11. Other Requested Changes to the Proposed Decision
SCE has requested the addition of a Finding of Fact and Conclusion of Law addressing the need to keep project construction on schedule. This Commission is as committed to the rapid implementation of the State's Renewable Portfolio Standards as is SCE, and, at various points in this decision, we have made statements indicating that we expect CPUC staff to undertake its best efforts to work with SCE to accelerate the review of any SCE plans and activities that are submitted for staff approval. We do not believe that any further findings or conclusions are needed as evidence of our expectations and commitment and accordingly will not grant SCE's request in this regard.
Finally, SCE requests that we delete a sentence at page 19 of the proposed decision that refers to the value of future transmission projects associated with the development of the Tehachapi wind resource. We agree with SCE that this language does not relate to the issues in this proceeding and have modified it to delete the reference to specific future projects.
B. Comments of Leona Valley Residents
The Leona Valley Residents support the proposed decision's finding that Alternative 5 is not the environmentally superior project and should not be selected. However, they claim that the proposed decision, and by implication the Final EIR/EIS as well, insufficiently addresses the adverse environmental impacts of Alternative 5 in connection with impacts on visual resources, housing and land use, fire safety, hydrology and geology.
We are sympathetic to the Leona Valley Residents' concerns. We have no intention of approving Alternative 5 and do not do so in this decision. Accordingly, we see no need to make any substantial modifications to the language in the proposed decision that reflects the substance of the Final EIR/EIS. However, we are persuaded to incorporate language in Attachment B, the CEQA Findings of Fact, which states that Alternative 5 is infeasible.
C. Comments of the City of Santa Clarita
Although the City of Santa Clarita (City) is not a party to this proceeding, the City, as an interested public agency, has actively participated in the environmental review process for the proposed project that has been conducted under CEQA and NEPA. As noted above, we have determined to treat the City's letter of February 14, 2007 commenting on the Final EIR/EIS as comments on the proposed decision.
The City's letter fundamentally raises three points: (1) that the project description in the Final EIR/EIS is inaccurate, and therefore misleading; (2) that the Final EIR/EIS does not consider a sufficient range of alternatives to the proposed project, in particular, an alternative that would avoid the construction of large towers and transmission line through residential neighborhoods in the City; and (3) that the alternative proposed by the City in response to the Draft EIR/EIS needs to be "fully considered and analyzed in the EIR/EIS" and "re-circulated for public comment."
We basically disagree with the City on all of these points, and consider that we are under no legal obligation either to study the City's proposed alternative in any greater detail than it has been studied, or to re-circulate the EIR/EIS for further public comment on the City's proposed alternative.
The detailed reasons for these conclusions are set forth in a letter dated February 27, 2007 addressed to Paul Brotzman, the City's Director of Community Development. A copy of the City's letter, our staff's response to that letter, a detailed, 20-page analysis by our CEQA/NEPA consultant that compares the City's proposed alternative to SCE's proposed route through the City, some additional correspondence from SCE that is directly relevant to the City's proposed alternative, as well as a map that the City provided to our staff, have been incorporated into an Addendum to the Final EIR/EIS, which addendum is attached to this decision as Attachment D.
The documents in Attachment D amply demonstrate that the City's suggested alternative is not a feasible alternative that offers substantial environmental advantages when compared to the proposed project or the alternatives analyzed in the EIR/EIS such as to warrant further analysis, nor does the City's proposed alternative trigger the need for recirculation under CEQA Guidelines § 15088.5. Moreover, none of the impact conclusions presented in the Final EIR/EIS would change in any way as a result of the inclusion of the information contained in Attachment D in the CEQA/NEPA record.
D. Comments of Ron and Sherry Howell
Although the Howells were not parties to this proceeding, they did submit comments on the Draft EIR/EIS. We have accordingly determined to treat their comments on the Final EIR/EIS as comments on the proposed decision. The Howells "protest" Alternative 2, which is part of the project that we are approving in this decision, on a number of grounds. Most of the issues raised in the Howells' comments repeat the comments they submitted on the Draft EIR/EIS. Those issues were addressed in the Final EIR/EIS and will not be responded to here.
However, the Howells do raise three new issues in their comments: (1) they propose a new routing alternative that would ostensibly avoid their property; (2) they raise concerns about possible threats (increased fire risk) to structures of historic significance; and (3) they raise concerns about possible adverse impacts to agriculture, specifically, wine growing.
None of these new issues raised in the Howells' comments justify any changes either to the proposed decision or to the Final EIR/EIS. As to their proposed new route, it is simply too late in the process for the Howells to expect that a new routing proposal should or will be considered in connection with our consideration of the proposed decision in this case. The time for the Howells to have presented such an alternative for consideration was last summer and fall, when the public comment period on the Draft EIR/EIS was open. Had they offered their new route as part of their comments on the Draft EIR/EIS, it would have been looked at in some detail, as were the new route proposals submitted in connection with their comments on the Draft EIR/EIS by the City of Santa Clarita, the Pacific Coast Trail Association, and the Brunets. See Section V.B. above. The CPUC is under no legal or other obligation to consider a new route alternative that is proposed at the last minute. Nevertheless, we note that the Howells' proposed route alternative would extend the proposed length of the line along Del Sur Ridge, which would have significantly greater potentially significant adverse environmental impacts than the route we are approving in this decision, and would be directly contrary to the aims and purposes of the USFS, which needs the route of this transmission line to be off the ridge top for important firefighting and other environmental needs, as is discussed in detail in Section V.A. of this decision and in the Final EIR/EIS.
The Howells' other two issues also lack merit as a basis for modifying either the proposed decision or the Final EIR/EIS. Their comments do not indicate why the structures in question would be subject to increased fire risks. As is discussed in detail in the Final EIR/EIS, the project is not expected to cause a significant increase in fire risk and may actually reduce such risks with the removal the existing 66-kV subtransmission line across the ANF. Finally, their comments do not indicate how vineyards would be adversely affected by the transmission line. Transmission lines are not known to inhibit the growth of grapes or other plants in any way, and in any event, the lines along the route we are approving in this decision would not be located adjacent to any existing vineyards.
E. Other Comments and Reply Comments
All of the other comments we received in response to the proposed decision either support that proposed decision are do not raise any new issues that were not already addressed in the Final EIR/EIS.
The only reply comments we received were from SCE, whose filing was limited to an explanation of why the City of Santa Clarita's proposed alternative would likely create additional adverse environmental impacts and was unreasonable for a number of other technical, economic and policy reasons. We appreciate SCE's reply comments, the substance of which is consistent with the reasons why we find the City's suggested alternative not to be a feasible alternative that offers substantial environmental advantages when compared to the proposed project or the alternatives analyzed in the EIR/EIS. We note that SCE's reply comments include some additional visual impact analysis from SCE's external visual consultant, CH2M Hill, which shows that the SCE route through Santa Clarita would not substantially degrade the existing viewshed, such that the City's proposed alternative would not eliminate any substantial visual impact. As a rebuttal to the City's argument that its proposed route would mitigate visual impacts otherwise resulting from our approval of SCE's proposed route through the City, we have included this visual analysis from SCE's consultant in Attachment D.