Sierrans Sue to Stop Subdivision at Mt. Whitney

Independence, CA — The Save Round Valley Alliance for Smart Growth filed suit in Inyo County Superior Court today to halt the proposed Whitney Portal Preserve development outside of Lone Pine, CA. In a scathing eleven page complaint, SRVA claims that the Inyo County Planning Commission and Inyo County Board of Supervisors violated California state law by approving the proposed luxury development project.

“This proposal threatens the international icon of Mt. Whitney as well as the future of long term growth in one of the most pristine and beautiful regions of California,” said SRVA President Jennifer Fenton. “We owe it to our children to ensure that this development takes place in a responsible, thoughtful and legal manner.”

Located 4.5 miles from Lone Pine, adjacent to Whitney Portal Road, the development includes plans for twenty-seven luxury homes on 2.5 acre parcels.

Conservationists claim the proposed development is an unacceptable threat to a key component of the Sierra landscape. It's the only way up to the trailhead for Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States. The scenic road is a key artery for the region's tourist economy; more than 1700 visitors travel the road daily in the summer. And the Inyo County General Plan defines the area as a visual resource that “should be preserved.”

It's the kind of landscape that people envision when they think of the Sierra, often used for Hollywood movies and commercials, such as John Wayne's famous Westerns or more contemporary “G.I. Jane” and “Maverick.” And it's valuable in terms of natural resources, particulary the aquifers that flow beneath the site, and is directly uphill from sensitive springs and seeps that will perish if their water supply is cut off.

The Inyo County Planning Commission voted 5 – 0 to approve the proposed development; SRVA filed an appeal on May 11, 2005 and the Board of Supervisors unanimously denied the appeal on July 12, 2005.

SRVA seeks to facilitate a land trade that would allow for development adjacent to an existing community.

The project has generated overwhelming opposition everywhere from neighboring Lone Pine to distant Hong Kong, overwhelming planning officials. Based on a recent review of documents received by the department, the “Whitney Portal Preserve” proposal has received over 80 times the amount of public comment as other recent proposals of similar scope, and 98 percent has expressed opposition to or serious concerns about the proposed development.

Nevada City-based Sierra Watch, fresh off its victory stopping massive luxury development in Tahoe's Martis Valley, joins SRVA as co-plaintiffs in the case. “Up and down the range, people are standing up to speculative development and securing a better future for the Sierra,” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch.

SRVA points to its legal action as the next strategic step in a long-term, proactive effort. “We've been attending public comment meetings, participating in housing task forceds, meeting with the developer and land trusts, talking with local citizens and initiating conversations with local and national organizations concerned with this issue,” said Fenton. “Now we have to take direct action to ensure that the vision of county residents in the form of the Inyo County General Plan, as well as the California State Environmental Quality Act, is upheld.”

“What we are fighting for is a better future for Mount Whitney and its surrounding Sierran communities,” Fenton continued. “On behalf of our members and everyone who recognizes the easter Sierra as a unique and priceless place, we are committed to following through, whatever it takes.”

It is estimated that the campaign to save Mt. Whitney will cost local organizations $60,000. To be a part of the effort to save Mt. Whitney, please contribute here now.

For more information, contact Jennifer Fenton at SRVA at 559.658.8189 or Tom Mooers at Sierra Watch at 530.265.2849.