The overlay designator for land which had been previously restricted by the Forest Conservation Initiative was approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors’ 5-0 vote Feb. 26 does not prohibit a general plan amendment for properties within the overlay area although any general plan amendment must meet water supply, fire safety, environmental resource, land use pattern, emissions, and open space (including agriculture) preservation criteria and would also be analyzed for consistency with the county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment in conjunction with the nearest Village or Rural Village area.
“I think this is a good thing,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
In 1993 the county’s voters passed the Forest Conservation Initiative (FCI) which stipulated a density of one dwelling unit per 40 acres for lands within the Cleveland National Forest boundary but outside of existing community town areas. The FCI covered approximately 286,000 acres, including approximately 72,300 acres under county land use jurisdiction, and prevented general plan land use designations from being changed until the FCI’s expiration date of December 31, 2010. The hearings on the update to the county’s general plan began prior to the expiration date, so the FCI lands were not included in that update which was approved in August 2011 although during the update process county Department of Planning and Land Use (which became the Department of Planning and Development Services in 2012) staff began a separate effort on new maps for FCI land based on the principles of the general plan update. DPLU staff did not pursue significant changes when the new maps were developed, and most of the planned additional development was near the Viejas Indian Reservation in Alpine. (Viejas had a casino on the north side of Willows Road in 1993, but the Viejas Outlet Center mall on the south side of Willows Road did not open until 1998 and the hotel annex to the casino opened in 2013). If a property transferred to a tribal government is held by that tribe in fee rather than in trust it is subject to county land use and zoning regulations, but if the property is added to the reservation trust it is exempt from county land use jurisdiction.
In addition to developing the maps Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) staff identified alternatives, and the county’s Planning Commission held hearings in October 2013 and November 2013. In November 2013 the Planning Commission voted 5-1, with Michael Beck opposed due to concerns regarding Alpine and John Riess absent, to recommend the rezones. The maps went to the Board of Supervisors in June 2014, although the action was to choose a preferred map for the Environmental Impact Report rather than to adopt the general plan amendment for the densities. The supervisors’ 3-1 vote, with Ron Roberts absent and Dave Roberts opposed due to his preference for the FCI densities to be used as the baseline to evaluate the draft EIR, returned the update to PDS for environmental analysis and also directed staff to prepare a scope of work for a special study in eastern Alpine.
The proposed general plan amendments were heard by the Planning Commission in October 2016. Votes on four Alpine land use adjustments were separated from the remainder of the actions which had no opposition. The four proposed Alpine changes were Residential Commercial zoning for a 4.2-acre parcel along Willows Road west of Viejas Casino, a density of 14.5 dwelling units per acre for a 152-acre area east of Viejas, a one-acre minimum lot size for a 300 foot wide portion of a 51.4-acre parcel on the south side of Alpine Boulevard to create a buffer between minimum lot sizes of 6,000 square feet to the west and one dwelling unit per four acres to the east, and a change in minimum lot size from 40 to eight acres for five parcels north of Japatul Valley Road totaling approximately 1,200 acres.
The new land use designations for the former FCI land along with a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report were approved by the Board of Supervisors in December 2016. The following month a lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, and Save Our Forests and Ranchlands. The county and the plaintiffs began settlement discussions, and in February 2019 a settlement agreement was reached in which the county would place a Forest Indicator overlay over the former FCI lands outside of Village or Rural Village boundaries. The settlement required the Board of Supervisors to consider adoption of the FCI overlay within 12 months of the settlement agreement date if no Environmental Impact Report was required or within 18 months if an EIR was required.
The overlay does not change the land use regulations or general plan densities adopted by the Board of Supervisors in December 2016.