RCTC “Co-Habitats” with Riverside Conservation Authority for Better Outcomes

Young burrowing owl looks surprised as its handled for inspection

They are practically newlyweds. The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) are thriving under a new partnership. When the respective boards approved a union last fall, RCTC became the new managing agency of the RCA.  Ring the wedding bells!

The RCA was formed in 2004 to implement the largest multiple species habitat conservation plan (MSHCP) in the nation. When completed, 500,000 acres of habitat will be conserved for 146 native plants and animals, including 33 endangered or threatened species.

RCTC has invested $153 million in the MSHCP to date, which have helped expedite transportation projects by as much as five years and saved taxpayers more than $500 million.

In addition, the MSHCP includes 38 specially designed habitat linkages that allow animals to safely move from one protected preserve area to another, providing a critical lifeline between habitats and ecosystems that serve as escape routes from danger and pathways to food sources.

Chair Natasha Johnson is excited about the RCA’s new relationship status with RCTC.  “In December, our board unanimously supported RCTC becoming the new managing agency for the RCA. The consolidation will bring economies of scale, fiscal efficiencies, and a direct link between conservation and transportation infrastructure.” she said.

Like any successful relationship, it will take a lot of work.  Work is still underway to acquire the planned 500,000 acres of habitat.  Federal and state governments are partners in the MSHCP, but the RCA is responsible for two-thirds of the needed habitat acquisitions. To date 410,034 acres – 82% of the reserve goal – are protected.  Other priorities going forward are to assure the long-term financial stability of the MSHCP, keep the public informed, and improve communication with member and partnering agencies.  Because some legislation will be needed to achieve additional goals, the RCA is also working to educate policy leaders in Sacramento and Washington, DC.

Fortunately, RCTC and the RCA have had a long courtship. For RCTC, effective habitat preservation has been a critical mitigation element for many of the projects in its local sales tax measure, known as Measure A.  As a result of Measure A, RCTC has invested $153 million in the MSHCP, making it the largest single contributor to the plan.  These habitat investments expedited transportation projects by as much as five years and saved taxpayer dollars.

A more recent focus has been implementing a new fee structure. Although the MSHCP is funded by multiple sources, development mitigation fees are the largest source.  A mitigation fee is charged for residential, commercial, and industrial development, as well as infrastructure and civic projects.  The updated fee not only required approval by the RCA board, but also each individual city in Western Riverside County (along with the county).  The new structure provides greater certainty for developers and promotes responsible land development. Funds from the land development mitigation fees are used to buy purchase property from willing private sellers, helping to reach the 500,000-acre goal.

RCTC also has been laser-focused on increasing awareness of what the MSHCP means for western Riverside County residents now and in the future. Preserving land and open space, protecting habitat for native plants and animals, growing the population of threatened and endangered species, fostering biodiversity, improving air quality, maintaining the region’s natural beauty, promoting responsible land development, creating certainty for development, offering recreational opportunities, and providing learning experiences all are important concepts to explain to residents – ideals that boost Riverside County’s quality of living.

Like all relationships, communication is the key to success. Stay connected and follow the progress of the MSHCP by subscribing to The Vista e-newsletter and following @WesternRCA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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