A Los Angeles-based environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, plans to file a lawsuit early next year to block the Altair project, a 1,750-unit housing development slated for the foothills of Old Town Temecula.
J. P. Rose, the center’s Urban Wildlands Staff Attorney, said in a phone interview Wednesday, Dec. 13, that the center plans to file a suit following the second reading of the resolutions and ordinances that the Temecula City Council voted 4-1 to approve Tuesday night.
The center’s main concern is the impact the development will have on wildlife in the region, including mountain lions and rare western pond turtles.
“The City Council just put these iconic predators on a one-way path to extinction,” Rose said in a statement. “Temecula’s decision shows a really reckless disregard for the wildlife and wild places that belong to all Californians.”
The council attempted to address the objections to the project by local environmental groups by leaving the southern tip of the 270-acre parcel, which Ambient is giving to the city for a civic use, as a nature center instead of a more intensive use, such as a college campus or a hospital site.
But the groups contend even that low impact development would hinder the ability of Santa Ana mountain lions to safely travel from the coast to inland ranges.
“To survive, these animals need to maintain genetic diversity by successfully breeding with inland lions. These lions already have the lowest genetic diversity of any mountain lion population in California because they’re isolated by existing sprawl and highway developments,” the center stated in a release.
Mayor Pro Tem Matt Rahn suggested postponing a vote on the project at the tail-end of Tuesday night’s six-hour meeting and scrapping the nature center but both ideas were rebuffed by his colleagues. Councilman Mike Naggar, who served on the council’s Altair subcommittee, said the city has been negotiating with the environmental groups for years and there was nothing the city could do to appease them.
Naggar also said it was unfair to hold the developer, Ambient Communities, hostage to the groups demands. If they want to preserve the land as open space, he said, they could buy it.
Ambient Principal Rob Honer said late Wednesday in a text message that it would “terribly disappointing” if CBD ends up filing a suit. Honer said his company made a multi-year effort to satisfy as many concerns as feasibly possible.
“As demonstrated by the investments we have made in solutions to many of those concerns,” he wrote. “Also, if the suit targets biological concerns then it would be in conflict with the endorsements the Riverside Conservation Authority and wildlife agencies have recently made for the project.”