At the BOS on Mar 7th 2017 (item 9A here) the Board considered a request by the California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) that the County should become the lead agency on deforestation projects within the county that involved Timber Harvest Plans (THP's). The staff letter on the issue is here. Normally in projects that involve THP's (i.e where there is harvesting of timber species in preparation for agricultural or development clearing) Cal Fire acts as the lead agency for CEQA review and the county chimes in on conservation regulations where appropriate. But as the Cal Fire administrator indicated at the hearing, Napa County ECP and CEQA review has become so much more thorough that they feel it is better for the County to be the lead agency with Cal Fire providing their own input to the county. Their concerns were first aired in this letter concerning 4 projects they currently reviewing. Two of the projects are well along in their Cal Fire review and two of the projects are only at the Notice of Preparation (NOP) stage. Apparently after a meeting between Cal Fire and the County it was decided that Cal Fire would retain lead agency status on all 4 projects as indicated in this letter two months later. As of this date, however, 2 of the projects have been turned over to Napa County for CEQA review.
Given the punishing process on Walt Ranch, given the fact that Cal Fire doesn't seem to charge for CEQA reviews?!! and given the much more opaque process that Cal Fire uses, I can understand why developers would be anxious to avoid having the county as the lead agency, and assigning lead agency to Cal Fire might be seen as a way to lessen the scrutiny that deforestation projects might otherwise receive, essentially an end run around the more robust concerns that the county and its citizens have concerning these projects.
Sup Wagenknecht asked the Cal Fire administrator if the proposed arrangement was unusual. This would be the first such arrangement, she indicated. In addition to the greater thoroughness of the County ECP process, she said, Napa has the most timber conversions anywhere in the State, a remarkable statement but understandable when looking at the many patches of converted timberland on Google Map images of the watersheds (see photo).
The Supervisors passed a motion to make the County lead agency on future development conversion projects that involve THP's, and to request, at Sup Dillon's insistence, that Cal Fire make the county lead agency on the 2 "NOP" projects currently under review.