By Duncan McFetridge, Director, Cleveland National Forest Foundation
September 21, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) - Cleveland National Forest Foundation’s lawsuit against the county’s attempt to subdivide the Hoskings ranch near Julian brings out three extremely important points:
1) Its wilderness location
2) Williamson Act law
3) Staggering corruption of land use politics in San Diego
First point, the location: The 1416 acre Hoskings Ranch is located couple of miles southwest of Julian and its varied wilderness terrain of rolling hills, grass land, Engelmann oak woodlands extends further south and west with southern and western end of ranch dropping steeply to lower elevations. The southern end lies within boundaries of Cleveland National Forest. This property is of inestimable ecological importance to the Peninsular Range Ecosystem that includes the Cleveland National Forest. http://cnff.org/documents/range.pdf
Second point, the Williamson Act. This is a California law specially designed to protect valuable private agricultural, wilderness and watershed lands by enabling the owners of these designated lands to realize a very substantial tax reduction in exchange for preserving the land by entering into Williamson Act contract. In 2006 alone the owner of Hoskings (Genesee Properties) saved $37,000 in property taxes. Contracts have a 10-year horizon which is automatically renewed unless otherwise indicated. This is an immensely important and successful California policy that protects hundreds of thousands of acres of private land that would otherwise be destroyed by development.
In this case, the Hoskings Ranch is under current cattle grazing contract which prohibits development unless such development is incidental to grazing operation. The owner tried to subdivide this designated contract land into 33 lots back in 2003, but planning staff wisely recommended denial and the planning commission agreed because it violated the Williamson Act provision that any development on contracted land must be incidental to agricultural use, which in this case is cattle grazing. The BOS unwisely continued the item and directed staff to see if they could somehow bend and twist the project to conform to the law.
Since the Hoskings subdivision was in clear contradiction of the law, the project stayed in limbo until a new philosophy took over the planning dept in 2012 and all hell broke loose. I call this philosophy “bend the law till it breaks to please rapacious land developers.” This same philosophy allowed the crime of approving the Covert Canyon project in the forest to completely destroy a precious wetland meadow with an illegal heavy weapon firing range (we sued); this same philosophy promoted the destruction of the Cleveland Forest by amending instead reauthorizing the FCI (we sued); this same philosophy of “bend the law till it breaks” is behind the outrageous general plan amendments known as Lilac Hills Ranch, Harmony Grove South and Newland Sierra.
These assaults on planning bring us to the third point about Hoskings: deep political corruption of land use politics in San Diego. In 2013 following change of leadership at planning department, Genesee and county planning staff came out with new plan and EIR. The plan would now subdivide the ranch into 24 residential lots. Staff changed the description of the project and called it an agricultural subdivision where the 24 lot owners would jointly graze a herd of 60 to 80 cattle and possibly care for vineyards and orchards near their homes in the setting Julian sun.
Problem is, you can change the name and make lies sound truthful, but you can’t deny the facts: the Hoskings Ranch project is a 24-lot residential subdivision on Williamson act protected land. Proposing this project is in clear violation of the letter and spirit of the law because it allows the owner to double dip with both a sizable tax break AND with profits to be reaped by development which would irreversibly destroy the land. The contradictions are glaring because virtually the very same project was deemed to be illegal in 2006. It is beyond outrageous that this project is moving forward, but it does have one bright spot: it allows citizens to see just how widespread and criminal planning has become in SD county.
‘Bend the law till it breaks.” This is the same philosophy behind decades of SANDAG’s promotion of freeways and sprawl at the expense of transit and sustainable infill development. This is the same philosophy has covered 800 sq mi of urban land in San Diego with 300 sq mi of useless concrete known as freeways and roads and, because they serve sprawl instead of promoting transit, bike and walk infrastructure, have created the so-called housing crisis. This is the same philosophy that City County and SANDAG planners use to misname and deceive the public about Climate Change, about regional health impacts, about wilderness destruction and about funding a real transit, bike and walk system to serve our cities.
The crime of approving the subdivision of Hoskings Ranch would echo throughout the state and set an incentive for undermining all Williamson Act contracted lands. What our local politicians and planners have done is a threat to the entire state of California.
I conclude with the wisdom of Orwell: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.
San Diego politicians and planners prove Orwell more than right.
We are sheep among wolves.
It’s time to call things by their right names.
We call it betrayal of public office and crimes against nature and community.
The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org