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California Business or the Tiger Salamander—Which Is the Real Endangered Species?

Author: John Bly
August, 2011 Issue


Why don’t we have enough revenue to support an efficient government anymore? Although there are a lot of “low-hanging fruit” reasons that would answer that question, this article focuses on just one reason: out-of-control regulations that lead to uncertainty among business owners. These regulations are causing business owners to flee California at an alarming rate. If not fleeing, California businesses are choosing to retain relatively skeletal corporate offices here and do their real hiring in another state or country.

Sonoma County supervisors and staff were barely able to achieve their $1.2 billion budget without hundreds of layoffs being predicted—this time. If we had more businesses that employed more people, the county wouldn’t have had so much difficulty on its revenue side—more businesses to tax, not more tax on businesses!

A recent survey of more than 500 CEOs has California ranked dead last (as it has been for the past seven years) for being a good place for business. The CEOs surveyed looked at a variety of issues to rate the 50 states as to being business-friendly. The one issue that galvanized California’s bad ratings was that it continues to demonize businesses with regulations that are difficult or impossible to comply with. The result is those regulations are killing local jobs by adding costs to the businesses. This is why so many are giving up on doing business in California.

Let’s look at just one example: the California Tiger Salamander (CTS). I’m not going to argue whether we should or should not protect the species. That’s for others to decide. Like it or not, the CTS is now protected under the California Endangered Species Act.

This is the short version of how it came to be listed as a California Endangered Species. In 1971, the Department of Fish and Game suggested the CTS be added to the list of seven protected amphibians. In 1982, it was placed on the Department’s Special Animal List. In 1985, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) placed the CTS on a list of Category 2 candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1992, the CTS was proposed for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The listing was warranted in 1994, but was also precluded by higher priority listing actions that elevated the CTS to Category 1 listing status. In 2000, USFWS listed the Santa Barbara County Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the CTS as endangered.

In 2001, the California Fish and Game Commission received a request from the Center for Biological Diversity to “emergency-list the California Tiger Salamander as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act or CESA. That same year, the Fish and Game Commission rejected the petition citing its three main reasons in a report and suggesting the petitioner correct the petition and refile.

In 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity, now joined by several other groups including the Environmental Defense Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club Sonoma Group, Citizens for a Sustainable Cotati, VernalPools.org, Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge, Butte Environmental Center, and Ohlone Audubon Society, refiled their petition and again were rejected when Fish and Game found similar deficiencies as to the 2001 petition.

In 2006, the petitioners received a favorable court ruling to their legal challenge to the Fish and Game petition rejection. In 2007, the Fish and Game Commission filed an appeal to the court decision and, in 2008, the Third District of the California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the petitioners and ordered the CTS be designated an endangered species.

In 2009, the Fish and Game Commission ruled the CTS an endangered species. At the time of this writing, another 5,000 acres is being considered for designation to protect the CTS (more than 55,000 acres are currently listed as CTS habitat statewide).

Locally, we have a firm that’s widely known, highly skilled and very knowledgeable—Ghilotti Construction Company. It was the successful low bidder on the Highway 101 work that will expand Highway 101 to four lanes past Pepper Road (just South of E. Railroad Ave. in Cotati) and south to the Petaluma exit to Penngrove. Ghilotti Construction Company is ready to put crews to work immediately and those paychecks would then be spent locally and benefit lots of other community businesses—but there’s a problem: Caltrans didn’t apply for one of the necessary permits that would let the work begin. There’s a need for an “incidental take permit” for the CTS in case one of the critters is killed during construction as part of the regulatory mess called the California Endangered Species Act. Potential result? We may see a delay of a year for the project, as there may not be dollars in the Caltrans budget for mitigation measures now required as a part of the CESA. As a result, our local economy, along with very real families, will suffer.

What this comes down to is, there are too many regulations being passed in California. The regulations that exist are too complicated and too expensive to comply with for businesses to remain competitive. Business owners won’t continue to lose money—they’ll move or close shop. Because of the loss of business, our local government will continue to see decreased revenue streams and will continue to cut services. Let’s turn this around and work with our legislators to streamline existing regulations or get rid of some of them. Otherwise, the next group that will be listed as an endangered species—the rarest of all critters—will be the California business owner.



A resident of Sonoma County for more than 50 years, John Bly’s experience includes more than 30 years working in the engineering contracting industry as an estimator, project manager, safety manager and business development manager. He’s executive vice president of the Engineering Contractors AssociationNorth Coast Builders Exchange. You can reach him at john@nceca.org. and has served as president of the



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