PLANNING COMMISSION GUNS DOWN APPEAL, ALLOWS COVERT CANYON TO CONDUCT MILITARY FIREARMS TRAINING AMID FEDERAL FOREST LANDS

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By Miriam Raftery

Photos: Covert Canyon owner Marc Halcon (left); neighbors Clark and Robin Williams (right)

December 17, 2015 (Alpine) – Testimony at the County Planning Commission hearing on Covert Canyon   on December 11th was heated, as concerned citizens and planners fired off concerns which project backers sought to deflect.  At stake was an appeal filed by neighbors and environmentalists opposed to the Planning Director’s decision allowing commercial firearms training of military and police at the Alpine site, which is surrounded by Cleveland National Forest lands.  Animal rights activists also protested live shooting of pigs for military medic training at the property in the past. 

Here are some of the impassioned statements made:

“What the Planning Director has done is sign a death warrant for the national forest.” – Duncan McFetridge, co-chair, Cleveland National Forest Foundation

“I live in constant fear…it is extremely dangerous.” – Robin Williams, neighbor closest to Covert Canyon

 “Military ranges are overloaded right now. Post-911, demand is up…We live in a different world now; our law enforcement and first responders have to have training to respond.” – Marc Halcon, Covert Canyon owner

“You’re allowing an unlimited decibel ordinance for 14 minutes every hour. That’s no ordinance at all…How can a firing range not have substantial impact? It’s beyond my comprehension.” – Planning Commissioner Michael Beck

“This is the most tortured interpretation of the zoning ordinance I have ever seen…You’re going to get sued, and you’re going to lose.” – Attorney Marco Gonzalez, addressing County Planning Commission

“We all know about the global war on terror…Range time equals one of our biggest challenges in San Diego…this is paramount for the success of war fighters.” – Tommy Marquez, on behalf of Congressman Duncan Hunter

Split by a 3-3 vote, the County Planning Commission failed to muster support for the appeal. As a result, a stipulated administrative enforcement order (SAEO)  stands, allowing owner Marc Halcon to conduct the trainings on a commercial basis 12 hours a day, five days a week, with weapons up to .50 caliber. He can also have recreational shooting on weekends with large groups of shooters—all on property surrounded on four sides by Cleveland National Forest.

The SAEO  was issued by the Planning Director unilaterally. Staff, who have visited the site over 50 times, recommended that planners uphold the Director’s decision and deny the appeal. The deadlocked vote means the appeal failed, and the Director’s order stands.  Halcon has until 2018 to comply with certain requirements such as bringing older buildings up to code and creating a site plan. Meanwhile, he now has permission to charge money for firearms training at the site.

Halcon bought the site nearly a decade ago with plans to open a shooting range.  Recreational shooting is allowed by right on the rural property, with no limits on group size or types of weapons. But charging for commercial training was not allowed.

Halcon previously conducted various law enforcement and military trainings as well as having private parties shooting on the site.  He was found in violation of grading a pond in the past (he claims he was restoring a spring) and used dirt to build berms around shooting sites.  He was cited by the county for moving a berm onto federal forest land and later removed it/ (He says he built it atop an existing air field built by a prior owner and didn’t realize it wasn’t his land until a survey was done.) 

The county shut down some operations Halcon was conducting and he then applied for a Major Use Permit to build facilities that would have included an urban warfare training center, tower, helipad and other facilities.The County, in an interview with CBS News at the time, said such operations were “paramilitary” and required the Major Use Permit. But earlier this year, Halcon approached the County with scaled back plans that removed those items, leaving only firearms training.

The site has generated considerably controversy through the years, with neighbors complaining of bombardment by loud noise and a tranquil view converted to a vista of large groups of camouflage-clad shooters firing large-caliber weapons.

Environmentalists contend the project is harmful to wildlife and the ecosystem.  Halcon has been accused of draining wetland ponds (a charge he denies) and unlawful grading (which he admits to) to build berms at the site.

Animal rights activists have also staged protests over live-fire training on pigs conducted to train military medics in the past and turned out in force at the Planning Group hearing..

There are two county zoning codes that deal with law enforcement activities.  One, Section 1350,  is for paramilitary operations, which require a Major Use Permit due to significant impacts. The other, section 1346,  is for “law enforcement services” use and lists examples such as a police station, storage facilities and parking; this section does not require a Major Use Permit. 

The Planning Director reclassified Covert Canyon’s activities as “law enforcement services”  and determined that no Major Use Permit is needed. With the appeal shot down, the Director’s decision stands unless a court or Supervisors intervene. The latter isn’t likely, since the Planning Commission is the final body for an Administrative Appeal, per the County zoning regulations.

Planning Commissioners peppered staff and the Director with questions, particularly the three who sought to  support an appeal –Commissioners Peder Norby, Michael Beck, and Michael Seiler.  Commissioners Leon Brooks, Bryan Woods and Douglas Barnhart voted to deny the appeal, while Commissioner Pallinger was absent.

“How did military creep into a definition of law enforcement?” Commissioner Michael Seiler asked, adding that military firearms training could be done at Miramar and Pendleton, existing military bases, where we can “fire cannons if we want to” without disturbing residents. He noted that .50 caliber arms are the “noisiest” and “most obnoxious to the neighborhood” and suggested that if a firearms range is allowed, the caliber level should be reduced.

Seiler also found it a stretch to say that recreational shooting could include high-caliber weapons with large groups of shooters. “I was raised in West Texas. We had rifle racks on our pickups, but recreational shooting in those days might be the nearest shooter was seven miles away, and no groups. You don’t see a difference in that?” he asked staff.   Seiler also voiced concern over “loss of wildlife” as significant impacts, as well as the impacts on people hearing repeated gunfire.  For many people, he observed, “it scares them or reminds them of crime. For a firing range, maybe other types of criteria should be applied.”

Commissioner Peder Norby made clear he believes the paramilitary definition of section 1350 “accurately describes what’s happening here.” He argued that Halcon should have to seek a Major Use Permit.  “I’m very, very clear that there are significant impacts,” he said, also voicing concerns that despite “unresolved violations” the use has been allowed to continue at the property. “That’s not the way we should operate in this county… When something is commercial, everyday, that’s a big use. “

He wasn’t swayed by arguments that the firearms training should be  backed to support the military and law enforcement. “We support agriculture,” he noted, but added that the county  created a tiered winery ordinance  and said if wineries wanted to engaged in commercial activities “that’s a big deal…When it turns into a commercial enterprise that needs a lot of study and a lot of considerations.”

He added, “Then I look at the property and it’s surrounded by Cleveland National Forest.” He said the groups representing CNF should have the ability to weigh in.  Moreover, Norby noted, “This application is not coming from the president, the sheriff, or a commander at Pendleton.  The application is coming from a private contractor.”

He also found “compelling” arguments made by enviornmentalists who noted that the California Environmental Quality Act requires environmental analysis of potential impacts at the earliest possible time—which arguably was years ago, when the MUP application was first made.  “The Director made a decision, but we don’t have the technical tools through an EIR or EIS to determine what those impacts are,” he observed. Norby also voiced concerns about fairness to the public to have inputs.

Commissioner Michael Beck made clear that “one decision results in a Director’s decision, the other in a public hearing. That’s very important.  The purpose of CEQA is public disclosure, so people can understand impacts and give input.” He noted that a cemetery or church would have to get a Major Use Permit if it wanted to conduct activities 12 hours a day.

 Although Halcon has contended he did not destroy wetlands (drawing groans from the crowd) and  says that his property only has seasonal ponds, Beck, a long-time environmental leader, fired back, “A seasonal wetland is a wetland, especially in San Diego.”  Appalled at before and after photos  of the site’s ponds, he grilled staff, “So it’s been seven or eight years since the initial violations on the wetlands…and it’s never been addressed?” Sounding incredulous, he added, “If there is a history of violation of the public trust…why didn’t you fix it in the interim?”

The Director acknowledged that there have been areas where “the applicant and staff have not been as responsive as they should be” but insisted improvements have been made, but did not clarify what those are.

Beck (photo, right) said he lives I Alpine and can hear firing at a range in the distance. He also voiced concern over stray bullets.  “Accidents happen. There is no way that every bullet on this range will stay there. Isn’t that a major impact?”

He then pressed staff on noise levels.  The limit is an average of 50 decibels an hour at the neighbor’s property line, or 75 decibels average per hour at the forest property line.   So, he asked, “you can operate at a high level for 15 minutes and be quiet for the rest?” Staff acknowledged this is true, and that decibel limits can be exceeded for 24 percent of the time measured.

“It’s not relevant to reality to measure over a one-hour period,” Beck stated, noting that people may be sleeping or trying to “live their lives.”  Clearly dismayed, he told staff, “You’re allowing an unlimited decibel ordinance for 14 minutes every hour. That’s no ordinance at all!”

He felt the Director erred in reclassifying the property and urged that Halcon be required to  continue with the Major Use Permit application instead. 

Commissioner Barnhart was not swayed by arguments of major impacts. He noted that by right, Halcon could “bring 30 people out there and they could shoot all those times. The only distinction is commercial, he can’t charge. This is smoke and mirrors.” He noted that those training commercially will be first responders who work for the government, then voiced concerns that a threat similar to that seen in San Bernardino “is coming; it’s just a matter of time…and we’d better be prepared.”

Commissioner Leon Brooks was dismissive of all concerns, noting that “through the process they will be dealt with as they go into the next phase.”  He later made a motion to deny the appeal, seconded by Barnhart, which ended in a 3-3 vote.  Commissioner Norby then motioned to vote to approve the appeal, which also drew a 3-3- vote.

Prior to the vote, the Commission heard public testimony. The Chair asked for a representative from the Alpine Community Planning Group, but oddly, no representative showed up. 

An attorney for the applicant spoke first, noting that “neither of our fire consultants can be here today.”  He attested to a “genuine need for firearms training on private property” for law enforcement and praised the qualifications of Halcon, who is founder of the California Association of Firearms, president and founder of the San Diego Firearms Academy, an expert witness specialized in training for use of lethal force, a U.S. Justice Department certified instructor and contractor who has helped train special operations forces, law enforcement, active duty and retired military.

Halcon testified next, asserting that “military ranges are overloaded right now”  and from 911 to San Bernardino, it’s become evident that “we live in a different world now” in which first responders need more advanced training than in the past.  He claimed much misinformation has been put forth about himself and his operations by project opponents.  He asked for rebuttal time later to address any misinformation presented.  He noted that although Cal Fire previously found his activities “unacceptable” due to fire concerns including poor road conditions on a long winding dirt road that is the only access to the site, “during the Horse Fire, the Forest Service did come out, parked fire trucks there at the air strip.”  As for the live pig training, Halcon said the Dept. of Agriculture oversaw the program and had a federal veterinarian onsite to anesthetize the animals. He also emphasized that no exploding ammunition is used at the property.

Duncan McFetridge (photo, right), speaking on behalf of Cleveland  National Forest Foundation, testified that he was “amazed” at the Director’s decision which he was was “not about guns” but rather the obliteration of wetland meadows that are the “heart of our ecosystem” in the federal forest.  “It has to do with rules governing agricultural preserves and wildlife habitat,” he continued. “This is a travesty—to use the law to break the law is a criminal act.  The Planning Department is on the verge of criminality.  If a wetland meadow, if agriculture, is not safe in a forest, if quiet isn’t safe in a national forest, where is it safe?  What the director has done is signed a death warrant for the national forest. “ He then read off a list of other places he believes could be similarly threatened by the precedent set in the reclassification, adding, “Covert Canyon, a precious wetland meadow, obliterated – death of a national forest.”

Robin Williams, the closest neighbor to Covert Canyon, testified in a quavering voice, her distress evident.  “There is only one way into my home, through a shooting range,” she stated.  “I live in constant fear.”  She told Commissioners that Halcon “operated illegally for ten years,” insisting that she and her husband, Clark, have “submitted proof positive on several occasions….I as floored, hurt” by the county’s ruling, she stated, adding that the shooting “is extremely dangerous…I stand before you full of anguish, crying.  I’m a Vietnam veteran,” she added, and said she is “ashamed” at the cavalier attitude shown by the county thus far to “disavow the rule of law and disavow environmental protection.”

Marco Gonzalez i(photo, left)s the attorney representing the Williams as well as Cleveland National Forest, Save Our Forests and Ranchlands, and Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation.  He maintained that the county can’t take away the groups’ rights to address CEQA by changing the zoning classification.  He claimed Halcon has received “special treatment” due to his close ties to law enforcement and gets away with breaking the law because the property is too remote for inspectors to easily access.

Gonzalez said of the Director’s decision, “This is the most tortured interpretation of the zoning ordinance that I have ever seen. Covert Canyon is not a police station. It’s not a law enforcement facility.  Any police department with firearms training, the shooting is done indoors.  Thi si a tortured and unreasonable reading of the zoning ordinance. The County is dead wrong on CEQA—so far wrong that its laughable,” he continued.  “I can go file my lawsuit today.”

Gonzalez said the County should have initiated CEQA review back in 2007 when the Major Use Application was filed, the earliest possible time in the process, as CEQA requires. Then he said bluntly, “You’re going to get sued and you’re going to lose.”  He also objected to a clause that allows Halcon to indemnify the County against lawsuits if the County gets sued.  “Is it fair to put neighbors and environmental groups through this?”

He insisted that fire safety hasn’t changed, citing a steep, bumpy, dead-end road. (Halcon has said he will widen the road and smooth it out, but it will still be a dead-end road even if that is done.)  “He destroyed forest land without permits. Why are we letting him do this [commercial firearms training] in the interim?  This guy has spent 10 years thumbing his nose at the County…He can work the system and he has money.” He then exhorted planners to “uphold the law. It’s what you’re here for.”

Next up, a  man who said he is a former special operations warfare specialist with the Navy offered praise for the training he received at Covert Canyon.  “We were struggling to find adequate ranges to practice at. Three or four months without being behind a gun degrades our ability…What I do know is Marc was responsible for saving the lives of several teammates.”  He said the 180 degree range allows shooting while moving, which along with the high-angle shooting practice off a rocky cliff are “things you see in war.”

The executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee praised Halcon as professional adding, “This isn’t about guns. It’s about public safety and first responders having public safety training.”

A woman soldier said she has seen military “family members bonding with other soldiers” at Covert Canyon, adding that Halcon “cares about people; his training saved my life.”

Tommy Marquez testified on behalf of Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (photo, left). He said range time is a challenge in San Diego, with the closest comparable range over three hours a way, requiring an overnight stay that runs up travel time and hotel costs for them military. He suggested that to win the war on terror,  Covert Canyon is “paramount for the success of our war fighters.”

A  man who lives on Japatul Road said there are a lot of families who live there on agriculitural land. “You can hear it” he said of the Covert  Canyon gunfire, adding that it is “loud. That’s not a good environment for kids. If it was shooting in your backyard, you’d feel scared.”

Another Japatul Valley resident also testified, saying he didn’t believe a military training ground for firearms is needed in our backcountry.

Daniel Cohen, an Alpine resident who said he has served in the military and made three tours of duty to the Middle East, objects to the firing range. 

“I’ve provided the federal government with requirements for firing ranges,” he said.  By those standards, at least 6700 meters, or 4.2 miles, should be required between a shooting range using .50 caliber weapons and the nearest home or other place where a person could be.  “There are 300 homes within four miles of Covert Canyon,” he said, adding that 18 homes are “way too close.”   He added, “The military activities you’ve heard can be accomplished at Miramar, Pendleton or other bases.”

He said another range closed down after a round went through a home on a Sunday.  “This is a non-contained range” he said, adding that “hot rounds” can be “cooked off” after a shooter moves away from the firing range.  He also voiced concern over the potential for lead contamination of water.

An Alpine resident who lives across the canyon voiced concern over stray bullets sparking a fire or striking people at homes in an area where “fire danger so high, it’s hard to get insurance for properties.”  He thinks training military potentially from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily is “hardly consistent with a residential community” adding that man people there had “no expectation of this type of activity.”

The property lies in an area where wildfires have wreaked major havoc in the past, from the Laguna Fire in the 1970s that scorched trees on the site to the 2007 Harris Fire (photo, left) that still ranks among the worst ever in California history. The mere thought of fire strikes a visceral fear in many rural residents.

A man from the Greater Alpine Fire Safe Council said the organization opposed Covert Canyon due to “fire threat to thousands of homes.” He noted that after four years of drought, “the whole area south of Interstate 8 is as tinderbox ready to go up in flames.”  He added that the two-mile, dead-end road provides “no adequate escape route or quick access by firefighters.”  He urged Commissioners, “Don’t make disaster more likely,” adding, “us taxpayers already provided the military with thousands of acres on which to train.”

Another Alpine resident who is a Navy veteran said he lost his home in the Normal Heights fire before moving out to this rural area, where he has horses.  “Our wildlife is disappearing. I sit outside and hear noise – firing on Sundays.” He voiced concern over negative impact on property values . “Who wants to live near a shooting range?” he asked.  “In Hidden Mesa, noise resonates through that canyon all the time.”

Ken Rutledge from Alpine noted that “everyone who is for this range doesn’t live in Alpine. I do.” He is concerned about lead contamination of well water used for drinking and of impacts on the protected Arroyo toad. “I’ve seen dozens of them and I’m close, has anyone checked on it?” he asked.

He said the gunfire is so loud that he has to medicate his dog at times. The gunfire echoes “many times” in his area.  “Sometimes I’m not home and my dog is probably there in his cage going crazy.”

A Vietnam veteran from Alpine says he moved there because it was “nice and quiet.” Now he hears what sounds like automatic weapon fire “almost every day.” He says the large caliber weapons “scres the devil out of you,” adding there are lots of kids in his area.

The operator of a birds of prey rescue facility on Hidden Glen Road a half-mile west of the range said the large caliber guns affect the birds of prey, which are “very sensitive to air pressure.” He is also concerned about evacuating animals in the event of a wildfire. “They are due east of us, and if there is a fire and a Santa Ana, it’s like a 300-foot blowtorch coming at us and we have a lot of animals to take care of.”

Jack Shu, a manager of outdoor recreation, said the federal forest is “one of our best resources. It needs to be preserved.” He said he has heard gunfire while hiking on Lawson Peak. “In a quiet place, sounds travel in the mountains. Decibel level is not the right measure. Threats come in many ways and one of the biggest reliefs is outdoor recreation. The Forest Service stopped recreational shooting entirely,” he noted. “Only hunting is allowed.  So we shouldn’t allow this in the forest. That’s not the right spirit.”

Clark Williams, husband of Robin Williams, described what it’s like living next to Covert Canyon.  He bought his home years ago because it was surrounded by Cleveland National Forest and agricultural lands protected by the Williamson Act.  He planned to retire there; then Halcon bought the property next door. “It’s been a nightmare, never ending,” he said, describing “deafening noise and fire danger…Friends fear crossing the shooting ranges.” He accused Halcon of making “lies, threats and intimidation” (Halcon denies this).

“Friends tell me I should move away,” he said, but added, “If everyone gave in to a bully, what kind of a world would it be?”

Danielle Belliveau of Hidden Glen lives 1,000 feet downhill from Covert Canyon. She said in the Cedar Fire, many animals could ot be evacuated in time and she fears another fire.  She blames  Halcon for muddying a waterfall that feeds ponds below and  worries about lead, as well as impacts of gunfire on livestock and wildlife such as burrowing owls, eagles and mountain lions in the area.

Numerous speakers spoke against live-tissue training with pigs.  “Covert Canyon mutilates animals,” said Elizabeth Jacobelli.  “That doesn’t sound like a very family environment to me, shooting and killing innocent creatures.”

A doctor with Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said live animal training by the military is an outdated practice that cause “needless suffering. Simulators are more like the human body,” she added, stating, “There are major ethical and procedural grounds to block the Director’s decision. Nowhere does the zoning ordinance envision use and maiming of animals for training.”

Matt Bruce with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animasl called the practice “crude and deadly,” displaying photos of pigs maimed and killed in “horrific ways” during such trainings.

Pat Brian of Spring Valley, a biologist with expertise in veterinary medicine whose husband was a Vietnam medic, said both agree that the animal cruelty is unnecessary for training.  She stated, “Covert Canyon benefits only one person financially and does not benefit the community.”

A combat marksmanship instructor from Fallbrook said of the live training with pigs for medics, “This is training to numb their sensitivity and the consciences” of service members. She noted that 98% of training in medical school as well as 22 of 28 U.S. NATO allies do not use live tissue training. “I know you want to support the military,” she stated, “but this is a disservice to support live animal dismemberment and torture.”

Attorney Peter Mesich  said shooting events at Covert Canyon have been “advertised online locally and nationally” including ads in Shooters Hangout and Alias.” He provided a copy of the Alias ad to East County Magazine.  It touts a long-range marksmanship class Oct. 24-25 at a $525 fee per person and shows an image of shooting that appears to be taking place ato Covert Canyon (photo, right).

If  Halcon took payment for shooting at Covert Canyon before this week’s decision by the Planning Commission,  that would appear to violate the county prohibition on commercial shooting. 

Asked about the ad, he told ECM that the company that set up the class contacted him to ask to use the site.  Asked if he or his company, American Shooting Center, took money for the class from the students or instructor, Halcon replied, They pay a donation for upkeep of the property, $20 per student.”  Asked if he has set up a nonprofit to acception donations, he said, “No, people can make a donation fee kind of thing, and if they can’t pay for it, they can’t pay for it.”  He insisted that the activity is “not commercial” because it’s “not open to the general public” even though it was advertised in a national magazine.

AT the hearing, Halcon responded to statements made in testimony.   He said the Alpine Planning Group voted to support Covert Canyon 10 years ago and reiterated that it’s a county shooting area, designated by the Sheriff.

“We have not done live tissue training since August 2014,” he said.  (If so, that admission could require him to seek a major use permit if he wishes to resume such activity, since grandfathering non-conforming uses stops  if the activity has not occurred for one year.)

Halcon then rattled off a litany of complaints against the Williams, accusing them of creating fire hazards on their property and having two fires accidentally start there (photo, left).   He derided what they called a “serene retirement home” and called it a “junkyard,” which prompted Chairman Woods to caution him, “Instead of focusing on Mr. Williams, I would like to hear your rebuttal to other issues.” (The Williams have denied causing fires, said gas cans shown to media by Halcon were empty, and that claims made by an employee alleging assault are untrue.  Clark Williams says "I risked my life to take photographs" on the only access road to the Williams' property through the site. The Williams claim they have been targeted by harassment by Halcon and his employees, and vice versa.)

Halcon said he plans to widen the access road to increase access. He said he has hired a lead recycler who takes away the lead and once a year, dismantles the berms which have vinyl lining underneath. He said he has not been found to have any noise violations, adding, “a complaint is not a violation.”  He also said meetings with the director did not amount to a “backroom deal” as was alleged.

After the planners’ discussion and votes to uphold the Director’s decision, ECM obtained reactions from key parties.

“This is wrong,” Robin Williams told ECM. She also objected to statements made by Halcon about herself and her husband. “We have done nothing to that man.  We have to leave our house on occasion, it is so horrendous, and it goes on beyond 7 p.m.”  She said they have added double pane windows and stucco, but the noise is still intolerable.  She added that what Halcon calls “junk” includes some building materials.

Clark Williams concurred. “We can prove at least 50% of what he’s been saying is a blatant lie. This hearing put the cart before the horse.”

Danielle Belliveau of Hidden Glen asked, “If the military wanted this, why weren’t they here? One man is allowing this whole negative impact on all the people around and the environmental.”

Jack Shu, co-chair of Cleveland National Forest Foundation, denounced the decision. “We have a planning director who would twists the law to abuse the system, to allow a completely inappropriate development in the county.” He said the county has a long record of “taking away one of our vital resources”, i.e., the federal forest. 

Shu disagreed with the director’s logic that since recreational shooting is allowed by right on the site, commercial shooting should be approved.  A former law enforcement officer for 20 years, he said people shooting with government bullets go through a lot more ammunition than private shooters.  He also questioned the claim that ranges at military bases are over-loaded.  “When I hike at Mission Trails I can hear shooting at the Miramar range, but not very often,” he observed.” Further, he noted of the project’s supporters, “There was not a single law enforcement agency here. There were individual gun nuts here.”

Halcon told ECM, “I’m happy with the decision” made by County Planning Commissioners but said he is taken aback by some things said by commissioners and the public.  “It does seem to breed a lot of discontent and anger.”  He insisted that many people misunderstood the project and invited anybody opposed to “take time to come up and see it”, believing it would change their minds. “Nobody is down range,” he added. “It would be silly and irresponsible for me to shoot in the direction of homes.”  But others insisted that there are homes that lie across the woods in the direction of the long-range and 180 degree firing ranges.

While there are berms around actual shooting ranges on the site, some 20 feet high, ECM asked Halcon what protections are in place to guard against stray bullets fired by shooters practicing high-angle shooting from atop the cliff (photo, right).  He said those doing high-angle shooting are “elite-type response teams” not “everyday people” adding, “When our long-distance people miss, they miss by six inches.”  He suggests there is greater danger near the Lemon Grove Gun Club not far away, which he was once president of for 12 years.  He says the range was there first and houses came in after, “downrange, basically.” 

He says there have never been .50 automatic weapons fired at his property, though didn’t rule out the possibility of that in the future.  As for lead contamination, he claims he has tested the water in the past twice and will be doing so again soon. “This is my water and it affects me, too.”

Halcon says he has compromised by agreeing to stop commercial shooting at 7 p.m., even though the county noise ordinance allows noise up until 10 p.m.  He has agreed to clear 300 feet of brush when only 100 feet is required.  “I would have a lot to lose if a major fire roared through here,” he insists.  He says he has paid thousands of dollars for noise studies that measure different types of weapons used and multiply them electronically. He invited ECM to come up at a future large social shooting function and offered to set up decibel  meters.

“Any controversial project, whether power lines or windmills or even a new house, there are people who don’t want it,” the shooting range owner observed, then  added that his property rights are at stake.

“I could have 100 people up here shooting at one time by right,” he observed. “By entering into this contract with the County, I’m limited the number of people and the number of firearms.”  The County set the rules, Halcon concludes. “We didn’t make up those rules—we’re following those rules,” he concludes.

In the end, property rights for Halcon to conduct shooting won out over property rights of residents seeking peace and quiet.  Planners who voted for Covert Canyon also seemed swayed by arguments of training law enforcement and protecting national security in a post-911 world over protecting the local environment.

In the community , some voiced disgust with planners’ actions.  Charlene Ayers, publisher of the Ranter’s Roost discussion group online, has long-covered land use issues by the County Planning Commission.  She voiced disgust over the three planners who sided with Covert Canyon to bring an interpretation to the zoning ordinance that allows such intensive commercial shooting operations under a law enforcement definition on backcountry lands. Ayers stated bluntly in an e-mail to Roost readers, “I hate those people.”

George Barnett, a member of the Alpine Community Planning Group, has sent a letter to Supervisor Jacob urging her to hear the appeal  against firearms training at Covert Canyon. He also suggests changes to the Zoning Ordinance should be made for the future, noting that it was written at a time when “it cannot reasonably be imagined that its drafters nor the then Boar of Supervisors could have anticipated the increasing militarization of law enforcement tactics and weaponry; everything from S.W.A.T. operations and the use of dangerous, highly lethal, long range anti-personnel weapons. That is also the case for a plethora of `new’ law enforcement training such as `live-tissue trauma training’ involving the killing of pigs as part of medical training for corpsmen. None of this has an intrinsic connection with agricultural land use.”

Barmett also voiced alarm over safety, noting that Covert Canyon, a 150 acre property, has shooting ranges just 100 yards from public land in Cleveland National Forest, where hiking is allowed, and perhaps 200 yards from the closest residence. By contrast, he says the Navy is currently securint thousands of acres of public and private lands, in part to protect the public and residents from shooting during firearms training at a Navy Seals mountain training base, Camp Michael Monsoor in La Posta.    

Barnett notes that as a former “expert marksman”  and National Rifle Association member, “I have a scar near my eye where I was struck by an errant round during a controlled rifle match inside of a purposefully built shooting range operated by a major city police department. Accidents happen.”


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Comments

In the "global war on terror" ....

..you have a greater chance to be struck by lightning, or shot by a toddler or one of these gun nuts, then disturbed by a "terrorist". . . .there's corruption everywhere...what's in it for these "planners?"...I smell money.

response

Maybe it is because of the training and commitment to public safety by our first responders that keeps those odds so low? Am I reading your post correctly, are you referring to the first responders training at Covert Canyon as gun nuts?