In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, a California court has rejected a proposal to build a controversial luxury resort and golf course, because the project's environmental study failed to analyze the project's greenhouse gas emissions. The lawsuit had challenged the city of Desert Hot Springs' approval of the Palmwood resort near Joshua Tree National Park.
"The court affirmed what the California legislature made clear: that global warming must be addressed in land-use decisions," said Jonathan Evans, a staff attorney with the Center.
The lawsuit is one of a series of court challenges brought by the Center to reduce greenhouse gases from new development through the California Environmental Quality Act. In 2007 California passed Senate Bill 97, which affirms the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use decisions. In June 2008 California also provided technical guidance on how to properly calculate and reduce greenhouse gases. The California Environmental Quality Act requirements are in addition to the requirements of the California Global Warming Solutions Act and the governor's June 2005 Executive Order, which aims to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Research has indicated that continued "business-as-usual" greenhouse gas emissions threaten up to 70% of plants and animals worldwide with extinction. A recent report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July indicated that climate change will have severe impacts on California through increased heat related deaths, wildfires, and flooding, and worsening air quality via increased ozone formation. By mid-century, extreme heat waves from global warming in areas like Los Angeles and San Bernardino are projected to cause two to three times as many heat-related deaths as occur today.
Most of the Palmwood site lies within regionally recognized wildlife conservation areas. The project area is home to numerous species of rare wildlife including bighorn sheep, burrowing owls, the Palm Springs pocket mouse, Palm Springs round-tailed ground squirrel, Le Conte's thrasher, and loggerhead shrike. The area is also part of a wildlife linkage providing a bridge for animals to the adjacent national park and wilderness areas.
"This project would have destroyed vital habitat of some of the most endangered species in the Coachella Valley," said Evans. "This ecological and financial disaster should never have been approved."
The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club also challenged the Palmwood annexation before the Riverside County regional planning agency, Riverside LAFCO. After reconsideration, Riverside LAFCO denied the project based on financial deficiencies as well as the project's grave implications for the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
"This is another nail in the coffin of Palmwood," said local conservation chair for the Sierra Club Joan Taylor.
The project proposed more than 2,600 homes, over 1 million square feet of commercial space, a 400-room hotel, an amphitheater, and two golf courses on the open space in the northwest Coachella Valley. Documents uncovered by the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club demonstrated that the city rushed the project through a shoddy environmental review process in order to fast-track the development.
"Business-as-usual sprawl is devastating to our climate and local environment," said Evans. "Building smarter with today's green building technology is a major part of solving the climate crisis."