Panel defends, explains mitigation, conservation land


Last updated 2/25/2016 at Noon

With mitigation land banks and conservancy groups being a hot topic of late around Fallbrook, Vince Ross, chairman of the Fallbrook Community Forum, invited a panel of four knowledgeable speakers to the group's Feb. 18 session held at Fallbrook Public Utility District.

Ross, who co-founded Fallbrook Land Conservancy with Wallace Tucker 27 years ago, said he felt a better understanding of the topic might help local residents who have publicly expressed concerns about the process San Luis Rey Downs golf course is undergoing to create a mitigation land bank, and potential concerns over what may transpire with a portion of Fallbrook Golf Course.

After giving an overview of Fallbrook Land Conservancy's current management of 2,023 acres of land and 968 acres of conservation easements, Tucker introduced the speakers. They included Joanne Rodriguez, owner/broker of Mitigation Land Specialists; Ken Quigley, strategic/regional environmental planner for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton; and David Lawhead of the Calif. Dept. of Fish & Game.

Rodriguez, who specializes in mitigation properties, has resided in the area for 22 years.

"I have always worked under the radar, this is a niche area in real estate, but now it's a big topic" said Rodriguez, who has handled some significantly large projects in Southern California. With a solid background in real estate development, Rodriguez told attendees that when it comes to converting land to a mitigation bank, "There are many hoops to jump through."

Rodriguez explained that the process to convert land to mitigation use requires a solid, properly-managed plan. "Unmanaged open space needs to be managed or it becomes a trash dump," she said, showing photo examples of neglected properties littered with society's discards.

During her presentation, Rodriguez said, "I am here to defend mitigation banks, because when properly managed, they are beautiful."

Rodriguez pointed to a current project called San Luis Rey Mitigation Bank (not SLR Downs golf course), which is adjacent to State Route 76, near the new Mission Vista High School. She described how the San Luis Rey River flows in the area and then a channel interrupts the flow for agriculture purposes. "A plan has now been developed to re-channel the river and restore the area to its natural state. It will help the ecology and improve the scenic view," she said.

Of the existing condition and neglect of the San Luis Rey golf course property, Rodriguez said, "It is not yet a mitigation bank. It is not yet approved. It will be a project and will ultimately be beautiful, but it is a long process." She estimated the (total) process as taking somewhere between three and five years.

Lawhead expressed to attendees that the San Luis Rey golf course conversion project was moving along at a fairly good speed. "It is pretty close to being approved; I would expect that to happen by the end of this year."

Quigley talked to the group about environmental security on Camp Pendleton, handling encroachment control for the Base and the Marine Corps, and working together on conservation projects with the surrounding community.

"Pendleton has been the most effective partner in conservation efforts with the Fallbrook Land Conservancy," noted Tucker.

"[Land conservation and environmental protection] has become a much bigger job given the growth of Fallbrook and other areas next to the Base since it was established in the 1940s," said Quigley. "Over the decades there has been a lot of development along the Base boundaries."

Quigley said 40 percent of the training area on Camp

Pendleton has been identified as containing endangered species. "Training has to be done around this," he said.

In introducing Lawhead, Tucker said, "Almost every conservation project has to go through Fish & Game."

"Conservation is one of our primary missions," said Lawhead. "We deal with the permitting requirements regarding mitigation land and all the things that are necessary for that."

Lawhead explained that the agency's real estate arm, the Wildlife Conservation Board "funnels the funding for open space land," funds that are gained as a result of propositions that have received voter approval.

"When we review plans for a new development, we look at all the ways that the environmental concerns can be worked around before we require a builder to purchase mitigation land outside the property," said Lawhead.

Audience members at the forum were given an opportunity to ask questions of panel members at the end of the session. The first question raised reflected concern over Fallbrook Golf Course and what has been rumored to be a possible sale of the back nine to a conservation company.

The panel was asked what regulatory options were available to keep the owner of the private property from creating an environment that adversely affects the neighboring property owners, either through reduced aesthetics of the area if the parcel goes into further neglect or in the event some of the property ends up being sold to a housing developer.

"The owner of a private property can do anything they wish, but violate the law," explained Tucker. "If the owner seeks a change to the zoning or use of the property (which they would have to for either of those purposes), it would have to go through the proper process and that would include the plan being open to public review."

If an existing owner, or a new owner of a property desires to convert it to use as a conservation area/mitigation bank, Lawhead said they have to follow the established protocol in place, but

letting the property deteriorate isn't a wise choice.

"The more [the owner] lets the property go to weeds, the harder it can make it to get the project ready later to meet the guidelines necessary," said Lawhead.

Editor's Note: To be apprised of upcoming topics being heard at the Fallbrook Community Forum, email [email protected].


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