Folsom/El Dorado News

Appeals court says Folsom can go ahead with improvements for Lake Natoma

Jamie Whitmore leads core exercises for a group of triathletes she is training at Lake Natoma Tuesday August 12, 2014 in Folsom, Calif.
Jamie Whitmore leads core exercises for a group of triathletes she is training at Lake Natoma Tuesday August 12, 2014 in Folsom, Calif.

A state appeals court has cleared the way for Folsom to add and enhance facilities on the shore of Lake Natoma.

The city plans a project that it says will make the shore more accessible to the disabled.

On Thursday, Folsom won a court victory over the Save the American River Association, a citizens’ group dedicated to safeguarding the natural environment of the American River Parkway. The group argued that the city was using the improvements to attract more people to the Folsom Historic District, a zone of shops, bars, restaurants and some historic locations adjacent to the lake.

The city’s true intent is “to increase access and intensity of use … so that Folsom can realize an economic benefit to the Folsom Historic District,” the association argued in a lawsuit to force an environmental impact review by the city in accord with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The association also argued that Folsom’s intent is inconsistent with land-use plans that cover the area.

A three-justice panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal said in Thursday’s unanimous opinion that the project was not inconsistent with adopted plans covering management of the parkway.

The Save the American River Association “has not shown the existence of any substantial evidence giving rise to a fair argument that the project is inconsistent with either plan,” the justices concluded, affirming Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny’s earlier rejection of the association’s plea for an environmental study.

The association pressed its argument that the project will destroy the “natural” quality of the area, changing it “from one appropriately assigned to the low-intensity recreation/conservation designation” to one with a higher-intensity designation that has no conservation element.

This argument “essentially amounts to nothing more than speculation. … But as we have said, speculation is not substantial evidence,” Associate Justice Ronald B. Robie wrote for the panel, which included Acting Presiding Justice George Nicholson and Associate Justice William J. Murray Jr.

Folsom envisions development of an accessible pedestrian waterfront trail using existing paved and unpaved sections of the trail. The project, according to the city, will “enhance existing pedestrian pathways by improving trail access to Lake Natoma”; by paving existing trails to stabilize them; by creating new scenic rest areas and overlooks for visitors; and by providing direct shore landing for kayaks and other small, nonmotorized vessels.

The project will also include “removal of various invasive species and re-establishment of native plants and trees,” plus “stabilization of existing unsupported banks,” according to the city via court papers.

The Save the American River Association did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189