Litigation Against County

Litigation to Overturn the Ordinance 348.4713

On May 6, 2011, Protect Wine Country filed a lawsuit against the County of Riverside seeking a "Writ of Mandate" from the Superior Court, which would order the Ordinance to be set aside.  The grounds sought for overturning the ordinance is that (1) County violated CEQA by failing to prepare an "initial study" and undertake an proper environmental review of the impacts of the ordinance; (2) the ordinance conflicts with the County's General Plan; and (3) the County failed to hold a public hearing for the proposed ordinance.

A hearing on Protect Wine Country's request for a Peremptory Write of Mandate is scheduled for 8:30 A.M., in Department 3, on December 1, 2011.

Background

Adoption of the Citrus Vineyard Policy Area

Many years ago, the vineyard owners, residents and wineries sought to protect Temecula Wine Country from incompatible uses with agriculture and wine making in order to preserve wine country from commercial development.  The original proponents of the CV Zone recognized that land developers would soon purchase vineyard land in wine country for high-density housing tracks, schools, churches, strip malls and other uses incompatible with agriculture.

Section 14.71 (Intent) of the law states in part:

The Board of Supervisors (“Board”) finds that there is a need in the County of Riverside for a zone classification within the “Citrus Vineyard Rural Policy Area” of the Riverside County General Plan that would encourage agricultural cultivation, vineyards, and wineries, that would preserve the rural lifestyle, wine-making atmosphere and long term viability of the wine-industry where such activities are occurring and that would protect such areas from incompatible uses which could result in reduced agricultural productivity and increased urbanization within the policy area.

The uses permitted within the CV Zone were strictly limited to rural residential homes, vineyards and farms, wineries, and inns.  For years, the law worked to thwart incompatible development of property within wine country  

Ordinance 348.4713 (the "Death Nail" Ordinance)

On November 9, 2010, the County of Riverside, Board of Supervisors passed Ordinance 348.4713, which amended practically all zoning ordinances in the Country of Riverside by adding language that gave the Planning Director to allow uses not listed as a permitted use in a particular zone if the Planning Director determines the use to be of substantially the same in character and intensity as permitted uses in the same zone.  Section 14.73 of the CV Zone was amended by adding subparagraph (d) which states:

" Any use that is not specifically listed in Subsections b., c. and d. may be considered a permitted or conditionally permitted use provided that the Planning Director finds that the proposed use is substantially the same in character and intensity as those listed in the designated subsections. Such a use is subject to the permit process which governs the category in which it falls."

The Board of Supervisors included the Ordinance on the "POLICY CALENDAR," which was a list of 67 items presented for "Block Approval" without discussion.  The original motion introducing the ordinance was made by Supervisor

Impact of the "Death Nail" Ordinance on the Citrus Vineyard Zone

Ordinance 348.4713 represents the first nail in the coffin of Wine Country.  Rather than protecting Wine Country, the Board of Supervisors opened a huge whole to allow incompatible users, such as, churches, schools, stadiums, auditoriums, concert halls, amphitheaters,  and other projects to file applications for construction.

Through back-room politics and donations, a well healed applicant need only convince a wayward Supervisor to support their project even though it was formerly disallowed under the CV Zone prior to Ordinance 348.4713.  

Indeed, shortly after adoption of Ordinance 348.4713, Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship filed an application to build a mega-church on vineyard property it acquired.  The church proposes to build a large sanctuary on a hill overlooking the valley, but more devastating is the church's proposed school that would create a 1/4 mile "dead" zone around the school under Federal and State law, prevent vineyard owners from applying fumigants, pesticides, herbicides and other regulated substances necessary to protect vineyards.

Court Grants Petition - County Violated CEQA

On January 20, 2012, Protect Wine Country's motion for a writ of mandate was granted.  Judge Trask will be issuing a writ of mandate after the attorney's prepare a Statement of Decision.  The court's ruling requires the County to:

     1. Rescind the finding that the project/ordinance was exempt from CEQA and to prepare appropriate environmental review prior to any re-approval attempt,

     2. Rescind the change to Ordinance 348 that would allow the Planning Director to determine that a use is an equivalent use, (i.e. Calvary Chapel) and,

     3. Rescind the ordinance changing the definition of schools to include private schools.