For any future discretionary development project that could potentially impact sensitive biological resources, the project shall be evaluated pursuant to the methodology described in the Ventura County Initial Study Assessment Guidelines which shall be amended within one year of 2040 General Plan adoption to include the following:
- A preliminary assessment of the project shall be completed by County staff, in consultation with a qualified biologist, using available mapped biological resource data and aerial imagery to determine if the project has the potential to impact sensitive biological resources in the defined impact area (direct and indirect impacts). County staff will determine if project conditions or mitigation measures can be developed and implemented that would reduce or avoid those impacts to a less than significant level without requiring a more comprehensive biological resource assessment, otherwise known as an Initial Study Biological Assessment. Examples of projects that would not require a biological resource assessment may include but are not limited to: Projects that occur in previously developed areas, if additional vegetation removal is not required or the use may not impact surrounding natural areas; or projects on land consisting of non-native grasslands totaling less than one acre that are completely surrounded by existing urban development (such as urban infill lots).
- If County staff find that the project may adversely affect sensitive biological resources, then a County approved qualified biologist shall prepare a biological resource assessment to assess and mitigate the adverse impacts of the proposed project. The procedures detailed in Step 3 of the County of Ventura Initial Study Guidelines, Biological Resources Chapter, Methodology Section shall be followed to prepare this biological resource assessment.
- The biological resource assessment shall be conducted by a County approved qualified biologist that meets the minimum qualifications for biological consultants listed in Attachment 1 to the County of Ventura Initial Study Assessment Guidelines. The qualified biologist shall have expertise in the taxonomic group or species on which the surveys are focused as well as the County’s data review procedures and survey methods recommended by natural resource agencies or commonly accepted standards in the taxonomic group, community, or species (e.g., California Native Plant Society survey protocols).
- The biological field survey area will be determined by the County agency responsible for administering the project with consideration of recommendations from the qualified biologist. The survey area will include all areas of proposed disturbance, including associated equipment or personnel staging areas, and the surrounding area of potential sensitive biological resources that may be indirectly adversely affected by the project. The size of the survey area will be based on the characteristics of surrounding habitat, the potential for sensitive biological resources to occur, and the nature of the project. For example, an infill project within an already developed area may not require a large survey area; however, a development project adjacent to natural habitat may require a larger survey area based on the potential for disturbance. The procedure for delineating the size of the survey area will follow Step 1 of the County of Ventura Initial Study Guidelines, Biological Resources Chapter, Methodology Section.
- Prior to conducting any field surveys, the qualified biologist shall conduct an initial data review to determine the type of sensitive biological resources that may occur within the survey area using the procedures detailed in Step 3 (a) of the County of Ventura Initial Study Guidelines, Biological Resources Chapter, Methodology Section. This will include but not be limited to review of the best available, current data including: vegetation mapping data, mapping data from the County (Locally Important Species, Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor, Water Protection District data, past biological reports in the area, etc.); National Wetland Inventory Database (NWI); USGS National Hydrographic Dataset; EcoAtlas; and database searches of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Critical Habitat, Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) and Information, Planning, and Conservation System (IPaC); California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB); and California Native Plant Society (CNPS) Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California; Audubon Important Bird Areas and Red Lists, Xerces Society, etc.
Biological Inventory -Special Status Species, Sensitive Habitats, Wetlands, Other Non-wetland Waters, Native Wildlife Nursery Sites, and Wildlife Corridors
- The biological inventory shall be conducted as detailed in Step 3 (b) Conduct Field Survey and (c) biological inventory, of the County of Ventura Initial Study Guidelines, Biological Resources Chapter, Methodology Section, which includes a general floristic survey of the project impact areas.
- Vegetation communities within the survey area shall be inventoried using the CDFW vegetation classification standards (Manual of California Vegetation) and the most recent version of CDFW vegetation mapping standards “Survey of California Vegetation Classification and Mapping Standards [CDFW, 2019].
- If the initial data review shows a wetland or water occurring within 300 feet (in non-coastal zone) or 500 feet (in coastal zone) from the edge of the proposed disturbance areas, then a qualified biologist shall delineate the aquatic habitat (including waters of the United States and other waters including those under State jurisdiction). A summary of the type of aquatic habitat, primary water source, species diversity, connectivity to off-site habitat or other hydrological features, hydric soils, and hydrophytic vegetation, and the boundary of the feature (based upon the outermost limit of associated vegetation (canopy drip line or scrub line), hydric soils, bank and bed – whichever is greater) shall be included in the biological resource assessment.
- If the initial data review indicates that sensitive biological resources have the potential to occur within the survey area, a qualified biologist shall conduct additional focused surveys for these species or other protected habitats using the most recently updated protocols recommended by natural resource agencies (e.g., Protocols for Surveying and Evaluating Impacts to Special Status Native Plant Populations and Natural Communities [CDFW 2018]. Staff Report on Burrowing Owl Mitigation [CDFG 2012]), or if not available, standards accepted in the professional biological community to survey that taxonomic group, community, or species. If an established protocol is not available for a special-status species then the qualified biologist will consult with the County, and CDFW or USFWS, to determine the appropriate survey protocol.
Mitigation for Special-Status Species, Sensitive Habitats, Wetlands, Other Non-wetland Waters, Native Wildlife Nursery Sites, and Wildlife Corridors
- If a sensitive biological resource is identified during field surveys, then the County shall require implementation of mitigation measures at the project level that fully account for the adversely affected resource. To the maximum extent feasible1, mitigation measures should adhere to the following priority to reduce adverse impacts of a proposed project to the resource: avoid impacts, minimize impacts, and compensate for impacts.
- Mitigation measures shall be used on a project level basis and be tailored to on site conditions and sensitive biological resources present as follows:
- Priority 1. Avoid of Impacts: Proposed development shall avoid impacts to the maximum extent feasible1 by not taking certain actions or parts of an action. Projects shall be sited to avoid direct or indirect impacts on the resource, and include measures such as implementing no-disturbance buffers (e.g., nesting bird buffer areas during construction, siting staging areas outside buffer area), or implementing project-specific design features (e.g., wildlife-friendly fencing and lighting in a wildlife corridor), such that indirect adverse effects of project development are avoided.
- Priority 2. Minimize Impacts: Proposed development shall be conditioned to minimize adverse impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation to less than significant to the maximum extent feasible1. Other mitigation measures may include reducing or eliminating the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action.
- Measures to mitigate the spread of invasive plant species and invasive wildlife species (e.g., New Zealand mudsnail) shall include but will not be limited to: cleaning of equipment, footwear, and clothing before entering a construction site and the identification and treatment of significant infestations of invasive plant species within a project site.
- Priority 3. Compensate for Impacts: Compensating for the impact can be done by replacing or providing substitute resources or by rectifying the impact by repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the impacted environment.
- Compensatory mitigation ratios for protected sensitive resources will be established based on the rarity of the resource, quality of affected habitat associated with the resource, temporary and permanent losses to habitat function, the type of mitigation proposed (restoration, enhancement, preservation, establishment), and other requirements associated with state or federal permits. Mitigation ratios will be determined at the project level in consultation with the County, the qualified biologist, and, where applicable, federal or state agencies with jurisdiction over the resource (e.g., CDFW, USACE, USFWS).
- if impacts on a protected sensitive biological resource are unavoidable, then the project proponent shall mitigate for the type of resource as follows:
- Endangered, Rare, Threatened, or Candidate Species: The applicant shall obtain incidental take authorization from USFWS (16 U.S. Code [U.S.C.] Section 1531 et seq.) or CDFW (California Fish and Game Code Sections 2050–2115.5) prior to commencing development of the project site, apply minimization measures or other conditions required under the incidental take authorization, and shall provide equivalent compensation for the unavoidable losses of these resources, generally at a minimum ratio of 1:1, or greater. Compensation may include purchasing credits from a USFWS- or CDFW-approved mitigation bank or restoring or enhancing habitat within the project site or outside of the project site.
- Special-Status Species (includes Locally Important Species): The applicant shall provide equivalent compensation for impacts on special-status species by restoring or significantly enhancing existing habitat where the species occurs, acquiring or protecting land that provides habitat function for affected species that is at least equivalent to the habitat function removed or degraded as a result of project implementation.
- If impacts on sensitive habitats, wetlands, other non-wetland waters, riparian habitats, native wildlife nursery sites, and wildlife corridors cannot be avoided, then the project applicant shall:
- Federal or State Protected Sensitive Habitats: Obtain the required regulatory authorization (e.g., Section 404 permits for impacts on waters of the United States, 401 water quality certification from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, a Streambed Alteration Agreement for impacts on aquatic or riparian habitats within CDFW jurisdiction under Fish and Game Code Section 1602, a coastal development permit for impacts on ESHA), and provide equivalent compensation for the unavoidable losses of the above mentioned resources such that there is no net loss2.
- Other Protected Sensitive Habitats (includes locally important plant communities, sensitive natural communities, habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors, native wildlife nursery or overwintering sites): Provide compensation for other protected sensitive habitats which may include the restoration, enhancement, or preservation of the aforementioned habitats within or outside of the project site, or the purchasing of credits at an existing mitigation bank or in lieu fee program deemed acceptable by the County Planning Director.
- All compensatory mitigation sites shall be protected in perpetuity through a conservation easement (if off-site), or deed restriction (or other comparable legal instrument) if on-site.
The County shall, in harmonizing the 2040 General Plan with the Ventura County Initial Study Assessment Guidelines, add definitions for the habitat types included in this mitigation measure, including which components are subject to compliance with the County’s Local Coastal Program and Coastal Zoning Ordinance versus non-coastal areas.
- “Feasible” means that this mitigation measure shall be applied to future discretionary projects under the 2040 General Plan when and to the extent it is “capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable period of time, taking into account economic, environmental, legal, social, and technological factors” as determined by the County in the context of such future projects based on substantial evidence. This definition is consistent with the definition of “feasible” set forth in CEQA (Pub. Res. Code, § 21066.1) and the CEQA Guidelines (§15164). The County shall be solely responsible for making this feasibility determination in accordance with CEQA.
- “Mitigation, No-Net-Loss” A principle where if a development project cannot avoid the loss of a valued natural resource, the project mitigates the impacts by replacing the impacted habitat with a newly created or restored habitat of the same size and similar functional condition so that there is no loss of ecological functions and values of that habitat type for a defined area. Similar functional condition means the relative ability to support and maintain the same species composition, diversity, and functional organization as the impacted habitat.