By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Gregory Lansing, testifying in favor of the ECO Substation project at a 2012 CPUC hearing
August 20, 2014 (Boulevard) – Lansing Industries and related entities have filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego and public officials including Supervisors, Boulevard Planning Group Chair Donna Tisdale, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, and County Planning Chair Michael Beck. In addition, the suit names the Endangered Habitat League and two groups fighting to protect rural landowners: Protect Our Communities Foundation and Backcountry Against Dumps (BAD).
Greg Lansing and/or his entities acquired Big Country Ranch in 2006 and Empire Ranch in 2007 for a combined 6,280 acres, later adding additional parcels for a grand total of 8,000 acres in rural Boulevard. He proposed grandiose plans to rename the town Jewel Ranch and create a master planned residential community complete with a shopping mall, Vons grocery store, private fire and law enforcement, improved infrastructure, medical facilities and trails, according to minutes of the Boulevard Planning Group from January 3, 2008. After those plans failed to win approval, Lansing, who does not live in Boulevard, later tried unsuccessfully to bring industrial wind or large-scale solar projects to his sites.
The suit seeks over $100 million in actual and punitive damage for alleged property loss due to changes in the County General Plan that down-zoned from 1 home per 4 acres to just 1 home per 80 acres. Lansing’s suit claims that the county did not provide adequate opportunity for public input before changing the General Plan and abused its discretion by approving the changes.
He accuses Jacob of stating that down-zoning was not a foregone conclusion while instructing staff to prepare only low-density proposals due to water supply concerns. He blames Tisdale for the fact that only 200 of Boulevard’s residents signed a petition asking the County to reject the down-zoning proposal. The suit states that Tisdale authored a letter on behalf of BAD calling Lansing a “snake oil salesman” and that suggestions that claimed he would allow aggregate mining or a prison on the site if his project wasn’t approved were false and intended to intimidate residents.
But meetings of minutes from a public meeting, a U-T article from January 2008, as well as recollections of some local residents who attended private meetings held by Lansing with some area residents tell a different story.
A January 17, 2008 U-T San Diego article on a contentious Boulevard Planning Group meeting clearly states, “Lansing...warned residents that a prison or dump could be built in Boulevard without a planned development.”
The newspaper article indicates that only two people spoke in favor of Lansing’s development plan. One of those was John Gibson, who himself has engaged in some verbal bashing of Tisdale. As ECM previously reported, at a May 2013 hearing by Supervisors on a proposed wind ordinance, Gibson, who represents the Hamann companies and had a vested interest in wind energy development, likened Tisdale and others opposed to wind projects to the Boston Marathon bomber. He stated that opponents of the Wind Energy Ordinance were “like people with a pressure cooker and ball bearings with a bomb, trying to stop the projects…This is economic terrorism.” Residents, however, overwhelmingly gave testimony revealing serious concerns about such projects, suggesting that they were the ones feeling terrorized by large energy developments and landowners who did not show concerns for public health.
Lansing himself has testified to the California Public Utilities Commission in favor of both the ECO Substation and Tule Wind project slated for McCain Valley – two projects that are overwhelmingly unpopular with local residents due to the destruction of rural land, heavy water use and in the case of Tule Wind, massive industrialization of a scenic federal, public recreation area.
Many voiced concerns about water issues at the 2008 Boulevard meeting, the UT reported. Residents doubted Lansing’s claims that studies showed adequate water. Water has been a hotbed of contention over several major projects in the region and residents have cause for skepticism of developers’ claims. SDG&E used three times more water than it estimated for its recent ECO substation project in the area. More recently, serious credibility doubts have been cast on SOITEC solar’s water use projections made by a company with a track record for missing the mark by a country mile on water usage estimates.
Boulevard Planning Group minutes indicate a large turning at the meeting where Lansing made a presentation in January 2008, with the vast majority opposed to the project. Concerns cited included traffic, loss of rural character, water usage, and loss of small businesses if a mall were built. Lansing failed to answer many questions posed. Moreover, the community had voted in slow growth “to keep Boulevard rural,” the group’s minutes state.
Charlene Ayers, who runs the Ranter’s Roost discussion group for backcountry issues, said that an August 8, 2008 private barbecue held by Lansing in hopes of wooing support from neighbors was vague on details and that all residents got was “a burnt hotdog.” She added, “He seemed a might disturbed at all the catcalls, interruptions and confrontational statements yelled out from the crowd as he tried to `re-educate’ them to his point of view. Most yelled out that they liked Boulevard that way that it is.”
As for water, Ayers wrote that despite promises by Lansing of ample water for his project, “He lied about having done and/or submitted a water study to the County. His paid consultant, Coopersmith from Latitude 33, would not back him up, and said that no water studies had been done therefore none had been submitted to the County…Nothing promises on the invite, barbeque or details of the project, were delivered. That would be a clue as to how much to trust the guy,” said Ayers, who concluded, “Not at all.”