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									ERIC GIBSON
INTERIM DIRECTOR

County of San Diego
DEPARTMENT OF PLANNING AND LAND USE
5201 RUFFIN ROAD, SUITE B, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA 92123-1666 INFORMATION (858) 694-2960 TOLL FREE (800) 411-0017 www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu

July 30, 2008

RE:

RESPONSES TO COMMENTS ON THE GUIDELINES FOR DETERMINING SIGNIFICANCE AND REPORT FORMAT AND CONTENT REQUIREMENTS – BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES

The following are staff’s responses to comments received during the public review period for the Guidelines for Determining Significance (Guidelines) and Report Format and Content Requirements (Report Formats) for Biological Resources. The Draft Guidelines and Report Formats were circulated for public review from May 15, 2008 to June 16, 2008. Comments were received that resulted in changes to the Draft Guidelines and Report Formats for Biological Resources. Response to comments received from Dan Silver, Executive Director, Endangered Habitats League (EHL) A-1 The County concurs with the commenter. Prior to future amendments to the Guidelines for Biological Resources, the County will expand the Biological Technical Review Panel to include representation from one or more independent, academic, public interest scientist(s). The commenter states: “it is surprising that a document with such flaws was released for public review.” The County notes that many points in the commenter’s letter refer to portions of the Guidelines that were previously accepted and implemented, and were not proposed to be changed by this amendment. The commenter requests that “comprehensive guidance for indirect effects should be incorporated into the various species and habitat sections.” No specific recommendations were provided, and no changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. However, the Biological

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Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added when the Guidelines are amended in the future. Note that all proposed Guideline amendments must be circulated for public review, and the commenter will have the opportunity to review and comment on all future revisions. A-4 The County concurs with the commenter, and has modified the descriptive text regarding the Resource Protection Ordinance. The word “particularly” has been removed, and a reference added that would qualify lands as RPO sensitive habitat lands if they are critical to a balanced ecosystem or part of a functioning wildlife corridor. The County acknowledges the commenter’s concern that Guideline 4.1.B sets too high a standard for significance. In practice, the County would only find impacts to Group A and B plants and Group I wildlife less than significant if the project could demonstrate adequate mitigation and/or avoidance. This comment does not address an area proposed to be amended as part of this revision, therefore no changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment at this time. However, the County will evaluate the wording of this Guideline, and will determine whether to revise this guideline when the Guidelines are amended in the future. A-6 The County acknowledges the commenter’s concern that Guideline 4.1.C sets too high a standard for significance. Similar to Guideline 4.1.B, in practice, the County would only find impacts to Group C and D plants and Group I wildlife less than significant if the project demonstrates adequate mitigation and/or avoidance This comment does not address an area proposed to be amended as part of this revision, therefore no changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment at this time. However, the County will evaluate the wording of this Guideline, and will determine whether to revise this guideline when the Guidelines are amended in the future. A-7 The County acknowledges and appreciates this comment. As stated in responses A-5 and A-6 above, the wording of the referenced guidelines will be evaluated. The County did not specify a de minimis standard for impacts to sensitive species, due to the difficulty with defining what a de minimus impact would be for the numerous sensitive species within the County. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The suggested changes to Guideline 4.1.D regarding the arroyo toad would

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be a substantive change beyond those that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added to Guidelines 4.1.D in the next Guideline amendment. A-10 The suggested changes to Guideline 4.1.F regarding foraging areas for smaller raptors would be a substantive change beyond those that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added to this Guideline in the next Guideline amendment. A-11 The suggested changes to Guideline 4.1.G regarding noise and night-time lighting impacts would be a substantive change beyond those that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added to this Guideline in the next Guideline amendment. A-12 The commenter states “Any impact to a core area that is not de minimus (such as a slight encroachment on the periphery) should be considered significant and subject to avoidance and mitigation.” The County did not specify a de minimis standard for impacts to core areas. Instead, Guideline 4.1.H allows an applicant to present biologically-based evidence that an impact to a core area would be less than significant. In practice, County staff reviews all evidence before reaching an independent conclusion about the significance of impacts. The presentation of evidence must be sound, and it must fully justify why the impact would not be significant. Any significant impacts must be avoided or mitigated. A-13 The County acknowledges the commenter’s concern that Guideline 4.1.J sets too high a standard for significance. In practice, the County would only find impacts to habitat during breeding season less than significant if the project demonstrates adequate mitigation and/or avoidance, and will condition projects to avoid clearing, grading and grubbing during the breeding season. This comment does not address an area proposed to be amended as part of this revision, therefore no changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment at this time. However, the County concurs that the wording of this Guideline does not reflect current County practice. The Biological Technical Review Panel will revise this guideline when the Guidelines are amended in the future. A-14 The County acknowledges the commenter’s concern about Guideline 4.2.C regarding groundwater drawdown. This comment does not address an area

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proposed to be amended as part of this revision, therefore no changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment at this time. However, the County will evaluate whether to amend this guideline, particularly for those areas where affected ground-water dependent habitat is already stressed due to excessive groundwater pumping, and in areas where groundwater recharge is limited. A-15 The suggested changes to Guideline 4.2.D regarding impacts to sensitive habitats from human access or competition would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added to this Guideline in the next Guideline amendment. A-16 The suggested changes to Guideline 4.4.A regarding wildlife access would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added to this Guideline in the next Guideline amendment. A-17 The suggested changes to Guideline 4.4.D regarding noise and light-time lighting would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes and guidance should be added to this Guideline in the next Guideline amendment. A-18 Guideline 4.5.B is a finding that must be made by a local agency prior to approving an interim habitat loss application. The County did not modify the wording of the finding, because it is required by the CSS NCCP Process Guidelines, a document adopted by the California Department of Fish and Game in 1993. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. A-19 Similar to the previous comment, Guideline 4.5.G is also a required finding under the CSS NCCP Process Guidelines. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. A-20 Guideline 4.5.I is a finding that must be made to show compliance with the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). The County did not modify the wording of the finding, because it is the same language found in the required MSCP Findings. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment.

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A-21 The suggested changes to mitigation ratios for chaparral and non-native grassland mitigation would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes to the mitigation ratios for these habitats are warranted. A-22 The Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether the specific areas identified in this letter require further changes and amendments to the CEQA Guidelines for Biological Resources. Note that all proposed Guideline amendments must be circulated for public review, and the commenter will have the opportunity to review and comment on all future revisions. Response to comments received from John Peterson, Peterson Environmental Services. B-1 The County concurs that the proposed language under “Sources for Mitigation Ratios” was not clear. The language has been revised to read: “Mitigation ratios are standardized and not dependent upon the quality of habitat or the regional importance of the project site. Rather, the mitigation ratios recognize the regional importance of the habitat, its overall rarity, and the number, variety and sensitivity of species it supports.” The County acknowledges that the commenter provided a percentage breakdown of mitigation ratios per habitat type. The County has not verified the commenter’s figures, because the number of vegetation types falling under each mitigation ratio is irrelevant when determining the suitable mitigation ratio for CEQA mitigation for biological impacts. As stated in the Guidelines, mitigation ratios are based on preserving areas necessary to ensure the continued survival of species. The number of habitat types per mitigation ratio has no biological relevance. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The habitat types requiring 3:1 mitigation are all wetland vegetation types, maritime vegetation types that are only found along the coast, chaparral habitats growing on mafic soils (which are known to support rare and endangered plants), forests, woodlands, and native grasslands and wildflower fields. All of these listed habitat types are rare within San Diego County, and support sensitive and/or listed species. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The County concurs that habitats requiring greater than 1:1 mitigation generally contain unique vegetation and support sensitive species. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The County concurs that development activities have been more prevalent in

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the western portion of the County, and that there are large tracts of land in the eastern portions of the County that are held in public ownership. However, the County does not concur that mitigation ratios should therefore be higher along the western portion of the County. As stated in the Guidelines, mitigation ratios are based on preserving areas necessary to ensure the continued survival of species. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. B-6 The commenter suggests 5 factors that the County could consider when assigning mitigation ratios. In the development of the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP), the County is considering factors such as those cited by the commenter to develop future preserve configurations as well as mitigation ratios. The County is in the process of developing the North County MSCP and the East County MSCP, two additional Habitat Conservation Programs that will cover the remaining portions of the unincorporated County. Once adopted, mitigation ratios in Table 5 will be superseded by requirements of those Habitat Conservation Programs. The commenter’s suggestions for mitigation ratios have been forwarded to staff working on the MSCP plans to review and incorporate if determined appropriate. The County appreciates the commenter’s submission of a biological screening tool, and has forwarded it to staff working on the MSCP plans to review and incorporate if determined appropriate. Since this comment letter does not address an area proposed to be amended as part of this revision, no changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment at this time. However, based on this comment, the County will evaluate whether any mitigation ratios should be amended in the next Guideline amendment. The first three paragraphs of Attachment A are incorrect. Table 5 (mitigation ratios) was not developed for the implementation of the MSCP. The existing MSCP is based on a tier system for mitigation, where mitigation ratios depend on the habitat type and whether the habitat falls within a biological core area. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. Please refer to Response B-2.

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B-10 Please refer to Response B-7. Response to comments received from Carrie Schneider, California Native Plant Society. C-1 The commenter states: “We urge the County to recall this document before bringing it in front of decision makers, and to provide a greater opportunity for

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members of the conservation community to work with your staff.” The County notes that many points in the commenter’s letter refer to portions of the Guidelines that were previously accepted and implemented, and were not proposed to be changed by this amendment. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. However, please note that prior to future amendments to the Guidelines for Biological Resources, the County will expand the Biological Technical Review Panel to include representation from one or more independent, academic, public interest scientist(s) as requested in Comment A-1. C-2 The County concurs that a summary of the California Native Plant Protection Act should be added to the CEQA Guidelines for Biological Resources. Although this comment does not address an area proposed to be amended as part of this revision, the County has determined that this is not a substantive change to the document and has added the suggested language. The County does not concur that habitats considered sensitive under CEQA are by definition sensitive habitat lands under the Resource Protection Ordinance (RPO). The amended and publicized text change clarifies the County’s interpretation and implementation of the Ordinance definition. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The County does not agree with removing the paragraph containing examples of habitats not considered RPO sensitive habitat lands. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. Please note that this paragraph has been modified in response to Comment A-4. The County concurs with and has made the suggested editorial change. The RPO requires avoidance and preservation of wetland buffers. Since these buffers must be avoided per Ordinance, it is County policy that the acreage is not granted credit toward mitigation requirements. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The County does not concur that the appropriate study area for most cases should be the greater County of San Diego. State CEQA Guidelines section 15130 requires an appropriate geographic scope of the area affected by the cumulative effect. The area may or may not need to include the whole of the County. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. The Guidelines currently do not limit cumulative analyses areas to only within San Diego County. For example, cumulative analyses often include projects within incorporated cities that are not under the County’s jurisdiction. In addition, the County of San Diego Environmental Impact Report Format and

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General Content Requirements states “A reasonable effort must be undertaken to discover, disclose, and discuss related past, present, and future projects including research of related projects within the jurisdiction of other agencies.” No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. C-9 Please refer to responses C-7 and C-8.

C-10 The County does not concur that the added word “minimum” should be added to the mitigation ratios. As stated on page i: “These Guidelines are not binding on any decision-maker and should not be substituted for the use of independent judgment to determine significance or the evaluation of evidence in the record.” No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. C-11 The County does not concur that the noted paragraph should be removed. The County would only approve the use of an “out of kind” habitat type if evidence was presented that the biological function and value would be adequate to mitigate the identified biological impact pursuant to CEQA. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. C-12 The County does not concur that the words “may be appropriate” should be replaced with “is permissible.” Site-specific factors may dictate that nonnative grasslands need to be mitigated with other grassland habitat. The County concurs with and has made the remaining suggested editorial changes. C-13 The suggested addition of “Otay and Cuyamaca” to this sentence would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes should be made in the next Guideline amendment. C-14 The suggested changes to mitigation ratios for Riversidiean Sage Scrub, calcicolous scrub, three chaparral types, upper Sonoran subshrub scrub, and vernal pool would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment. However, based on this comment, the Biological Technical Review Panel will evaluate whether further changes to the mitigation ratios for these habitats are warranted. C-15 Please refer to response C-13. C-16 The County concurs with and has made the suggested editorial changes. C-17 Please refer to response C-10.

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C-18 Please refer to response C-6. C-19 Please refer to responses C-7 and C-8. C-20 The suggested change from 15 acres to 40 acres for large residential subdivisions would be a substantive change beyond the amendments that were circulated for this Guideline amendment, and no evidence or rationale was presented to support the comment. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. C-21 The County does not concur with the suggested change from oak trees to native trees, and no evidence or rationale was presented to support the comment. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. C-22 The County concurs with and has made the suggested editorial change. C-23 The County does not concur with the suggested change. Unless the oak root protection zone is preserved in a dedicated “no touch” biological open space, the County would count the acreage of all above-ground habitat within an oak root protection zone as a direct impact. No changes were made to the final guidelines as a result of this comment. C-24 Please refer to response C-21.


								
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