After starting the appeal hearing Thursday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to pause its discussion on the Sunwalker Energy solar project planned for North Livermore until June 3 to allow for more research.
According to county planning director Albert Lopez, the reasoning behind the decision was to give the project proponent time to provide more information on its agricultural management plan as well as to grant the supervisors an opportunity to review the Williamson Act uniform rules provisions.
Supervisor David Haubert, who represents District 1 which includes the area of the project site, said that there were questions raised during the meeting about the completeness of the draft agricultural management plan. "I, for one, am not satisfied with simply sheep grazing as the sole agricultural use, as one example," Haubert told the Weekly.
Before deciding to continue the item another six weeks, the supervisors heard four appeals challenging the 59-acre, six-megawatt solar energy facility proposed by SunWalker Energy for property at 4871 N. Livermore Ave.
Appellants Save North Livermore Valley, Friends of Open Space and Vineyards, Friends of Livermore, and residents John and Jackie Bowles argue that the project would destroy the natural environment and violate the county's Measure D, which aims to preserve agricultural land and open space in eastern Alameda County.
"We are grateful to the many community members that called on the supervisors to reject the Sunwalker project. The project would open the floodgates to the industrialization of North Livermore Valley and the east county," said Chris O'Brien, chair of the Save North Livermore Valley steering committee, in a statement.
The Bowles family's appeal also argues that the project is inconsistent with provisions of the Williamson Act, which "enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of preserving land for agricultural use. In return, landowners receive reduced property tax assessments because the assessments are based on agricultural and open space uses instead of the full market value," according to the county website.
"This project does not belong in the scenic North Livermore Valley where voters decided to support cultivated agriculture, and preserve open space, species habitat and scenic beauty," said Robert Selna, counsel for Save North Livermore Valley. "On the related Williamson Act issue, the Board of Supervisors wisely demanded more proof from county staff that the project complies with the Williamson Act."
The appellants are urging the Board of Supervisors to develop a comprehensive solar policy for agricultural districts before considering any more large scale solar projects. Haubert said that while he has always supported having a solar policy in place before moving ahead with additional projects, he never made that a condition on the current projects that "have been in the pipeline for years" and were already approved by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments.
Sunwalker is the smaller of two solar energy projects proposed for North Livermore that have been met with resistance from citizen groups over the past year.
The 410-acre Aramis project, proposed by Intersect Power, was approved by the Board of Supervisors following appeal hearings earlier this year. Save North Livermore Valley, Friends of Open Space and Vineyards, and the Ohlone Audubon Society filed suit against the county on Tuesday in an attempt to halt the Aramis project.