5/31/2005

2 suits target lakes plan: San Bernardino County (CA) Sun, 5/27/05

Action seeks court injunction against SB project

By David Schwartz

[San Bernadino] Residents filed two lawsuits Friday challenging the lakes project that would destroy their homes.

The first suit, filed by 10 homeowners, says the final environmental impact report approved April 25 fails to meet state environmental standards. Deanna Adams, who owns and operates Victory Chapel, filed the other lawsuit.

The lakes project would clear out 473 homes on 82.4 acres north of downtown and east of Interstate 215. In their place would be a 44.5-acre lake, with land left over for parks and the development of 72 homes and 12 acres of stores.

The lawsuits, filed in San Bernardino Superior Court on Friday, seek a permanent injunction against the project. They also ask for attorney fees.

"The mass of the demolition of affordable homes and growing businesses is sort of stunning,' said Lou Goebel, the San Diego-based lawyer who filed the lawsuits.

John Hoeger, the project manager, defended the document.

"The (environmental impact report) took years to prepare, hundreds of hours of study,' he said. "It's a well-thought-out document.'

Hoeger, City Attorney James F. Penman and Bruce Varner, the lawyer for the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, had not seen the lawsuits and would not comment on them directly Friday.

"Challenges of (environmental impact reports) are not unusual. It's kind of an expected thing,' Hoeger said.

The lawsuits challenge the environmental document that the City Council and the water board separately certified on April 25.

The lawsuits claim the environmental impact report:

  • Gives inadequate details about relocation.
  • Doesn't deal with the effects on the neighborhood and where people will move.
  • Doesn't consider a smaller option that would have displaced fewer residents.

Even though the April 25 vote was hailed as a major step for the project, many obstacles and potential tripping points remain.

The water district has hired a firm to create a relocation plan, a necessary step required under state environmental law before the water district buys land and relocates residents.

The water district has almost $60 million, but the project is expected to cost at least $150 million. Hoeger said homes might not start to be acquired and residents relocated until more is known about the funding.

The water district "could choose to do this with their own funds, but they'd do it at some risk until they have enough money to complete the project,' Hoeger said. The board of directors, who are elected, have not made that decision yet.

Residents questioned where they'd move to.

"Do you know where 400 affordable homes are for sale in the area? I don't,' said Ghassan Abdullah, one of those suing the city and water district.

"This project is not for the people,' said Steve Veloz, who also lives in the area and is involved in the lawsuit.

The lawsuits question why some of the data in the area is based on old numbers, including the 2000 census.

Veloz was skeptical that residents would be fairly compensated, given the increased home prices and lack of affordable housing.

Veloz said, "There's a house shortage here for regular people.'

It remained unclear how this would affect the project.

Although the residents who are suing can seek a temporary restraining order, Goebel said it was unlikely they would do it immediately.

"Since they're not bulldozing right now, we're going to wait to see what happens next,' he said.

A hearing is set for July 28. Judge John Wade will hear the case.


San Bernardino County Sun: www.sbsun.com