The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a $10,000 civil fine against the City of Chula Vista and one former and two current city officials for allegedly violating federal law by building a fence in the nesting area of California least terns, an endangered species.
It is believed to be the first instance nationwide in which the wildlife agency has proposed a civil fine against an entire city for an alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act, said Diane Hoobler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional office in Portland, Ore. The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego declined criminal prosecution because investigators found insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, officials said.
City officials have denied any wrongdoing in the matter, and said they plan to contest the finding. The city has 45 days to respond to the notice, after which officials may request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
The entire amount of the fine is $10,000, Hoobler said, adding that later discussions between the wildlife agency and those accused would determine how the fine will be divided among the various parties. The amount is the maximum fine available, Hoobler said.
The fines stem from the city erecting a 6-foot chain-link fence in 1984 and 1985 on a sandy strip that serves as a least tern nesting area. Authorities are seeking to develop the nearby bayfront. Federal investigators found a dead tern and crushed eggs and nests near the fence, Hoobler said.
Named in the federal notices, which were sent out by mail last week, were Paul Derochers, director of Chula Vista's community development department; Barbara Reid, an assistant planner in the department, and David Zegler, the city's former redevelopment coordinator.
Also named as a responsible party, federal authorities said, was Allstate Rent-a-Fence Co., the subcontractor for the fence.