PALMDALE — The City Council unanimously denied an appeal by a Northern California-based law firm to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision to uphold the hearing officer’s approval of a site plan review for a proposed 25-megawatt solar energy project for the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Plant 10 facility.
The proposed solar energy project would be built on about 140 acres of vacant land bounded by 15th and 10th streets east, Blackbird Drive and East Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P). The solar project would be tied into the existing Southern Californian Edison grid associated with the plant.
The Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo law firm filed the appeal on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Solar. That group claimed the initial study/mitigated negative declaration failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. It also expressed concerns about the western Joshua tree and potential exposure to Valley Fever.
In addition, it said the applicant and the city failed to comply with the Palmdale Native Vegetation Ordinance.
The city also received a letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife expressing concerns about biological resources.
“Staff responded to the CFDW and attorney letter and made edits that were included within the final initial study, as well as add conditions of approval to the project,” Associate Planner Justin Sauder said during a presentation at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The hearing officer approved the project on Feb. 25. The law firm appealed, citing the same concerns. The Planning Commission denied the appeal on April 8; the law firm submitted a second appeal citing the same concerns.
Sauder said the concerns raised by the law firm have already been addressed.
The hearing officer determined that the initial study does adequately disclose, analyze and mitigate potential risk by including a Joshua tree survey, as well as mitigation measures for Joshua trees.
In addition, Lockheed coordinated with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and submitted an incidental take permit for the removal of western Joshua trees per the California Endangered Species Act, Sauder said.
“Standard dust control measures have been included as conditions of approval to reduce the exposure to valley fever, additional language has been added to the air quality section to further address concerns raised in the letter,” Sauder said.
In addition, Lockheed has been conditioned to provide a Native Desert Preservation Plan prior to issuance of a grading permit, in compliance with the Palmdale Native Vegetation Ordinance.
Sauder said the hearing officer and the Planning Commission concluded there is substantial evidence the project will not have a significant impact on the environment with the mitigation measures incorporated.
He added the city received an additional letter on Tuesday afternoon from the Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo law firm on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Solar, that addressed similar concerns previously addressed.
Attorney Kyle Jones, speaking via a video link, addressed the council on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Solar, which includes local Palmdale residents, workers and labor organizations.
“CEQA requires the city to accurately measure potential impacts, disclose those impacts and require mitigation to reduce those impacts,” Jones said.
He urged the Council to reject the site plan review until an environmental impact report could be prepared.
Councilman Richard Loa said he met with project manager Carlene Saxton, who explained how the concerns raised by the appellant have been adequately addressed by the applicant.
In regard to impacts to Joshua trees, Saxton said the applicant has agreed with the Department of Fish and Wildlife that they have adequately mitigated for impacts to them. In regard to valley fever, Saxton said per the analysis in the air quality section, they feel it has been adequately addressed.
“There will also be watering trucks on site during construction to mitigate any dust that would enter into the air,” he said.
In regard to the native desert vegetation ordinance, the applicant is required is obtain a permit from the city to be in full compliance with the ordinance.
“We don’t just simply say we think it’s OK, we have other experts and agencies up the food chain,” Mayor Steve Hofbauer said.
Mayor Pro Tem Laura Bettencourt said they’ve gone above and beyond what most cities would do to protect the Joshua trees and the residents from any kind of illness or airborne issues.”
Loa said Lockheed Martin has been an important and responsible part of the community for decades.
“I think they’re a responsible entity,” he said. “I am persuaded that they would not do something that would be injurious to the environment and to our community.”