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Should More Development Be Allowed In Cleveland National Forest?

Above: A meadow covered in wildflowers in the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County.

A proposal to allow more development on private lands within the Cleveland National Forest has split the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The new plan would replace the Forest Conservation Initiative, passed by voters in 1993. That initiative, which has now expired, allowed one house per 40 acres on private land within the forest boundaries.

Cleveland National Forest Foundation

Cleveland National Forest, private land shown in brown.

The proposal before the supervisors would allow more development on some properties and make development more difficult on others. Minimum lot sizes would vary from 80 acres to less than 1 acre. More than 70,000 acres of rural private land would be affected by the new zoning.

The supervisors listened Wednesday to several hours of testimony from private land owners and people concerned about increased fire risk, decreasing groundwater and forest conservation. William Metz, forest supervisor with the Cleveland National Forest, was worried about potential changes around Alpine, where the community could double in size.

“The Cleveland National Forest lands in this area are heavy with fuel loadings that make them particularly hazardous from a fire suppression standpoint, “ Metz said. “The congressionally mandated Pine Creek wilderness lies directly to the east of this area. Increased development would potentially have an impact on this wilderness character. Additionally, groundwater withdrawal could also affect water resources for the National Forest.”

Metz supported county staff recommendations where they propose keeping lot sizes at 40 acres. But the US Forest Service has serious reservations about proposals to reduce lot size to allow for more development.

The county’s Planning Commission recommendations, based on consulting with communities and land owners, would allow for even more development than the staff recommendations.

In the end, four out of five Supervisors agreed to tell staff to work on an environmental impact report using options based on staff and planning commission recommendations. Those options would be compared to the impacts of reverting to land-use guidelines BEFORE the Forest Initiative passed.

Using the old guidelines instead of those in the initiative creates a context where the staff and planning commission recommendations appear to be an improvement, in terms of limiting development.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob was part of the board majority.

“No final decisions have been made” Jacob said. “A lot’s going to depend on the development of that final environmental document, what those impacts are. “

But Supervisor Dave Roberts, the newest member of the board and the only Democrat, voted against the options included in the environmental report. He took a stand with environmental groups that wanted to maintain the protections in the Forest Conservation Initiative, known as the FCI.

“I think that by not analyzing FCI as the baseline here and showing voters the difference, that this will be a costly mistake that the board will have made,” Roberts said.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation wants the minimum 40 acre lot size to be the third option on the table. The foundation’s Jack Shu argued that two-thirds of San Diegans voted to preserve the forest 20 years ago and that plan should be used as the yardstick for any changes.

A lawsuit filed by the foundation in 2012 derailed a regional transportation plan that did not meet state standards for reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The group believes allowing more development in the forest lands would also contribute to climate change.

Shu said planning should not have to be accomplished through law suits.

Staff agreed to return to the board with an environmental impact report this winter.

An earlier version of the story did not clarify that the Forest Service supported the county staff recommendations that mainaint the 40 acre minimum lots, not all the staff recommendations

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 26, 2014 at 10:51 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

A little here, a little there, pretty soon the forest is destoyed.

There should be no allowences for development there.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 26, 2014 at 2:28 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

It is a national forest! No development!!!!!

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Avatar for user 'sara_k'

sara_k | June 26, 2014 at 4:59 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

It was encouraging to hear the words of praise for the Forest Conservation Initiative from Forest Supervisor Metz and others from the US Forestry Service, and disconcerting to hear from the Forest Fire Chief the very real challenges, expenses and dangers of fighting fires in the forest in the areas that contain homes.

It would be unwise to throw away the successes of the FCI in protecting those lands over the past two decades, and foolhardy to ignore the advice and direction forest fire experts.

THANK YOU to Supervisor Dave Roberts for his strong comments in support of the integrity of the forest. Let's hope this process concludes with a reinstatement of forest protections, and that Chairwoman Jacob's recommendation comes up with sensible options for the Alpine area.

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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | June 26, 2014 at 5:12 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

San Diego County voters made it very clear that they want the forest protected when they passed the Forest Conservation Initiative. Now wealthy property owners are bribing County board members to get their inholdings upzoned. If the board refuses to respect the voters clear intent now, it may be time to vote some of them out of office and pass a new initiative preventing them from overturning the FCI.

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Avatar for user 'mdsd'

mdsd | June 26, 2014 at 7:28 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Thanks to Supervisor Roberts for his leadership and for supporting San Diegans' wishes to preserve this important wilderness, especially at a time when we need to be reducing resource use due to climate change - not using more resources and putting new areas at risk of wildfires and water shortages. Let's keep the forest wild!

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Avatar for user 'glennyounger'

glennyounger | June 27, 2014 at 2:50 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Are we not talking about the Private Land? The Forest Service can not, as if by fiat, take land from private landowners without compensating them for that land. So the land remains private, and is "surrounded by" Cleveland National Forest. There IS a way to make the land in question truly part of the National Forest; just buy the land. Be aware that buying it takes it off of the tax roles so the county would be reducing their tax base.

The FCI that passed in 1993 has now expired. I believe that they need to move quickly if they want to avoid any development that meets the land-use guidelines that were in place BEFORE the FCI was passed.

So before everyone gets to excited it is important to remember those 2 important facts.
Doing nothing means that the Supervisors are happy with reverting to the Pre-FCI plan. Is that what Dave Roberts really wants?

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Avatar for user 'reagansd'

reagansd | June 27, 2014 at 3:22 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Supervisor Roberts is a left wing servant for the radical environmentalists. This is private land and should be developed to take pressure off the housing shortages in San Diego

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Avatar for user 'jackkshu'

jackkshu | June 28, 2014 at 12:51 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Just because one owns the land does not mean you can do what you want with it. That is what planning, land use laws and zoning are about. I have a house in a R1 zone in my city. I'm not allowed to build an apartment on it and certainly not some commercial development. There are country towns in the Forest where some development and higher density residency is OK. However, it's not appropriate to allow commercial development or density higher than what was established by the FCI which have been in place for the past 20 years. I have an obligation as a land owner in a residential community and land owners within a National Forest also have obligations to help keep the Forest as it is.

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Avatar for user 'Shammyd'

Shammyd | July 5, 2014 at 5:56 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

This area has no more water. If additional development is allowed, the existing users will very likely run out of water. I sure hope the EIS shows that.

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