In a major ruling that may affect future developments near mountain lion habitats, the Riverside County Superior Court ruled against the developers of the Altair planned community over failing to account for the impact the development would have on the mountain lion population.
Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia also denied Ambient Communities petition to build the 270 acre development as it did not follow the general plan of Temecula, as well as the developers also failing to plan for habitat conservation. The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, forces Ambient Communities to replan from scratch and create a planned community in line with city and environmental regulations.
“This is a rare win for environmentalists, especially those trying to preserve a species that isn’t an endangered species,” noted city planner Terrence Adams. “I’ve sat in courtrooms where judges allowed developers to flatten ponds where endangered frogs live before.”
“But with mammals, especially predators that people tend to like more, you always have a better chance with. Plus the developer failed to put a lot of things into account, including the city’s own master plan. That’s honestly surprising.”
While protections usually go against threatened species, California mountain lions are a special case as they have been disappearing at an increased rate, and may be extinct in the state by 2070, possibly as soon as 2035. A California Department of Fish and Wildlife vote on April 16th will determine if they are to be declared endangered within the state, with all current indications showing that they will pass it.
Environmentalists and preservationists applauded the ruling, citing the grave danger it would have put the local mountain lion population in.
“The ruling affirms concerns raised by scientists and conservation groups that the Altair development could be a death knell for local mountain lions,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney J.P. Rose in a press release. “The judge threw a lifeline to these highly imperiled cats, who need all the help they can get. Now the city and developer have to go back to the drawing board and rethink this damaging project.”
Developers in the area have largely disagreed with the ruling, noting that the developers had worked with environmental groups and mountain lion preservation societies for years. The need for housing in California has also been a major sticking point.
“Ambient was doing everything to make Altair work,” explained Adams. “They gave millions to Santa Ana Mountain Lion preservation, as well as 450 acres and even more money for wildlife corridors. That almost always satisfies the judge, but it didn’t seem to go far enough.”
“But I can’t stress that it’s not just the mountain lions. They went against the city plan and ignored other conservation factors. Now they have to start on this all over again.”
While Ambient Communities hasn’t announced what they are to do after the ruling, environmental and mountain lion groups have vowed the keep the corridors in place.