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Planning Commission recommends policy on mitigation of county-owned lands

San Diego County’s Planning Commission has recommended approval of a proposed Board of Supervisors policy regarding mitigation of county-owned land managed by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

The 5-1 vote November 13 saw Planning Commissioners Michael Beck, Leon Brooks, Peder Norby, David Pallinger, and Bryan Woods support the recommendation while John Riess was opposed. Commissioner Adam Day was not present at the meeting.

“I think it’s a terrific program,” Pallinger said.

While the Planning Commission provided a recommendation, the actual decision to create the policy will result from a vote of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The county supervisors are expected to consider the proposed policy on January 13.

The proposal for the new policy was a collaboration between the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU), the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Department of General Services (DGS). The proposed policy will create procedures to be followed when a request is made to utilize county-owned land managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) as mitigation for impacts associated with private or public development projects.

“It allows us to build out the areas in our regional programs that are the most biologically important,” said Trish Boaz, the chief of the Resource Management Division of the DPR.

The mitigation policy would also streamline the planning and implementation of the mitigation phase of projects.

“It could also help applicants to meet other requirements,” said Boaz, noting that wetland and permit issues could also be accommodated through agreements between developers and the DPR.

The program would be voluntary for developers.

“The key word here is option,” said DPLU director Eric Gibson.

If the developer chooses to participate in the program, the choice also exists between an in-house determination of the value of the land and habitat or an independent appraisal.

“Both options are available,” Boaz said.

If the policy is approved by the county supervisors, the DPR will maintain a list and map of county land available to mitigate project impacts. The list will only contain lands with biological preservation or restoration value and which have not previously been used for mitigation or counted towards Multiple Species Conservation Program baseline levels.

If a private applicant makes a request to participate in the program, the DPLU will contact the DPR to determine if suitable land is available. The DPLU will then determine whether that land is adequate mitigation for the project’s biological impacts.

Revenue generated through the policy will be deposited into the Multiple Species Conservation Program acquisition account. Land to be acquired from such revenue will be determined from the criteria of contribution to the regional conservation program, connectivity to permanently-protected land, state or Federal designation as priority acquisitions, water quality, and the ability to restore the land for habitat purposes.

The account will not be used to purchase land which does not meet the regional conservation needs forecast by the county, land designated for a public purpose or use which is not consistent with habitat or resource protection, or land already encumbered by a conservation easement.

Beck expressed concern about the lack of outside input for some steps.

“The market really drives the process,” he said. “I think it’s critical that the market stays open.”

Boaz noted that eminent domain would not be used to acquire land. Boaz also noted that the term “stewardship” included trash removal and other maintenance.

The new Board of Supervisors policy is not expected to alter current DPR practice of not determining public access issues at the time of acquisition.

“The public access plans are put together at the time the resource management plan is prepared,” Boaz said.

Boaz added that the development of the proposed board policy has involved input from the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game. “We’re also working on a conservation agreement with them,” she said.

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