Court orders thorough air-impact review for planned Fresno County development project

Sprawl opponents gained some ground in Fresno County, California, at least, this go around, anyway.

In reference to the above, as it happens, further movement on a planned 2,270-home community in the foothills east of Fresno known as Friant Ranch has ground to a halt, though this work stoppage for the time being is temporary, mind you. This action was prompted by way of a California court order.

“The Friant Ranch residential development was delayed again after the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled the developers must add an air quality component to the environmental impact report for the 970-acre project,” staff writer Marc Benjamin wrote in: “Appellate court decision delays Friant Ranch development,” in The Fresno Bee.

“The development would bring homes, shops and businesses to the rural area and cater to the 55-and-older set, similar to popular retirement communities in Arizona and Southern California.”

This is highly relevant because, prior to this appellate court decision, there was the appearance that in the San Joaquin Valley there was just no stopping horizontal, outwardly sprawling growth.

The reason for the decision from the 5th District Court of Appeal seems fairly straightforward: If the community is built as planned, what effect will traffic transiting between Fresno and Friant have on local and regional air quality? It appears that this was an important enough matter to warrant further reviewing and addressing before the project is allowed to proceed any further.

Once the review is completed and the findings written into the corresponding environmental impact report (EIR), if the court then determines the planned Friant Ranch development would have too harsh a negative effect on air quality and finds its impacts too onerous to public health and quality of life and thus is ordered stopped, the way I’m thinking, such action could be precedent-setting as it has to do with similar future development projects proposed for building outside the city’s existing sphere of influence regarding their being approved.

On the other hand, if after authoritative review the project is allowed to move forward and is ultimately built, what will the remedy or remedies be to effectively mitigate such air pollution generated by vehicle traffic transiting between the city and the foothill community?

It is my understanding the Friant Ranch developer was previously given the okay to continue by the Board of Supervisors of Fresno County.

Hollywood, California sprawl 1922
Hollywood, California sprawl 1922

Also keep in mind that California Senate Bill 375 (the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act) approved in 2008 mandates that from 2005 levels, state greenhouse gas emissions levels must be reduced. In the San Joaquin Valley, those levels must be five percent less by 2020 and cut by 10 percent by 2035.

Meanwhile, growth in state population is not zero. Approximately 400,000 people per year are being added to state population ranks.

Alternatively, building a retirement community of equal size in the heart of the city close to healthcare facilities, retail, dining and entertainment venues and with access to public transit is, in my opinion, a far more practical and environmentally-friendly approach. With presumably less reliance on driving and more dependence on walking and public transit use, comparatively speaking, this should, correspondingly present less damage to the air.

It could take up to nine months before a final ruling regarding the Friant Ranch development is rendered.

Image above: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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