As the dust settled from a contentious 3-2 vote by the SLO County Planning Commission to deny the Phillips 66 rail spur project earlier this month, the company not only filed an appeal to the SLO County Board of Supervisors, but also filed a petition against the SLO County Planning Department in SLO County Superior Court Oct. 19.
The petition centers on the designation of part of the project site as an unmapped “environmentally sensitive habitat area,” or ESHA. According to Phillips 66, the Planning Department violated its own rules when it failed to designate the site as an unmapped ESHA before accepting the company’s application to build the rail spur. In its complaint, Phillips said it turned in an application for the project in May 2013, but the department didn’t officially make the ESHA determination until the lead-up to releasing its final draft of the project’s environmental impact report in July of 2015.
“Over three years after the application’s acceptance, and after Phillips 66 had invested substantial resources to facilitate the department’s environmental review of its application, the department did an about-face and made a determination that [the project] site had undevelopable unmapped ESHA,” the petition stated.
The petition to the court alleged that the Planning Department was pressured by the California Coastal Commission to make the unmapped ESHA determination after commission staff visited the project site in May.
The petition asked the court to order the SLO County Planning Department to set aside the ESHA determination and require the Planning Commission to reconsider its denial of the project. In its appeal to the county, Phillips 66 asked any appeal hearings before the Board of Supervisors be stayed until the court makes its decision.
Whether the county will agree to hold off on the appeal hearings remains to be seen.
“This has not been decided and we don’t have a hearing scheduled yet,” Ryan Hostetter, project manager for the Planning Department, told New Times.
As of Oct. 26, the county had not filed a response to Phillips 66’s complaint.