In a write of mandate filed Dec. 21 in San Bernardino Superior Court, Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Living CPRL), which encompasses the city of Yucaipa, the Oak Glen Wildlands Conservancy and more than 17,000 Yucaipa and local residents, alleges the county failed to comply with state environmental laws when the Board of Supervisors approved the antenna on Nov. 27.
For five years, the group has been battling Oxnard-based Lazer Broadcasting over the antenna, which opponents say obstructs the pristine landscape and views at the park. The group alleges in its lawsuit that the project warrants an environmental impact report, not a mitigated negative declaration.
The difference between an environmental impact report (EIR) and a mitigated negative declaration (MND) is that an EIR is required if a project is determined to have a significant impact on the environment, whereas an MND, which was used in the radio tower project, is used if it is believed a project's environmental impacts can be reduced to an insignificant level.
"CPRL has always taken the position that a full environmental impact report should have been prepared prior to consideration of the Lazer application to construct the tower," said John Mirau, a Redlands attorney and spokesman for the group. "The county of San Bernardino ignored our request for an EIR, so we now will have the court determine if the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by approving the tower without preparing an EIR."
Lazer Broadcasting owns the 38 acres of land near the intersection of Oak Glen and Wildwood Canyon roads, west of Pisgah Peak Road, where it plans to erect its antenna. The company initially proposed a 140-foot tall lattice tower with a 250-square-foot equipment building and 500-gallon propane tank to run a backup generator, which the Board of Supervisors rejected.
Lazer scaled the project down to its current configuration - an antenna affixed to a 43-foot-tall wooden monopole - which was palatable to the county but not to project opponents, who still argue the project will be an eyesore and negatively impact the area's natural landscape.
"The transmission tower and associated industrial uses threaten the pristine wilderness experience and scenic vistas that inspired community members to create Wildwood State Park in 2003," according to the lawsuit.
The court document also states that the project's construction and fencing would disturb the habitat of threatened and endangered species including the western fence and coastal horn lizards, as well large mammals including deer and bear.
The citizens group is not opposed to Lazer constructing a radio tower on property that is not environmentally sensitive, Mirau said. He said in an e-mail Friday that the group even offered to buy the Lazer property and help them find a suitable location to construct the tower.
But officials representing Lazer Broadcasting say the Pisgah Peak location, already approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is the only location that will allow the broadcaster to expand its listener base from roughly 191,000 to more than 2 million and allow it to transmit out of Hemet, in Riverside County.
Representatives for Lazer Broadcasting couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
County spokesman David Wert said in an e-mail Friday that although the county is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, it doesn't have anything at stake.
"There's no worst case scenario for the county. The county doesn't benefit if the project happens and the county doesn't suffer if it doesn't happen," Wert said. "The county doesn't incur any kind of penalty if a judge agrees with the plaintiff."
He said Lazer Broadcasting bears all costs in the case, even the county's.
"Having said that, the county conducted a complete and open process in full compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act," Wert said. "The project was considered publicly twice by the Planning Commission and twice by the Board of Supervisors, which rejected it until major revisions were made."
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