Half of the endangered species in the U.S. are west of the Mississippi. Half of those are in California. Half of those are in Southern California. Half of those are in San Diego County. Which goes a long way towards explaining why it is the most environmentally terrorized community in the United States, with regulators scheming to put half of the developable private land into permanent open space.
With 2.6 million people, San Diego County has over 200 plants and animals that are endangered or nearly so. That’s more than most U.S. states. Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps’ pristine reservation of 125,000 acres, has 18 endangered species, which prompted a recent ban on the Marines using most of their 17 miles of beachfront for exercises. The situation is also pretty bleak for property-owners.
You may think to yourself, “Well, that’s too bad for San Diego, but it’ll never happen here.” Think again. The Interior Department regards San Diego’s solution to endangered species as the way the whole country should approach it.
The region, one of the most desirable areas in the U.S., has also been targeted by Big Environmentalism, which wants to shut down as much private property as possible. Tangential strategies include adamant opposition to expansion of the region’s freeways and harassing lawsuits by green groups such as one called Save Our Forests and Ranchlands (SOFAR), which for several years created an effective building permit moratorium in all of the county’s agricultural lands.
The presence of coastlands, wetlands, grasslands, land near seasonal streams, any kind of land except concrete covered land, provides an excuse to put restrictions on its use and to require “mitigations.” Owning and selling “mitigation” land at a big profit has become something of a cottage industry in San Diego.
So has acquiring land by the tactic of making it almost worthless as an economic asset . Then “selfless” land conservancies can swoop down and offer to buy the now worthless land for cheap. It’s a ruse as old as the Old West range wars.
Representatives of these same conservancies and green groups often speak at planning commission and other land use hearings, lobbying to downzone properties whose owners they will later approach to buy.
Hence it is nearly impossible for a landowner to build without giving some property to the government for an open space or biological opens space easement.
A prominent land use attorney, William Schwartz, while participating in hearings for the upcoming revision of the County’s General Plan, an eruptive property-taking of Krakatoan proportions, was heard to grumble that a 70 percent set aside of his client’s land for open space for “the public good” ought to be sufficient. The county’s land planners were proposing 90 percent.
Bill Horn, a conservative county supervisor, pointed out ten years ago that government in its federal, state and county incarnations already owned more than 58 percent of the land.
“When you consider that 75.8 percent of the acreage in our county is already classed as open space, and more than 58 percent of all acreage is government owned, the question comes to mind, when is enough, enough?” he wrote, and was quoted again elsewhere as saying, “It’s really not an endangered species issue, it’s a land control issue.”
Ten years ago San Diego County pioneered something quite revolutionary called the Multiple Species Conservation Program. It set aside 172,000 acres of prime developable land (including 55,200 acres in San Diego City and the rest in the unincorporated part of the County) and make it off-limits to development. That was the stick. The carrot was that MSCP supposedly eliminated much of the environmental red tape for building on what private land was left.
Some of the best criticism against MSCP came early on when some scientists objected that it was based on intuition and not science. Those pushing MSCP conceded that point, but argued it was more important to acquire the habitat before it was developed because no one knew which lands were important and which weren’t. Eventually it became clear that all undeveloped land is considered potentially important.
When the MSCP was introduced, County government promised that it would be voted on by the people, that funding must be approved by the people and that if public funding was not found within three years the program would end. Supervisors who were reluctant to approve it were warned that enviros would stall every development pending until it was adopted. None of those promises were kept and the program is still in place.
Today there are MSCPs all over California and in several Western states, but San Diego’s is still the most ambitious.
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