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Supervisors approve policy on mitigation of county-owned lands

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 January 13 to create a new Board of Supervisors policy regarding mitigation of county-owned land managed by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

In addition to adopting the policy, which is expected to streamline the planning and implementation of the mitigation phase of projects, as well as to provide the county with more revenue for land acquisition, the supervisors also directed the county’s auditor and controller to establish a separate interest-bearing trust fund for land stewardship endowment funds, authorized the county’s Chief Administrative Officer or his designee to enter into a conservation agreement with the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement the new policy, and directed the Chief Administrative Officer to return to the supervisors in one year to provide a status report on the policy’s implementation.

“This is an outstanding piece of work,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “This is a new opportunity that will provide an additional option for those seeking mitigation credits.”

The new policy resulted from collaboration between the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Planning and Land Use, the Department of Public Works, and the Department of General Services. 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 as mitigation for impacts associated with private or public development projects. Mitigation may include conservation or restoration of land, and revenue obtained through the process will be used to purchase additional preserve lands.

“It’s a win-win for the county and also for project applicants,” said Trish Boaz, the chief of the Resource Management Division of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

The program would be voluntary for developers. 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.

The Department of Parks and Recreation 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. The list will also exclude lands which are restricted in use by their funding source.

A county department or other public entity will be able to contact the Department of Parks and Recreation directly to determine if any county mitigation lands are available which meet a project’s biological mitigation requirements. If a private applicant makes a request to participate in the program, the Department of Planning and Land Use will contact the Department of Parks and Recreation to determine if suitable land is available. DPLU will then determine whether that land is adequate mitigation for the project’s biological impacts.

The in-house market analysis or the independent appraiser will determine the value of the mitigation credits and the amount to be paid to the Department of Parks and Recreation. A deposit to reserve mitigation credits for a certain period of time will be required. The Department of Parks and Recreation will also calculate the amount of endowment funding needed to cover ongoing stewardship costs of the mitigation land, and the developer will deposit that endowment into a separate trust account to pay for those costs. The Department of Parks and Recreation will review the cost of mitigation credits on an annual or biannual basis to determine if the costs should be adjusted.

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 county’s regional conservation program (including future MSCP plans), connectivity to permanently-protected land, state or Federal designation as priority acquisitions for habitat conservation, promotion of watershed protection and 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.

The draft conservation agreement, which sets forth requirements to administer the land and allocates the amount of credits at each site which qualify for available mitigation land, is currently being reviewed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The policy does not require county land to be used as mitigation and does not identify any particular projects which might use the land for mitigation. All projects which use county-owned land for mitigation will still be subject to environmental review.

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