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9 April 1999
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL RESERVE TO BE DECIMATED
Faculty, students and residents protest irreversibly damaging a unique biology resource to build a biotechnology institute
CLAREMONT, CA.- In a move that many find ironic, the Claremont Colleges are moving forward with a plan to destroy 11 acres of their own Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station to build a new high-tech biotechnology institute. According to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Claremont Colleges North Campus Master Plan, now open for public comment, the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences plans to build two new 55-ft high building complexes on the site over the next decade.
The Bernard Field Station was selected as the construction site despite the fact that the colleges own other lands that are not currently being used for educational purposes, including a golf course in an area zoned for educational use and a disused gravel quarry. Faculty of four of the undergraduate schools voted overwhelmingly to preserve the Bernard Field Station, a natural habitat used for research and teaching biology to students from all five Claremont Colleges, several nearby California State Universities, and local high school and elementary schools.
The proposed site consists of coastal sage scrub, a habitat that is the current focus for the Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) program, "an unprecedented cooperative effort . . . that takes a broad-based ecosystem approach to planning for the protection and perpetuation of biological diversity." According to NCCP materials, coastal sage scrub is "home to the California gnatcatcher and approximately 100 other potentially threatened or endangered species." The cactus wren, one of the NCCP target species, resides on the Bernard Field Station, which is within the NCCP region. Claremont, however, is not bound to NCCP guidelines because it has not developed an NCCP plan. Furthermore the draft EIR states that between 100 and 4,000 animals will die as a result of the construction, and the remaining populations will suffer loss of prey and reduced genetic diversity. The draft EIR identifies the quarry as the "environmentally superior alternative."
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the draft EIR is that no mitigation whatsoever is suggested for this habitat loss. An earlier screen-check draft suggested several mitigation recommendations, including preservation of the remainder of the Field Station in perpetuity and purchase of adjacent property to expand the habitat. At an April 6 Claremont Planning Commission meeting, City officials admitted removing the mitigation recommendations, but offered no scientific justification. The absence of mitigation plans to offset habitat loss is not in keeping with normal practice. Usually developers are required to permanently protect two or three times as much coastal sage scrub as is lost to new construction.
The Colleges Policy Council (the college presidents and the trustee board chairs) promised several years ago to mitigate the effects of development as much as possible on-site. However, this commitment appears to have fallen by the wayside.
In addition, the EIR assumes that one federally endangered plant species in the Field Station is "introduced" and therefore not worth consideration. However, "no factual scientific basis is provided for this assumption," according to Stephen Adolph, Associate Professor of Biology at Harvey Mudd College. Claremont biologist Susan Schenk also points out that "no plant surveys covered the full growing season or the full Station. Species are bound to have been missed." In addition, prominent biologists at the colleges note that the EIR does not consider the cumulative loss of this habitat from multiple developments in the region.
Community members are also concerned about the loss of mountain vistas, reduced open space, and increased traffic in a community that is rapidly becoming more developed. The construction of the new 210 freeway extension and the continued development of residential and commercial properties are having cumulative negative effects on the City. Citizens who voiced these concerns at the April 6 meeting also made reference to other recent controversial Claremont Colleges projects, including the construction of a new physical plant facility adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and a proposal to lease college land for a regional trash transfer station. In addition, Anthony Morales, Chief of the Gabrieleno Indians, and Robertjohn Knapp, another Native American, expressed dismay over the development of a site that is culturally important to Native Americans.
College officials defend the development, arguing that it is "in keeping with the wishes of the original donor of the property." In fact, administrators who have viewed original documents have admitted that the land was bequeathed "for educational purposes." "If the land was intended for educational purposes, then we think that over 900 college students and 300-400 other students each year studying native species and conducting hands-on field research qualifies," notes Nancy Hamlett, Professor and Chair of Biology at Harvey Mudd College, and a member of the Friends of the Bernard Biological Field Station, a group supporting the ecological site as an important educational tool.
"But even if the land had been given specifically to build on as some college administrators argue, the donor couldnt have predicted the important role that the land would come to play as part of biology education at the Claremont Colleges," states Bill Wirtz, Professor and Chair of Biology at Pomona College. "And the fact still remains that sensitive species are dependent on the habitat; it is ethically unconscionable to plow it under without any plan in place to mitigate the impact, which could be disastrous for at least ten resident species of special concern, including the cactus wren and the San Diego horned lizard."
The new Keck Institute plans to develop special partnerships with commercial biotechnology firms, and hopes to play a major role in developing new genetically engineered products. These commercial firms may even be allowed to set up product research and development laboratories in the new institutes advanced laboratories. Keck Institute also anticipates making money on discoveries patented by its laboratory scientists.
The Claremont Architectural Commission is the agency that will decide whether to accept, reject, or modify the EIR. The April 28 meeting of the Commission will be the last chance for citizens to speak regarding the EIR, and written comments will be accepted only until April 30. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the Commission must respond to all public comments, and public input is the only way to alter the course of this project.
The Friends of the Bernard Biological Field Station, a group supporting the continuation of the field stations ecological and educational role, is coordinating numerous events aimed at producing full disclosure regarding the impact of developing the site. To learn more about the project and to get involved, please contact the Friends listed below.
PRESS NOTE: Calendar of community events enclosed. Schedule of civil action to follow
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