Supervisors set Sept. 11 hearing for Dehesa agricultural easement acquisition

Photo by Cynthia Robertson. The view of back country San Diego.

A Sept. 11 hearing will determine whether the County of San Diego acquires two agricultural easements including on a 154.84-acre property in Dehesa.

A 5-0 San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote Aug. 7 set the Sept. 11 hearing date. The potential Dehesa easement would be purchased for $381,000.

The Dehesa parcel is owned by Allen K. Trial. The land is east of Harbison Canyon Road and north of Dehesa Road.

In August 2011 the Board of Supervisors approved an update to the county’s general plan.

The update directed county staff to develop a pilot Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program to compensate willing property owners for placing an agricultural easement on their property which would limit future uses and eliminate future development. The resulting PACE program includes three eligibility requirements:  the property must have been actively farmed or ranched for at least two years prior to the application, the general plan update must have reduced the property’s density, and the property must have had the ability to be subdivided prior to the general plan update.

Between 500 and 600 property owners expressed interest in taking part in the program, and 60 property owners submitted applications for the pilot program.  The applications were ranked on criteria established by the PACE advisory group.

The primary ranking factor was the density reduction due to the general plan update, and other ranking criteria included agricultural viability and the ability to contribute to the assemblage of the Multiple Species Conservation Program.

The pilot program included a $2 million allocation covering $212,000 for independent third-party appraisals and $15,000 for title and escrow expenses as well as the funding to purchase the easements.

The appraisal which determined the value of the agricultural easements used the California Farmland Conservancy Program traditional approach which estimates the market value of the land if unencumbered and the market value of the land with the conservation easement and then determines the easement value by subtracting the encumbered appraisal value from the value of the unencumbered property.

The ten properties with the highest ranking were appraised during the pilot program.

The property owners ranked second and fifth declined the easement offers while the owners of five properties totaling ten legal parcels provided “willing seller letters.”

The acceptance of those five property owners exhausted the available funding, so offers were not made for the remaining ranked properties and appraisals were not made for the properties not ranked in the top ten.

In July 2013 the Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of the five properties totaling 738 acres for a cumulative price of $1,694,000.

If the Dehesa parcel and the 143.41-acre Rainbow parcel are both acquired, the county’s total agricultural acreage conserved under the PACE program would increase to 2,333.21 acres. The easements would be the 29th and 30th acquired under the PACE program and would bring the county’s total purchase payments to $5,990,470.