hard to swallow. “I’m convinced the fish will not be better off if people of the San Geronimo Valley are punished,” he said.
Judge Duryee is expected to issue her final ruling in the coming weeks.