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Sierra Club Placer Group reflects on 20-year milestone

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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The specter of farm lands transformed into housing developments, strip malls and busy highways was the spark that initiated the creation of the Sierra Club’s Placer Group two decades ago. “During the late ’80s and early ’90s, we could really see the writing on the wall,” founding member Terry Davis said recently. “There were a lot of growth pressures. Placer County was going to be transformed from a largely rural county into a much more urban one. People were coalescing around certain major development projects that were coming.” Among them were Route 102, a major rural freeway that would have cut through the county north of Auburn, Canyon View housing development planned in Bowman, the Winchester development in Meadow Vista and the Rocklin mall. “People were (also) concerned about the Placer County General Plan update and the kind of urban growth it would bring,” Davis said. … “There were all kinds of development projects coming. Sierra Club was situated to be very aggressive in taking on these projects.” Placer Group became the 10th section of the Motherlode Chapter of Sierra Club and had a membership of about 1,000. Since then, membership has doubled and when the group celebrated its 20-year anniversary party on Oct. 23, it could claim numerous victories. “Sierra Club took on the role of the environmental cop on the beat,” Davis said. “We were willing to file lawsuits when other groups were not. We were willing to file suits when projects threatened (open space).” An early victory was stopping Route 102. Then came others. “We ultimately were successful in delaying and eventually stopping the Canyon View project, which would have destroyed that beautiful view through Bowman,” Davis said. “Now Placer Land Trust owns that land.” More recently, the group faced off with developers of Bickford Ranch, a Lincoln-Penryn area development, settling an environmental lawsuit for $6 million that “bought 3,000 acres of oak woodland in the county,” Davis said. “For us that was a victory, even though we couldn’t stop the project,” he said. “It made them do better mitigation of the oak woodlands.” In another lawsuit, the group challenged developments in western Placer County where “they were gobbling up vernal pools,” Davis said. “We got a revenue stream from the project as it built out that would protect vernal pools forever,” he said. “Placer Land Trust is continuing to collect that money from our settlement to protect vernal pools. A lot of the protected land in western Placer County is from that money.” Another success was Placer County’s tree preservation ordinance. “That was a victory. It may not always be as strong as we’d like,” he said Not all of the group’s efforts succeeded. The Winchester development was built . The Clover Valley project was another, although the land remains empty. “I don’t know if that will ever be built,” Davis said. “I understand there is real interest in acquiring that land by the Land Trust for open space. So, that may still be protected. Developers don’t see building in the near term and want to sell it. Our trying to save it and going through the courts to try to do that certainly delayed the project …” On the horizon Currently The Sierra Club Placer Group is in the process of settling two lawsuits — Placer Vineyards development planned for west of Roseville and the regional university lawsuit, which was to be the Drexel campus, he said. Members are also closely following work on the Placer County Conservation Plan as well as the county’s General Plan, which has not been updated since 1994. “Our long-term goal is to have limits on urban growth so we protect what’s left of this county in terms of agriculture and habitat,” Davis said. … “The group is still going to oppose the Placer Parkway, the new freeway (planned for) western Placer County.” But the organization doesn’t oppose all development. “We’ve been supportive of the conservation plan and smart growth,” he said. “We recognize people need places to live. We supported Baltimore Ravine (a residential development in Auburn). We thought it was a good smart growth project.” A full-time job Carrying the banner for environmental and conservation causes consumes much of Marilyn Jasper’s time. On any given day, Jasper, chairwoman of the Sierra Club Placer Group, is likely to be attending meetings, court hearings or forums. Her particular area of concern is wildlife preservation, but she’s active in all of the group’s interests. “Every day there’s something going on that I try to keep on top of,” she said. Even so, she’s not able to follow up on every call she gets. She’d like to see more volunteers to share the workload. “Even if it is only in their neighborhoods,” she said. “I know everyone is busy. For the few of us who are (active), we are so busy we can’t keep up.” A county supervisor’s perspective Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt has sat across the room (and the table) from Sierra Club members many times over the years. “My first real contact with them was when I was on the Planning Commission in 1990,” he said. ”They’d have representatives testifying and taking positions on certain issues. Other than hearing their position in a public setting, I didn’t have any contact with them. They were often critical of the county and positions the county took. They used to grade us all. “Somewhere in the mix of those things, not long after I came to the Board of Supervisors in 1995, we started talking and meeting and talking face to face. In this business, building relationships is critical. There are some people who can’t work together. But I’ve been able to work with most people, even if you disagree on most issues.” Over time he’s found common ground with the organization and developed a sense of trust. In May, the Sierra Club honored him with the 2011 Outstanding Public Official award. “I’m sure there are still some things we would disagree on, but we’ve found much more to agree on and have worked collaboratively to put in better policy as it relates to their particular interest as a stakeholder in conservation and environmental issues,” he said. One example of that, which Weygandt describes as critically important, is the Placer County Conservation Plan — known as Placer Legacy. It’s a broad policy issue that has been in process for 12 years. “They are very knowledgeable about what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “We agree on 90 percent what we are trying to accomplish. … They have been pragmatic and they’ve been helpful in the political process. I am confident we will complete the final phase of the work over the next two years and I think it will set a standard across the country for this kind of open space policy. They were critical participants in this whole process.” Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com. ------------ 20-year anniversary celebration The Sierra Club Placer Group celebrated its 20th anniversary with the “Our Placer, Our Planet” photo exhibit hosted by PlacerArts Oct. 23 at the Arts Gallery in Auburn. Nature photographers Larry Brenden and Truman Holtzclaw juried the exhibit. The exhibit featured 32 photographs of Placer County nature, landscape, adventure and living auctioned in tribute to the anniversary, a press release said. “There are places in Placer County to see that have grand views that rival Yosemite. It has been my goal to document some of these extraordinary places so others can enjoy our beauty and wilderness,” said Mary Vega, who won Best of Show honors with her landscape photograph in Blue Canyon. The exhibit included piano entertainment and recognition of founding members of the Sierra Club Placer Group. For winning entries see http://motherlode.sierraclub.org/placer/index. html)