By ALI BAY
Press Staff Writer
June 15, 2002
SACRAMENTO - California’s dairy industry appears to be
gaining momentum in its fight to build new, environmentally sound
Most new dairy plans in the Central Valley have been stalled
since 1999, when Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued Tulare County,
alleging insufficient environmental regulations for dairy
operations. That lawsuit, and the subsequent settlement requiring
greater environmental review for each new or expanded dairy, has
kept the industry on its toes, searching for ways to plan the
best, environmentally friendly operation.
Late last month, dairy supporters claimed a victory in Madera
County. There, Superior Court Judge Charles Wieland dismissed all
14 counts of a lawsuit filed by the Center on Race, Poverty and
the Environment. The judge ruled that the county hadn’t violated
the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the Diamond
H Dairy plan, owned by Greg Hooker.
“The decision in Madera County is very encouraging,” said
J.P. Cativiela, a spokesman for CARES, the Community Alliance for
Responsible Environmental Stewardship. CARES is a dairy industry
organization that promotes environmental practices and long-term
“The Diamond H Dairy is a new, modern dairy with a
state-of-the art facility,” Cativiela said. “They did
everything they were supposed to do, and they got sued anyway.”
When the judge threw out all the allegations brought by CRPE,
Cativiela knew the dairy industry had chalked up a victory.
“It’s an example, and there haven’t been too many in the
past few years, of how when you follow the rules you can actually
get a dairy approved,” he said.
But even dairymen who believe they are following the rules are
still struggling to get plans approved in their individual
This week the Tulare County Planning Commission was set to hear
more testimony on the Hilarides Dairy proposal. Rob Hilarides, a
farmer and dairyman, has been working on getting the dairy
operation approved for more than three years. He and a handful of
industry supporters put together an extensive environmental impact
report for the modern facility which would include about 9,100
“To get past this problem of being sued all the time on the
inadequacy of our environmental impact reports here in Tulare
County we formed a dairy industry alliance group,” Hilarides
said. That group put together a grass-roots effort to produce an
EIR that will meet all the requirements of the California
Environmental Quality Act.
“If we do this right, then if one of these environmental
groups tries to sue us, we can withstand it,” Hilarides said.
The dairyman said he’s holding his breath and crossing his
fingers in hopes the county will finally approve the project,
which has been collecting public comment since last year.
“I’m praying like crazy,” Hilarides said. “This has
been an emotional roller coaster. We keep plugging away, but there
are no guarantees. We’re just hoping for a happy ending.”
If the project is approved, it would be the first new dairy in
Tulare County in more than three years.
Mike Marsh, chief executive director for Western United
Dairymen, sure hopes a happy ending is possible for more
“Originally we had a lot of success in our litigation,” he
said. “Then we hit a roadblock in Tulare County and it kind of
just shut everything down. Now we’re hoping to start that
winning trend once again.”
In April, dairymen won yet another court victory in Kern
County. There, Superior Court Judge Roger Randall rejected all but
two counts in a lawsuit against the Borba Dairies.
“It’s been a long and very involved process to get that
dairy approved down there,” Cativiela said. “But it does
appear to be getting through the process.”
Overall, Cativiela said he thinks county officials and
community leaders are beginning to better understand the benefits
of dairy operations. And they’re rejecting the “wild” claims
some environmental groups have been alleging in anti-dairy
“We’re starting to see the balance restored in the
process,” he said. “We’re also seeing almost heroic efforts
on behalf of local authorities on what’s been a difficult issue