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TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCILFROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, BUILDING, AND CODE ENFORCEMENT
DATE: AUGUST 31, 2004
SUBJECT: THE CITY’S NATURAL COMMUNITIES CONSERVATION PLANNING (NCCP) SUBAREA PLAN
b. Approve the refined Reserve boundary line for Upper Pt. Vicente Park.
The main issues/concerns that were brought up at the most recent NCCP informational meeting hosted by Staff on August 16th were:
1) What is the true cost of the Plan? There was a sentiment from some residents that the costs are being underestimated.
2) Will the plan interfere with brush management needed for fire control?
3) Will there be enough room left outside the Reserve in Upper Pt. Vicente Park for development of active uses?
The cost concerns are addressed in a separate Staff Report reflecting a Financial Advisory Committee analysis. That report is the first item under regular business on tonight’s agenda. The fire issues are addressed on page 9 of this report and will be further addressed, if needed, by John Todd, Assistant Chief Assistant Chief of the Forestry Prevention Bureau of the L.A. County Fire Department, at tonight’s meeting. The boundary issues associated with Upper Pt. Vicente Park are briefly discussed on page 5 of this report and a refined boundary analysis for Upper Pt. Vicente Park will be presented at this evening’s meeting.
The City’s NCCP is before the City Council for approval so that it can forwarded to the State and Federal Resource Agencies for their review and approval. When ultimately approved, the Subarea Plan will establish a 1,504-acre open space habitat Reserve (17% of the City) made up of private and public properties whose owners have given their consent to be included in the Reserve. To provide ample opportunity for the development of active recreational uses in the City, all of the developed City parks and the developable portions of the undeveloped City parks have been excluded from the Reserve. In addition to protecting state and federally protected wildlife, the Reserve would also be open to the public for compatible passive recreational use (multi-use trails, picnicking, etc). Although the Reserve will be managed by the PVPLC, the public use of the reserve would ultimately be determined by the City Council (with concurrence from the State and federal resource agencies) through the preparation of a Public Use Master Plan.
In exchange for establishing the Reserve, the City would receive a federal permit to allow the loss of 55.4 acres of protected habitat over a 50-year span, resulting from the implementation of 21 City projects and 9 private projects covered by the Plan. In addition, the Plan allows for all Fire Department mandated brush clearance to continue whether or not the clearance occurs adjacent to, or within, the Reserve. Earlier this year, the City’s Finance Advisory Committee reviewed the fiscal aspects of the Plan and noted nothing problematic, concluding that the City should move forward expeditiously with completion of the NCCP and related land acquisition.
The City has been working on the preparation of an NCCP Subarea Plan since 1996. A historical chronology of the City’s NCCP efforts from 1996 to the present is attached. In summary, the presentation of the Subarea Plan to the City Council for approval this evening is the culmination of seven years of work by numerous participants representing varying interests. Specifically, the Subarea Plan is a product of input provided at numerous public meetings by state and federal resource agency representatives; private landowners; City Staff; local and regional environmental organizations; Homeowner Association representatives; and local residents. Since it began, the City’s NCCP process has been monitored and guided by the various City Councils that have been in office since 1996. In fact, the presentation of the Subarea Plan to the Council this evening is the 10th time that the NCCP has been before the City Council for review and or action since 1996.
The City’s NCCP Subarea Plan has been completed and is now being presented to the City Council for review and approval. In addition, two supporting documents that are needed to make the Subarea Plan a reality have also been completed and are also being presented to the Council for review and approval. These two additional documents consist of the Final EIR, which pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analyzes the environmental impacts of implementing the Subarea Plan; and the Implementing Agreement, which sets the legal responsibilities of all the involved parties (City, PVPLC, State and Federal government) for implementing the Subarea Plan. The City Council is being asked to take public testimony on the three documents and certify the Final EIR, approve the Subarea Plan and conceptually approve the Draft Implementing Agreement this evening. If the documents are approved, as recommended by Staff, they will be formally transmitted to the state and federal resource agencies to begin their counterpart federal review.
The three NCCP documents that are being presented to the City Council for review and approval this evening were made available to the public beginning on August 2, 2004 and transmitted to each City Council member on August 5, 2004. The three documents have been made available for viewing on the City’s website, at City Hall, at the Hesse Park Community Center, and at the Peninsula Center Library. In addition, copies of the documents were made available for purchase in the Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Department at City Hall. In addition, Staff and Barbara Dye, Executive Director of the PVP Land Conservancy conducted an informal question-and-answer session, on Monday, August 16, 2004 at the Hesse Park Community Center, to explain the significance of each document and the relationship to one another.
Provided below is a brief summary of each of the three NCCP documents, along with a discussion of some of the related main issues pertaining to each document.
I. The NCCP Subarea Plan
In general terms, the NCCP Subarea Plan describes the proposed NCCP Reserve design (page 3-1), the properties that will comprise the Reserve (page 3-5), how the Reserve will be managed (page 6-1), the uses allowed to occur within and adjacent to the Reserve (page 3-23), how much implementation of the Subarea Plan is going to cost and who’s going to pay for it (page 4-7). A draft version of the Subarea Plan was released to the public in June 2003. Based on comments received on the Draft Subarea Plan (and Draft NCCP EIR) since that time, the NCCP Subarea Plan has been updated and finalized.
A. Biological Reserve Design
The Subarea Plan proposes a biological Reserve design that would encompass 1,504 acres, or approximately 17% of the City’s total area (see Figure 3-2 on pg. 3-2). In addition, the Plan identifies 663 acres of "Neutral Lands" that will remain as open space due to existing development constraints (zoning limitations, code restrictions and private deed restrictions). Although the Neutral Lands will not be part of the Reserve, they will contribute to the function of the biological Reserve. Together the reserve and neutral lands will conserve 96.3% (1,198.5 acres) of the 1,244.7 acres of the coastal sage scrub communities that currently exist in the City (see Table 3-1 on pg. 3-4). In addition, the proposed Reserve would protect 93% to 100% of the known point locations of each of the 13 sensitive species covered by the Plan (see table 3-4 on page 3-23).
1. Refinement of acreages and Reserve boundary lines
The NCCP Reserve map (Figure 3-2 on page 3-2) is mapped on a scale that does not allow for precise determinations of the exact reserve boundary line. As a result, it may appear that portions of private properties are proposed to be included in the Reserve. This is not the case, as only the two private landowners identified in the Plan (Hon Development and York Long Point Associates) have properties that are proposed to be in the Reserve. To clarify this, the reserve map boundary lines will be refined by the City’s IT staff in the next few weeks using the City’s recently purchased orthographic maps that contain L.A. County assessor parcel data. This task should be completed relatively easily because in all but a very few instances, the Reserve boundary line corresponds with property lines or other parcel lines established by recorded legal descriptions. In situations where the proposed NCCP Reserve boundary line does not follow a property line or other parcel line established by recorded legal descriptions, the location of the more precise boundary line will generally be the centerline of the boundary line shown on the general NCCP Reserve map.
The refined Reserve map will make it clear that no portions of privately owned property, other than the two private landowners identified in the Plan, are proposed to be in the Reserve. Furthermore, no private property will be placed in the Reserve in the future without the consent of the private property owner.
2. Reserve Components
The Reserve is proposed to be composed of public and private open space lands. However, private lands will only be included in the Reserve with the consent of the property owner. A listing and description of the specific Reserve components is contained on pages 3-5 to 3-8 of the Subarea Plan (also see Figure 3-1 on pg.3-2). An acreage breakdown of the proposed Reserve components is summarized below:
City/RDA owned lands 745.7 acres
Lands already dedicated as biological 423.5 acres
Lands to be dedicated to the Reserve 322.2 acres
Other Public lands 90.8 acres
Private Lands 764.5 acres
Lands proposed to be contributed 80 acres
Lands to be purchased 684.5 acres
As noted in the Plan, the acreages listed for the various individual Reserve components are approximations. More precise acreages will be calculated after the Reserve map boundary lines are refined. The more precise calculations are not expected to significantly deviate from the acreages calculated in the Plan. In addition, some of the acreages for the specific reserve components listed in the Plan are not represented in the Reserve design map. As a result, once the Reserve boundary lines are refined, it is expected that the actual Reserve acreage will increase from the 1,504-acre figure currently identified in the Plan.
3. Reserve boundary line through Upper Pt. Vicente
According to the Subarea Plan, it is estimated that 65 acres of the 79.3-acre Upper Pt. Vicente property (the acreage owned and controlled by the City) will be dedicated to the Reserve. Excluded from the reserve is the relatively level, disturbed and developed portion of the property. This non-reserve area has been estimated as 14.3 acres in size and would encompass the entirety of the two "civic center" parcels (8.2 acres) and an estimated 6 acres of the 71-acre parcel that is subject to the federally approved Program of Utilization (POU).
On June 29, 2004, at a joint meeting between the City Council and the Open Space Planning, and Recreation & Parks Task Force, the Council endorsed the concept of Upper Point Vicente as a multi-purpose town center, as recommended by the Task Force. The Council also directed staff to better identify the environmental constraints on the property, including the location of the proposed NCCP Reserve boundary line and any buffering from that line. As noted earlier, Staff intends to refine the Reserve boundary lines in the next few weeks. However, given the Council’s specific direction regarding this property, Staff is currently working with IT personnel to refine the Reserve boundary line on the Upper Pt. Vicente property. Staff intends to present the refined Reserve boundary line for the Upper Pt. Vicente property at the August 31st meeting.
With regards to buffering, the Subarea Plan does not establish any setbacks or minimum buffering distances between new permanent buildings or facilities and the Reserve boundary line. However, the Subarea Plan does include a number of Best Management Practices (page 6-2) designed to protect biological resources within the Reserve during construction of new development directly abutting the Reserve.
The Subarea Plan does state that any fuel modification required for new development should be outside the Reserve. Therefore, it is conceivable that the Fire Department may require a 100-foot fuel modification zone between any proposed new buildings and the Reserve boundary line (existing habitat). However, this does not automatically preclude new development from locating closer or adjacent to the Reserve boundary line without a buffer. This is because fire buffer widths can be modified, by working with the Fire Department, and agreeing to other fire prevention practices. As noted in the Subarea Plan, the method for determining what, if any, buffer distances may be required for new development is through the City permit and environmental (CEQA) review process that would be triggered for a new project. In summary, the Subarea Plan does not mandate a buffer between new development and the Reserve boundary line. If a buffer is required, it would be a result of the Development Code, Fire Code and CEQA review, which would occur with or without the establishment of an NCCP Reserve on the Upper. Pt. Vicente property.
4. Reserve boundary line through Grandview Park
On February 4, 2003, a summary of the proposed NCCP Reserve components was presented to the City Council for approval. Included in the recommended strategies approved by the Council that evening was that the reserve "would not include any City parks (developed or undeveloped), as they provide little to no habitat value." Shortly thereafter, on May 14, 2003, at the request of Jim Knight, then Chair of the Open Space Subcommittee, the Open Space Task Force unanimously approved the inclusion of the northern, sloped portion of Grandview Park into the Reserve (see attached request and minutes). As a result, the Subarea Plan proposes that 9 acres of the 17.5-acre undeveloped park be in the Reserve.
The Task Force’s action was made with the understanding that a recommendation for Grandview Park was within its purview and that the Council would have an opportunity to address the issue when the Task Force’s strategic plan was to be reviewed by the Council. Although the Task Force’s recommendation for Grandview Park was included in the draft strategic plan presented to the City Council on June 29, 2004, the issue was not discussed by the City Council. Therefore, Staff is bringing this issue to the Council’s attention at this time.
5. Active Recreation Area
A 25-acre area within the Portuguese Bend active landslide (owned by Hon Development) has been excluded from the Reserve design, although it remains part of the proposed acquisition. Since this area would be excluded from the habitat Reserve, the area will need to be purchased using City or County funds, as the state and federal funds are intended for wildlife conservation. It is envisioned that the Active Recreation Area will serve as the access point for the Reserve, with gravel parking lots, interpretive signage and trailhead information. It can also serve as an educational center, with covered tables, etc. where students can gather before visiting the Reserve. The Subarea Plan also identifies the area as a potential site for an equestrian center. User groups or grants could fund improvements in this area. The specific uses in this area will ultimately be determined by the City Council.
6. Athletic Fields
The Reserve boundaries were deliberately drawn to exclude developed City parks and the developable portions of undeveloped City parks so as not to preclude these parks from being improved with new or additional active recreational facilities. In addition, these parks provide little to no habitat value. As a result, the girls’ softball fields feasibility study that was presented to the City Council in May 2004 was able to identify 5 candidate sites within the City for Council consideration. On June 29, 2004, at a joint meeting between the City Council and the Open Space Planning, and Recreation & Parks Task Force, the Council agreed to give serious consideration to creating additional girls’ softball fields at Upper Hesse Park, Ryan Park and Eastview Park. All three of these sites are outside of the Reserve and would not be affected by the restrictions of the Subarea Plan.
In addition, as noted earlier, the Subarea Plan proposes to exclude the relatively level, disturbed and developed portion of the City’s Upper Pt. Vicente property from the reserve. This non-reserve area has been estimated as being at least 14.3 acres in size, although Staff intends to present a refined reserve boundary line map at the August 31st meeting. Although, the City Council has endorsed a concept of developing the non-reserve area with a multi-purpose town center, there is nothing in the Subarea plan that would preclude the development of active recreational fields within the non-reserve area.
B. Land acquisition component
The creation of the Reserve relies on the acquisition of open space land from two property owners. The candidate funds and their status is shown below:
Candidate Sources of Funding
C. Reserve Management
The Subarea Plan identifies the entity that will be responsible for managing the habitat Reserve (page 6-1), the management guidelines (page 6-1) and how the management will be funded (page 4-12). It is proposed that the City will enter into a formal agreement with the PVPLC to manage all of the conserved land in the Reserve and any additional acquired lands (the agreement is discussed under the "Implementation Plan" portion of this Staff Report). This strategy takes advantage of the PVPLC’s experience with other habitat management projects on the Peninsula and substantially reduces the cost of the plan’s management component, since it would reduce the need to hire management consultants.
Typically, in other NCCP’s, the lead agency is burdened with the entire cost of managing the Reserve. In such cases, the lead agency usually has to hire consultants to manage the Reserve and perform the necessary re-vegetation and maintenance work. Additionally, the lead agency usually creates a funding mechanism where future projects that require habitat re-vegetation pay into a habitat restoration fund. The City’s situation is unique in two ways. One, we would be relying on the PVPLC to manage the Reserve, which eliminates the need to hire consultants. Secondly, since the Reserve design allows very little development, not much money would be generated from future projects to offset the costs of restoration. As a result, the bulk of the restoration costs will have to be absorbed by the City and PVPLC. However, this is not to say that the City and PVPLC would willnot pursue habitat restoration grants to help offset the management costs. In addition, the City may be the recipient of mitigation monies from nearby lead agencies that carry out projects that impact habitat norand require mitigation.
1. The Public Use Master Plan (PUMP)
The public, with absolutely no management, currently uses the properties that are proposed for inclusion into the Reserve. Some areas have dedicated trails, while in other areas the trails cross private property. One of the first tasks to be completed after the approval of the NCCP by the Resource Agencies will be the development of a Public Use Master Plan, which will be developed jointly by the City and the PVPLC, to address issues such as public access, trailhead locations, parking, trail use, fencing, signage, lighting (if any), fire and brush management, minimizing impacts to adjacent neighborhoods, public involvement in advisory capacities, and other issues that may arise.
The Subarea Plan lists all of the land uses that will be allowed within and adjacent to the Reserve (page 3-23). One of the allowed uses listed is the creation, maintenance and public use of a trail system consistent with the City’s Conceptual Trail Plan (CTP), be it the current CTP or a revised CTP that may be adopted by the City Council in the future. In addition, the Subarea Plan calls for the development of a Reserve Trail Plan, which will be developed through the PUMP process. The Reserve Trail Plan will need to be consistent with the City’s Conceptual Trails Plan, as well as the Subarea Plan, in terms of minimizing impacts to habitat and covered species. In developing the PUMP, issues such as shared trail use, trail location, links to the Peninsula-wide trail network and what, if any, trails may be closed will be addressed.
Preparation of the PUMP will be a very public process that will rely strongly on local public input. The City and the PVPLC will have two years to complete this plan, beginning when the parties sign the Implementing Agreement, with a requirement to perform additional habitat restoration if the plan is not completed on time. City staff expects that it will take the full two years to complete the process, but that it can be completed in that time frame. The final PUMP will be reviewed and approved by the City Council in a public meeting.
After the PUMP is completed, the City and the PVPLC will convene a Steering Committee to monitor uses, advise on any modifications to the plan, and serve as a forum for the public to comment on the public uses and impacts of the Reserve.
2. Fire and Brush Management
The Subarea Plan makes it very clear that at no time would the Plan provisions take precedence over the concerns of public health, safety and welfare as determined by the L.A. County Fire Department (page 5-2). In fact, the Plan requires the City to consult with the Fire Department to ensure that all fuel modification zone widths are adequate to meet the Fire Department’s requirements. Once this formal consultation is done, the agreed fuel modifications zones will be mapped and incorporated into the City’s fire code.
Although the Subarea Plan states that brush clearance for new development should occur outside of the Reserve, the Plan does allow for brush clearance that is currently done on an annual basis to continue within the Reserve as long as it is not expanded. This will allow the brush clearance that is performed annually on the large open space properties adjacent to private residences to continue. In addition, private property owners will be allowed to perform whatever brush clearance is required of them by the Fire Department on their own properties without interference since private property owners will not be in the Reserve.
The fire and brush management provisions of the Subarea Plan have been informally discussed with John Todd, Assistant Chief of the Forestry Prevention Bureau of the L.A. County Fire Department. As a result, Assistant Chief Todd did not see the proposed Subarea Plan as an impediment to fire prevention. Assistant Chief Todd is planning to attend the August 31st meeting to answer any questions that the public or City Council may have about fire and brush management.
D. Cost Summary
A complete discussion of the total costs associated with implementation of the Subarea Plan, including the acquisition component, is contained in the Staff Report prepared by the City’s Finance Director, which is being presented to the Council as a separate agenda item.
II. The NCCP Final EIR (FEIR)
The purpose of the NCCP EIR is to assess the environmental impacts of implementing the Subarea Plan. A Draft EIR was prepared and circulated to the public for review and comment between February 20, 2004 and April 20, 2004. Based on the public comments received on the Draft EIR, changes were made to the Subarea Plan and the EIR text. The Final EIR document that is now available contains the responses to the 576 public comments received on the Draft EIR, as well as the modifications made to the actual EIR text as a result of the public comments.
The Final EIR concludes that that there would be no significant environmental impacts, with the exception of biological impacts, as a result of implementation of the Subarea Plan. With regards to biological impacts, the FEIR identifies impacts to regional habitat linkages, vegetation, sensitive species and edge effects and concludes that the impacts would be significant. However, because the proposed NCCP Subarea Plan would involve the purchase and dedication of 684.5 acres for inclusion into a habitat Reserve, a long term habitat restoration program, and a long-term habitat management plan, the FEIR also concludes that the biological impacts would be mitigated to a less than significant level (the analysis discussion can be found on pages 5-1 to 5-28 in the FEIR).
A resolution certifying the Final EIR is attached for the Council’s adoption.
III. The NCCP Implementing Agreement (IA)
In addition to the two major NCCP documents described above, a draft Implementing Agreement (IA) has been completed. The IA is the legal document that sets forth all of the responsibilities of all the parties involved with the City’s NCCP. The involved parties are the City, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy (PVPLC), the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As a result of this agreement, the City will be making the following commitments:
Also, included, as Exhibit E to the IA, is a draft agreement between the City and PVPLC, which spells out the agreements and responsibilities of both parties in managing the proposed NCCP Reserve. The agreement contained in the IA has been slightly modified in response to questions raised at a public question-and-answer meeting hosted by Staff on August 16, 2004. The changes include adding an inflation factor to the PVPLC's contribution, and adding a "best efforts" clause to the end of the contract. The amended draft agreement is attached.
The schedule below shows a number of events that will have to take place before the proposed acquisition transactions occur, the NCCP is ultimately approved and the IA signed by all parties. It should be noted that in a project as complicated as this one, there will inevitably be delays and changes to the schedule. However, based on current information, Staff believes that this is a reasonable schedule.
Attached are all of the public comments that have been received by the City on the proposed Subarea Plan since the Subarea Plan was last presented to the City Council in June 2003. The concerns/comments expressed in the various letters have been addressed in either the Response to Comments portion of the Final EIR, the revised Subarea Plan or in this Staff Report.
The City has been working on the preparation of an NCCP Subarea Plan since 19967. The City is now at a point in the process, where the NCCP Subarea Plan is close to ready forcompletion for submittal to the Resource Agencies. Tthe Subarea plan contains conservation strategies that involve City-owned parcels, City commitments to funding (both for land acquisition and habitat management) and planning efforts that could affect other open space planning projects. Therefore, Staff is requesting that the City Council review and agree with the basic strategies of approve the Subarea Plan before it is formally submitted to the Resource Agencies and released to the public. Furthermore, completion of the City’s NCCP is intertwined with the City/PVPLC’s efforts to secure State and Federal funding to acquire the private lands necessary to complete the Portuguese Bend Regional Open Space Park. Therefore, in order to adequately review and discuss the NCCP and the related conservation strategies, Staff is requesting that the Council also review the overall strategy for the Portuguese Bend acquisition.
Director of Planning, Building,
and Code Enforcement
Historical chronology of the City’s NCCP efforts
Open Space Task recommendation for Grandview Park
Resolution No. 2004-__ , certifying the Final EIR
Amended Draft agreement between City and PVPLC