Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Kelley/Martini testify to gut the Endangered Species Act: who are they working for?

Representative Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is Chairman of the House Resources Committee. He'd like very much to gut the 1973 Endangered Species Act of some provisions that protect threatened and endangered plants and animals like the California Tiger Salamander and their habitats.

So would some prominent and politically powerful local developers, whose projects in the Santa Rosa Plain have been stalled by the ESA. Supervisor Paul Kelley, and SR Councilman Mike Martini--Executive Director of the countywide developers' lobby, the Sonoma County Alliance--are helping them. The question is whether Kelley and Martini are working for all the citizens of Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, or only the affected developers.

Kelley and Martini testified before Pombo's House Resources Committee in Washington 4/28/04. The Press Democrat reported the next day {4/29, "Kelley, Martini urge panel to relax Endangered Species Act"),

"Kelley and Martini spoke to the committee at the request of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, chairman of the panel. Their comments came during a hearing on a bill by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, that would give the Interior Department more flexibility in designating habitats critical to the survival of endangered or threatened species.

Under current law, critical habitat is supposed to be designated when a species is listed as endangered or threatened, although that often is delayed. Cardoza's bill would prevent the government from designating habitat until a species recovery plan is developed, and then only if it is 'practicable, economically feasible and determinable.'

The listing of the salamander has become a major political issue in Sonoma County, with some local officials and many development interests claiming it has blocked numerous projects and increased the costs of others by requiring expensive environmental studies.

In an interview after his testimony Wednesday, Martini said projects within Sonoma County have been held hostage by the lack of a strategy to provide alternative breeding sites for displaced salamanders.

He said local governments and developers need guidelines for how to increase the salamander population while allowing projects to move forward."

Environmentalists disagree. The PD continued,

"But local environmentalists expressed concern Wednesday that any dramatic change to the act would result in abandonment of the more than 1,200 plants and animals now listed as threatened or endangered.

'it fills me with dread,' said Peter Ashcroft, chairman of the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club. 'The fate of the California tiger salamander should be based upon top-quality biological science and not political horse trading.'"

Sierra Club member Suzanne Doyle commented in a 5/11 PD Close to Home piece ("A matter of biology, not politics"),

"The fate of the California tiger salamander is being decided right now by a closed-session strategy team in Santa Rosa. The team includes representatives of the federal and state agencies that are charged with protecting endangered species, landowners, city and county interests and a single person representing the environmental community."

"Apparently, pressure on the agencies is driving the team. A group made up of developers, builders, Sonoma County and the cities of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the salamander. The state Department of Fish and Game is being petitioned for reinstatement of the salamander on its endangered list but must be anticipating a flood of lawsuits if it does.

What we are seeing is only a small part of a nationwide attack on the Endangered Species Act. Lawsuits are making it impossible for the cash-starved agencies to do their job properly and in a timely way. Landowners' legitimate anger at delay and uncertainty is being channelled to attack the ESA, one of the world's most successful species protection laws, rather than to demand an adequate level of funding for the agencies."

And Kelley and Martini replied to Doyle. A 5/17 Close to Home piece ("Salamander conservation strategy team's beliefs, goals misunderstood") began:

"As elected officials, we take our responsibility to our constituents very seriously. Sometimes this proves challenging -- especially when environmental and economic concerns are at odds. Regardless of the difficultly, we, along with the people we serve, support the spirit of the Endangered Species Act. Perhaps that is why we found a May 11 Close to Home, 'A matter of biology, not politics' by Suzanne Doyle, a member of the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club, to be so disappointing.

We believe that the article demonstrates a misunderstanding of our personal beliefs and of the goals of the California Tiger Salamander conservation strategy team. With the help of Wayne White, of the Sacramento Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this team was formed nearly two months ago.

We are working together to minimize the economic impact of the salamander's listing and to maximize the opportunities to protect and recover the salamander. The team approach is especially noteworthy given the track record of the Endangered Species Act -- which does a good job of listing threatened plants and animals but not helping species recover.

When forming the conservation strategy team, we made an effort to be all-inclusive -- asking for input from the appropriate regulatory agencies (five in total), affected cities, the county, other affected government agencies, private landowners, the environmental community, a Sierra Club representative and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation."

"By supporting the efforts of the 'strategy team,' we believe we are participating in an effort that serves as an example of how we can work together for the betterment of the salamander and the citizens of Sonoma County.

Paul Kelley is a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Mike Martini is a Santa Rosa City Councilman." (emphasis added)

Who do they mean by "we"?

I understand them to mean that Supervisor Kelley and Councilman Martini, in their respective capacities as elected officials, participated in the formation of the California Tiger Salamander Conservation Strategy Team, and are members of and/or working with it.

The North Bay Business Journal reported 3/1 ("Taking on the salamander/Business group uses carrot-and-stick approach with Fish & Wildlife Service to move project along"),

"A local building industry-supported group is working feverishly to convince federal regulators to allow construction projects on the Santa Rosa Plain stalled by protection of the California tiger salamander to proceed this spring. The Santa Rosa-based group, called CTS Fund II, is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which listed the amphibian as endangered locally last spring, on a strategy for recovering the salamander while allowing construction to proceed on certain housing, park, and municipal water pipeline projects."

"Backed by $20,000 in monthly donations from 10 small and large local developers, CTS II has hired Idaho-based former FWS staffer William Lehman to create a site-specific low-effect habitat conservation plan (HCP)."

"If the strategic species preservation plan doesn't progress quickly enough, there's always the legal challenge to the listing itself. On February 19, 32 developers, landowners, building trade groups, and municipalities from Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties -- the two areas in which the salamander is listed -- sued the Department of the Interior and the Fish & Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court. They seek to overturn the listing in both counties."

According to the NBBJ, the "carrot-and-stick" approach of the Strategy Team and the lawsuit was created and funded by the members of CTS Fund II. The City of Santa Rosa is a lesser plaintiff in the developers' suit.

The question, then, is whether the County and City authorized Kelley and Martini to represent the Supervisors and Councilmembers--and if not, then why are they claiming to be acting in their official capacities, and who are they actually working for?

According to the City Attorney (5/20), the City Council joined in the lawsuit, and has supported the Strategy Team. The City's representative is Public Works engineer Colleen Ferguson, and Councilman Martini is not a member of the Team.

Ferguson has since created a webpage in the Public Works area of the City's site for the Strategy Team, now renamed the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team. Go here to read its Meeting Notes.

So if Martini is not a Strategy Team member, and the Council didn't designate him to work with the team, on whose behalf were he and Kelley writing?

It seems fair to presume that Martini may be representing his private employers, the Sonoma County Alliance. If so, it's notable and pertinent that the SCA opened a new website 5/1/04 which disclosed to the public that no fewer than five members of the Council--Bender, Blanchard, Condron, Martini, and Wright--are current SCA members. Supervisors Brown, Kelley, and Smith are also members.

Based on the information currently available, it appears Martini--as both the paid Executive Director of the Sonoma County Alliance, and an elected City Councilman--may have a severe conflict of interest.
Hi Geoff thanks for this info. I would like to know where the info. comes from--is a there a public document that confirms Kelley's cynical role in the Salamander disaster?? Looks like you quote the PD. IS there some other document?

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