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Should More Development Be Allowed In Cleveland National Forest?

A meadow covered in wildflowers in the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County.
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.
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, private land shown in brown.
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.

Corrected: December 8, 2022 at 4:01 AM PST
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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