War Brews As Lake Arrowhead Encroaches On Hesperia’s Land Use Authority

Hostilities are on the brink of breaking out between two of San Bernardino County’s  communities over one’s effort to establish a medium scale renewable energy project within the other’s jurisdiction.
In terms of population, Hesperia, with 90.173 residents, is the seventh largest of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated municipalities. In terms of land area, at 72 square miles, it is the county’s second largest city. Lake Arrowhead is not an incorporated city, but it does have a sizable population. A slowly progressing move is afoot to create San Bernardino County’s 25th incorporated municipality, tentatively to be named Lake Arrowhead, with Lake Arrowhead at its center and encompassing the outlying areas of Crestline, Running Springs, Arrowbear, Green Valley Lake, Skyforest, Rim Forest, Twin Peaks, Blue Jay and Cedar Glen into a single 40-square mile city. If Lake Arrowhead were to incorporate under those terms, it would be the county’s eleventh largest city geographically, and with 30,327 residents, the seventeenth largest city in the county population-wise, ahead of Needles, Big Bear, Grand Terrace, Yucca Valley, Loma Linda, Barstow and Twentynine Palms.
There is a unique relationship between Lake Arrowhead and Hesperia. Lying at an elevation of 5,174 feet in the San Bernardino Mountains, Lake Arrowhead is built around Lake Arrowhead Reservoir, a man-made lake created by the Arrowhead Lake Company, a Los Angeles syndicate, which constructed the Lake Arrowhead Dam and its accompanying facilities between 1904 and 1922 as part of a plan to develop the area into a resort and provide irrigation water to the San Bernardino Valley. The dam is built on Little Bear Creek. Little Bear Creek and the melting snowpack from the mountain area in and surrounding Lake Arrowhead which naturally flows to the north cascades down the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains to become Deep Creek and the headwaters of the Mojave River, which lies at the southeastern extreme of Hesperia. Hesperia is thus the first upstream location on the Mojave River.
The Arrowhead Lake Association controls and maintains the lake for the recreational use and the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District withdraws water from the lake for treatment and distribution to local residents in the San Bernardino Mountains for potable use. The Lake Arrowhead Community Services District owns property located in Hesperia adjacent to the Mojave River which the district uses for the discharge of treated wastewater delivered to that spot via a pipeline that runs down the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains. More than a year ago, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District Board began looking into the feasibility of establishing a one megawatt solar power generating farm on the property the district owns in Hesperia as a way of reducing, in the long run, its electricity costs.
The general concept is for the district to operate the solar field on roughly five acres there and provide the electricity to Southern California Edison, which is by state law required to accept and/or purchase electricity from any renewable energy source. Rather than accept payment for the electricity, however, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District intends to obtain purchase credits for electricity with Edison instead and then use those credits to offset the cost of purchasing electricity at its facilities in the mountains.
For reasons that are not fully clear, district officials elected to move ahead with the permitting and environmental review of the project on the district’s own authority despite the consideration that the solar farm will be located not in Lake Arrowhead’s jurisdiction but rather within that of Hesperia. Instead of making an application with the City of Hesperia through its development services/planning division, the district last spring contracted with a consultant to prepare what was titled “Initial Study for the Hesperia Farms Site Solar Facility Project.” The upshot of that study was a recommendation that, using its own authority, the district issue a document known as a mitigated negative declaration, which, in essence, asserts that any environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated by virtue of elements incorporated into the project, such that there will be no negative environmental impacts to the project property or that around it. The board then released the mitigated negative declaration/initial study available for review on April 22, 2015 and gave the public a month, until May 22, 2015 to submit in writing any comments or protests to the document. This, the district maintained, met a crucial element of the public disclosure and public comment requirement for the approval of the project.
Simultaneously, the district contracted with SunPower Inc. to install the photovoltaic arrays for the proposed solar project. On July 28, 2015, the district authorized its first financial security posting, a payment of $45,560 to Southern California Edison.
On August 25, 2015, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District Board unanimously authorized its general manager, Leo Havener, to execute the generator interconnection agreement with Southern California Edison.
On September 8, 2015, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District authorized the first payment for the distribution provider’s interconnection facility costs of $21,940.
At its October 28 meeting, Lake Arrowhead Community Services District voted in favor of contracting with Tom Dodson & Associates at a cost of $17,200 to “create a detailed project description” and “prepare an air quality technical study” including greenhouse gas generation, along with “a biology study focused on the presence of the burrowing owl” as well as a “cultural resources study.” Tom Dosdson & Associates is to prepare an “initial study” and publish and distribute the document for public review and comment.
On Monday, December 14, Dave Reno, Hesperia’s principal planner wrote a letter to Leo Havener, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District’s general manager, in which he took issue with some elements of the project and the district’s preemption of the city’s planning and land use authority. Reno’s letter did not foreclose the possibility of the city approving the project, but made clear the city’s contention that the city’s land use regulation and permitting processes needed to be respected.
“The city is aware of a pending action item on your December 15, 2015 board of directors agenda regarding the solar farm proposed for the district’s property located east of Arrowhead Lake Road,” Reno wrote. “The city’s development code classifies this use as a solar farm. Section 16.16.063(B) specifies that solar farms are not permitted within 660 feet of any agricultural or residentially designated property. In order to facilitate approval of this project, the district’s property would have to be reclassified as public institutional overlay, which is possible given the district’s ownership of the site. In addition, a conditional use permit would be required to evaluate the design and location of the project and to permit the city to make the necessary environmental findings, which could be justified by the district’s initial study and proposed negative declaration. Finally, the location of the solar farm within the district’s property would have to be adjusted to be at least 660 feet from the property’s boundary in order to comply with the city’s distance requirements. This is possible as Lake Arrowhead Community Services District appears to have adequate land upon which to locate the solar farm.”
Reno continued, “It is clear from the memorandum associated with this item that the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District intends to vote to invalidate the city’s zoning ordinance and proceed with the project without regard pf the city’s zoning ordinance, as well as any review of construction permits and inspections. The city disagrees with this position for several reasons. Section 53091 (d) of the Government Code specifies that building ordinances of a city shall not apply to the location or construction of facilities for the production, generation or transmission of electrical energy by a local agency. However, Lake Arrowhead Community Services District is not a local agency created for the purpose of generating electrical energy. Therefore, the Government Code is inapplicable, given the public services provided by Lake Arrowhead Community Services District.
“Subsection (e) further specifies that zoning ordinances of a city shall apply to facilities for this storage or transmission of electrical energy,” Reno’s missive continues, “if the zoning ordinances of the city make provision for these facilities. As indicated above, the city’s zoning ordinance classifies the use as a solar farm subject to the city’s discretionary review. In addition, the solar farm is designed for the transmission of energy into the local grid as indicated by the project description in the initial study. The energy to be generated by the solar farm is not being used for the district’s facilities. Its purpose is to transmit energy into the grid in order to gain credits for district wide operations. As such, the city’s codes are applicable and discretionary approval of a conditional use permit is necessary before the project may proceed. Finally, the city disagrees with the finding that there is no feasible alternative to the location of the project. As indicated above, the district has ample land upon which to relocate the facility to meet the city’s distance requirement from residential or agricultural zoning.”
Reno’s letter ended on a cooperative note. “The city is interested in working with the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District to facilitate the review and approval of the required general plan amendment and conditional use permit for the proposed solar farm in accordance with the city’s code and ordinances,” the letter states, and closes with an invitation for Havener to contact Reno.
No such contact was made, however, and the following day, on December 15, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District Board voted to adopt a resolution to move ahead with the project, making findings that the solar project undertaking by the district constituted an electrical utility and that there was no feasible alternative site, rendering the City of Hesperia’s ordinance inapplicable, and adopting the final negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Some Lake Arrowhead residents have suggested that the district board was skittish about submitting itself to the City of Hesperia’s planning and land use approval processes because of two previous cases in which the City of Hesperia denied applications for solar facilities, one on Rock Springs Road that was deemed too close to neighboring residential properties and another proposed by San Bernardino County close to State Highway 15. Moreover, the district may not have wanted to apply for permitting with the city because to do so could be interpreted as acknowledging that the city had final permitting and land use authority with regard to the property.
Lake Arrowhead Community Services Board Member John Wurm told the Sentinel, that “It is my understanding the city had a timeline to file an objection and they didn’t file it in a timely manner. They did not meet the deadline to notify us they did not agree with us proceeding with the project.”
With regard to Reno’s letter, Wurm gave indication that he interpreted Hesperia’s position to be that the city wanted the solar farm to be located on district property outside of Hesperia, i.e., in the San Bernardino Mountains. “There’s a lot of procedural aspects raised in it,” Wurm said of Reno’s letter. “The only substantive comment is that they believed we had ample land to locate the facility elsewhere. We had no feasible alternative to the location of the project. In the mountains there are a fair amount of clouds. Up here can be one of the foggiest places around. Hesperia has a fair amount of sunshine. Locating a solar facility in the desert is far more feasible than in the mountains, due to the lack of sunshine. The district has pretty intensive electrical needs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are always pumping water someplace. The district uses a tremendous amount of electricity to pump water and wastewater uphill.”
Wurm said the city’s contention that neighboring property owners were opposed to the project were questionable. “There were no complaints from adjoining landowners, based on my understanding,” he said.
Efforts by the Sentinel to have Havener address the prospect of Hesperia filing suit against the district were unsuccessful.

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