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By Miriam Raftery

January 22, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) – Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNF) and Save Our Forest and Ranchlands (SOFAR) filed a lawsuit against San Diego County last week in San Diego Superior Court.  The suit argues that Supervisors adopted an amendment to the Forest Conservation Initiative (FCI) based on a faulty environmental analysis and failed to identity ways to minimize impacts of the new plan. 

Those contentions are disputed by the County and some prominent East County residents.

The FCI was approved by over two-thirds of voters countywide in 1993 to protect Cleveland National Forest from piecemeal development. It set minimum lot sizes of 40 acres on privately owned properties within the forest and created boundaries for existing country towns in the forest to encourage “compact development,” according to a press release issued by the environmental groups CNF and SOFAR.

A sunset clause allowed the FCI to expire on December 31, 2010, including a requirement for voter approval of zoning changes within the protected area.   Supervisors recently approved an amendment to the General Plan that allows much smaller parcels in some portions of the forest.

“The Forest Conservation Initiative is one of San Diego County’s most important planning success stories,” said Duncan McFetridge of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation. “The Board of Supervisors should do everything it can to protect and strengthen the FCI; instead, it’s doing just the opposite.”

The groups’ press release contends, “Smaller parcels encourage development outside of existing town boundaries within the forest. San Diego County has already zoned sufficient land to support the development of tens of thousands of homes in the unincorporated parts of the county. Its own General Plan calls for consolidating development around existing country towns to reduce vehicle travel and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The approved plan disregards those policies.”

But George Barnett, a member of the Alpine Community Planning Group, disputes that contention and notes that the county’s changes are consistent with the ACPG’s recommendations.

“It is very much the case…that in many instances the `old’ density in fact is more dense than the post-FCI proposals,” Barnett observes.   In greatest dispute is an area of Alpine near the Viejas Casino along Interstate 8.

Barnett adds, “The adoption of the old values for purposes of moving the general update forward was formally voted on by the ACPG at a meeting that CNFF’s president Jack Shue attended.” He said Shue presented his views but was “figuratively tarred and feathered from the floor by the large public turnout. They voiced frustrations of having their private property rights trampled by opponents that don’t live there.”

But the lawsuit’s backers contend that there is more at stake than landowners’ rights.

“San Diego County continues to underestimate the threat of climate change by encouraging development in far-flung areas,” noted attorney Catherine Engberg of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, who represents CNFF in the case, along with Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group. “It’s unfortunate that yet another lawsuit had to be filed to force the county to comply with state mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

In addition to concerns about climate change and disrupting forest habitat, the lawsuit claims there are flaws in the environmental analysis for the FCI amendment with regard to threats to water supplies, increased fire risk and harm to wildlife in the forest.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the county is required to consider alternatives that minimize environmental harm when it adopts a zoning change like the one included in the FCI amendment. The lawsuit argues that the environmental impact report used to justify the amendment was based on flawed assumptions that led to a faulty analysis.

The lawsuit also argues that the FCI amendment is inconsistent with county General Plan policies aimed at aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and flouts current court orders requiring the adoption of a robust and binding Climate Action Plan and related policies. The county is currently defending separate lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club and the Golden Door Spa challenging its failure to adopt and implement a legally adequate Climate Action Plan.

Barring a judicial action to halt the County’s General Plan update, the update is expected to take another 18 months to be implemented, Barnett told ECM.

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Nonsense Has A Voice - Part 2

I correct miss-typing in the first issue of "Nonsense". The build-out plans for Alpine post-Forest Conservation Initiative, were over-whelmingly approved by the Alpine Community Planning Group 13:2 as I recall - and after years of community town halls and discussions. It was endorsed by the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors and generally approved by the BOS pending a special infrastructure needs determination for the very far east of the Alpine Township. Please note that infrastructure needs for any development activity must be paid by the project developer. I also want to address one of the environmental worries held some opponents of the build-out plan; that is, the matter of global warming from increased CO2 emissions from more cars. We all know in Alpine that we "go down the hill" making several 40-mile round trips a week, and daily if not more if you have kids in a Grossmont high school at Granite Hills, El Capitan or Steele Canyon. We all mostly go down the hill for shopping, entertainment and for after school sports and extra-curricula programs. With a proposed modest build-out of Alpine that includes an expansion of the "downtown" village core, and with our own high school, vehicular will be reduced to trips across town of a few miles. This will save families several hundred dollars in gasoline costs every month. With the advent of affordable hybrid and totally electric vehicles just around the corner (that are superb for local in-town use), a built-out Alpine will very likely result in substantial reductions in greenhouse gases. The global warming argument is spurious.

Nonsense Has A Voice?

The last 120 acres of Wright's Field land to be conserved was bought 14 years ago by the County under its Multiple Species Conservation Program. The property owners agreed to sell the land into conservation and agreed that the proposed fair market price was acceptable. The county had conservation restrictive easements placed on the deed to protect the land inperpetuity, made property tax-exempt under state and federal laws, and then conveyed ownership to BCLT for permanent stewardship. This was done before I became a director in BCLT and before Travis Lyon even moved to Alpine. In spring of last year in a similar arrangement, BCLT was conveyed ownership of an exceptional 1,700-acre tract of land in La Posta, also for stewardship. The property had been targeted by the U.S, Fish & Wildlife Service, the San Diego Association of Governments, the U.S. Navy, the national Trust for Public Lands, the County of San Diego, and several private parties for conservation. One owner was an out-of-county property developer that was unable to secure a residential subdivision approval. The other owner was an industrial concern that bought the property for sand-mining. Both owners had their property on the market, and agreed to sell the land into conservation at an agreed market value. As with all property in California that is taken into conswervation, the buyer placed conservation restriction on the deed to ensure the property would be conserved forever. Ownership was then conveyed to BCLT for land stewardship. The planning land use designation for the Campbell and Kaderabek families properties was over-whelmingly approved by the Alpine Community Planning Group, endorsed to the County Board of Supervisors, and approved by the Board of Supervisors. The Alpine Education Foundation has raised and dispensed some $200,000 in support of local education since its founding in spring 2010. For 2016, AEF's charitable expenses represented 93% of all expenses; making AEF one of the most efficient processors of donors money in the state of California. AEF is regulated by the California Attorney General and the California Secretary of State. As one of the founding Directors and as Treasurer, I can verify that Lou Russo has never given a penny to AEF for any purpose or program at Alpine schools, does not support AEF's quest for our very own Alpine high school. I don't get his beef? I don't understand his propensity to attack fellow citizens with derogatory insinuations. AEF has pledged to raise $20,000 by this spring for Alpine Union School District's Technology Strategy. The vision is to integrate digital learning with curriculum; to connect students to global learning resources; to enable students to learn anything, anywhere, anyplace at anytime. Please join us by making your donation through the AEF website at I ask Mr. Russo to also support this program. Regards, George Barnett

"Tar and feathered"?

I guess I was at another meeting. George seems to like playing both sides. On one hand his (and member Travis Lyon's) Back Country Land Trust takes as much land as possible into environmental trust (including Wright's Field, near George's house and across the street from ACPG Chairman Lyon's home, and thousands of acres all over town and in Potrero...denying our schools tens of thousands of dollars every year in property taxes) and then on the other hand, when the land involved isn't near his home (nor Lyon's nor Easterling's, etc.) he want's to develop it to the max. Of course, George also fails to mention his ties to Colin Campbell and Charles Kaderabek (you all remember "tax lien", ex attorney Charles). The land just pushed for greatly increased density belong to these two...and all are in Alpine Education Foundation together (George is the Treasurer). Alpine, East County.... much is going to become public this year of 2017...and probably into 2018, regarding the former FCI lands, the General Plan update, and the personalities involved. Stay tuned for updates!