SOUTH FORK KAWEAH RIVER
Commercial developments in remote, “open space” lands impact traditional Agricultural land uses, introducing severe wildfire threats to the community of Three Rivers and beyond.
What Is Happening
In 2015 a commercial wedding venue, the Redwood Ranch, began operating illegally outside of the Three Rivers Urban Development Boundary (UDB). This commercial business brings thousands of individuals annually into a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone on a substandard rural roadway with no alternative emergency evacuation route.
With climate change, California is getting hotter and drier, increasing the chance of devastating fires. The last time a significant wildfire occurred in the South Fork canyon was almost 100 years ago. A wildfire event in the upper South Fork Kaweah canyon would be catastrophic, creating life-threatening scenarios for nearby residents and farmers. A wildfire would cause mineralization of soils on excessively steep slopes, thereby degrading water quality for years, as well as impacting numerous species of flora and fauna already weakened by years of drought conditions and hotter temperatures.
Why It's Important
The lives of hundreds of individuals are potentially imperiled during wedding events at Redwood Ranch in dry summer months. A fire started anywhere within the 8 miles of canyon below Redwood Ranch leaves guests virtually stranded, as no alternative evacuation route exists. The upper South Fork canyon consists of thousands of acres of highly flammable chaparral vegetation, steep south-facing slopes, and the highest fire ignition frequencies in Tulare County, resulting in the highest Cal Fire severity rating.
The fragile economy of Three Rivers would be drastically imperiled during a wildfire, as would several other disadvantaged communities who rely on the water from the Kaweah River.
In its remote location, Redwood Ranch has impacted nearby residents with loud A-weighted and C-weighted noise from music and events, increased traffic on a dangerous substandard roadway that falls one (1) full traffic lane short of County standards, and introduces light pollution to several conservation areas, including the Kaweah Brodiaea Ecological Preserve and the Grouse Peak portion of the Case Mountain BLM corridor.
Large scale economic growth needs to be focused within core economic areas, thereby preserving the integrity of our open space lands. The Foothill Growth Management Plan is an excellent planning document which has been shaped through thousands of hours of democratic and community input. We need to uphold this document, and say NO to unregulated development in areas of severe wildfire danger.
Legal planning documents and development standards prohibit commercial developments from being located in Non-Corridor areas without direct access to a major highway. The Redwood Ranch wedding venue sets a dangerous precedent in Tulare County: there are no other large commercial establishments operating in these land use areas. Despite this, the Tulare County RMA has illegally exempted the project from CEQA environmental review.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS), including ambulances and County fire response, cannot meet the established State response time criteria in the outer stretches of our canyons. For each ambulance call to the upper North Fork or South Fork, that response time results in excessive fines that burden the Exeter District Ambulance. Similarly, local fire departments have their ISO ratings negatively impacted, resulting in higher fire insurance premiums for every resident of Three Rivers.
While Tulare County collects millions of dollars in TOT taxes annually on local Three Rivers businesses, that money is allocated elsewhere. With just one full-time law enforcement officer, “overtourism” has created an impossible situation for violation enforcement and compliance, leaving residents without remedy. Consequently, our community increasingly suffers lower “quality-of-living” standards.
The Kaweah Coalition has secured legal counsel through the services of Chatten-Brown, Carstens, and Minteer LLP, a prestigious law firm based out of Hermosa Beach, CA.
With legal aid, The Kaweah Coalition aims to hold our local planning agency accountable to the environmental and economic development standards established in the Foothill Growth Management Plan and Tulare County General Plan.
The Kaweah Coalition is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to protect and preserve the Kaweah River land community through sustainable land use and planning advocacy.