Scaroni Properties, Civico del Valle, and the Heber Public Utility District (HPUD) filed a lawsuit against the County of Imperial in opposition to the approval of a mitigated negative declaration and a zone change August 11, allowing El Toro Export to expand their cattle feedlot operations — increasing operations by 9,000 initial cattle and 8,000 more at a later date — at the Heber cattle feeding facility.
The lawsuit states each of the filing parties attempted to delay the project or reach fair mitigation measures but were ignored or declined by the County or El Toro Export, resulting in a lawsuit that was filed against the County last week.
El Toro entered into an agreement for a conditional zone change in 2007 to allow for a composting operation on site. However, the agreement also included a no growth condition. The Board of Supervisors at that time said the growth of the facility and addition of cattle would negatively impact the residents of Heber.
The parties alleged several flaws in the project’s planning phase that are in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), including the loss of audio recordings from the 2007 meeting, failure to post notice of the project at the courthouse, failure to include the environmental approval in the mailed notice, and several other flaws — which were mentioned by former County Counsel Katherine Turner at the August 11 meeting.
However, at the meeting approving the growth, current County Counsel Adam Crooke advised no violations were made. Planning and Development Services Director Jim Minnick said the department made no violations in conducting their research and recommendation either.
The lawsuit also alleges HPUD wrote a letter in March expressing concerns for the protection of the Heber community, but was ignored by the planning department and not included in the planning commissioners’ packet prior to the hearing where the commissioners recommended approval.
Additionally, the lawsuit states the project was environmentally analyzed and approved by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in violation of the governor’s stay-at-home orders without the opportunity for the community to be involved.
Local farmer and businessman Steve Scaroni addressed the Board during the August 11 meeting regarding the recommendation from the Planning Department, advising a coalition was formed to file a lawsuit against the County if they approved the recommendation.
“Our number one desire, would be that the Board of Supervisors execute and exercise their legal responsibility as gatekeepers for proper, lawful processing, and vote no on this application … You are responsible for doing things correctly and legally for the benefit of the people who live in the communities this County and this board serves,” said Scaroni.
The Board heard from several individuals regarding the project and voted to approve.
The lawsuit states, “The parties agree that bringing jobs to the Imperial Valley and expansion of any successful business opportunities is a benefit to the County, but that it should be mutually beneficial to all stakeholders.”