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Proposed Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan will have Significant Impacts on Real Estate Development

By: Paul S. Weiland

The Coachella Valley Association of Government is formulating a Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) that will affect development in the 1.2 million acre plan area that encompasses the eastern half of Riverside County for the next 75 years. The MSHCP is ambitious and controversial; it imposes substantial burdens on local jurisdictions and developers. The Plan contemplates that approximately 90,000 acres of privately owned land will be acquired or otherwise set aside as conservation land. In addition, hundreds of thousands of acres of private land in the plan area will be impacted by the MSHCP, and the restrictions on some private lands may foreclose development. The public comment period on the MSHCP closes March 7, 2005.

A consortium of governments led by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments has issued a Draft MSHCP. The purpose of the MSHCP is to balance environmental protection and economic development. It provides for the protection of 27 species (including 10 federally listed and 8 state listed species) as well as natural communities primarily through the identification of Conservation Areas in which development is restricted. At the same time, the MSHCP will result in the issuance of permits to, among others, participating county agencies and cities for a term of 75 years for the take of species covered under the plan including species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and California Endangered Species Act.[1] Development permitted by local permittees consistent with the MSHCP, in turn, is covered by the local permittee take permits.

Projects that have already received a "take" authorization or permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service and/or Department of Fish and Game are not exempted from the requirements of the MSHCP. Furthermore, the MSHCP does not relieve federal agencies of the need to consult with the Service under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act before taking an action that may affect listed species, such as the issuance of a dredge and fill permit under section 404 of the Clean Water Act by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Plan Area is approximately 1.2 million acres in the eastern portion of Riverside County. The MSHCP is designed to protect 27 individual species and 27 natural communities within the Plan Area. The MSHCP proposes the establishment of 21 Conservation Areas encompassing slightly less than 750,000 acres of the 1.2 million acre Plan Area. More than two-thirds of the acreage of the proposed Conservation Areas is protected federal and State lands. But a substantial amount of the remaining acreage must either be acquired by the federal, State, or local governments for protection or otherwise conserved, for example, by imposing development restrictions on private lands.

Within the Conservation Areas, development is restricted and all development projects are subject to a joint project review process. Whereas projects outside the Conservation Areas may be approved by the local permitting authority and need not undergo further review, the joint project review process for proposed projects within the Conservation Areas involves the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission as well as State and federal wildlife officials in project review and permitting.

The MSHCP includes a proposed mitigation fee to be imposed on all development within the Plan Area of $1975 per acre; it is unclear how this fee will be applied to, for example, projects that alter only a portion of a site. Through an informational website regarding the MSHCP, property owners can input their Assessor Parcel Numbers to determine whether their property falls within one of the proposed Conservation Areas. The website is The MSHCP was drafted for the laudable purpose of conserving wildlife through comprehensive, adaptive management. Yet, as drafted, it creates significant hurdles for developers, particularly developers that own land located in Conservation Areas.

If you are interest in learning more about the MSHCP or obtaining an electronic version of the MSHCP, contact Paul Weiland at (949) 833-7800.

Paul Weiland has counseled clients and litigated environmental matters in trial and appellate courts under a variety of statutes, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Until recently, he worked in the Law and Policy Section, Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He can be reached at (949) 833-7800 or

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