Where Solano’s Habitat Conservation Plan & Flannery’s New City Collide

  • [Note from BenIndy: Respected environmental consulting firm LSA has generated a fascinating but lengthy memorandum regarding California Forever’s proposed new city’s impact on conservation and mitigation in the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). While the whole memorandum offers a clear case for concern as well as an excellent blueprint of the various federal and state hurdles California Forever will have to overcome, those who don’t have time to dive into a 23-page document will certainly benefit from former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s excellent summary of the document, available below.]
Former Benicia mayor Elizabeth Patterson.

By Elizabeth Patterson, November 8, 2023

 The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a federal program that allows projects that impact ecosystems (generally species-specific) to mitigate the impacts by acquiring habitat and conserving it in perpetuity. In this case the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) is a contractor with the federal government for the operation and management of the Monticello dam and Putah South Canal (that is the canal that conveys Benicia’s water) and other components to the dam system. As part of the contract renewal twenty-odd years ago, SCWA has been required to mitigate the impacts associated with this project. The water agency has worked with Solano County and cities to identify habitat conservation areas that meet the requirements. The cities would benefit by being able to have the developer buy into the conservation areas. In other words, cities designated as the places to grow urban development would be able to have the developer pay their fair share for habitat conservation. Generally, such arrangements are hard to do one project at a time, and thus the overall plan of the HCP makes these mitigation plans more efficient and effective.

This HCP also allows contiguous conservation areas targeting specific species and ecosystems. When the large grassland areas are broken up, the result is a kind of a ‘museum’ of separate habitat areas lacking connectivity, and thus they do not represent not a sustainable habitat. After all, we can’t and don’t know all there is about habitats and how they work. The best we can do is to preserve these areas with corridors for migrating species and diversity of plants and other considerations. The viability of HCPs are based on these factors.
According to LSA’s memorandum, what the Flannery group’s proposed new city will do is impact, extirpate and lead to extinction of flora and fauna due to the land-use conversion from grasslands and riparian habitats. Because the price paid for the land is 200% greater than what the market had been, the Solano County Water Agency can’t easily buy land for habitat conservation plan, which is part of their responsibility as a federal water project operator. The HCP is also needed for projects already entitled or within the planning future for the cities. They were relying on the HCP to mitigate their projects.
The maps in the document clearly demonstrate the massive impact of a new city (or any creeping into habitat by existing cities). The SCWA and future urban developers in existing cities will be stuck with a very high and costly mitigation for meeting the HCP.
And the grasslands habitat will be wrecked.