Would Bill Horn benefit from the massive Lilac Hills Ranch development?
An environmental nonprofit has put San Diego County supervisor Bill Horn and his colleagues on the board on notice: follow the advice of the Fair Political Practices Commission and don't permit Horn's vote to weigh in on the massive Lilac Hills Ranch development slated for Valley Center, just over a mile from Horn's 37-acre ranch.
The proposed Lilac Hills Ranch development includes construction of 1746 homes and 90,000 square feet of retail on approximately 600 acres of land just east of Interstate 15 near West Lilac Road in Valley Center. If approved, the development would be the largest and most dense mixed-use development within miles. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, current zoning laws allow for only 110 homes on the 600-acre plot.
Environmental groups and others have blasted the proposal, whereas Horn supports the development.
Conflict of interest?
At issue is whether Horn has a potential conflict of interest in voting for the project. Improvements to nearby infrastructure and the potential for future development would most likely raise property values for nearby landowners, Horn included.
On October 13, after the Fair Political Practices Commission advised there was a potential conflict of interest, Horn issued a statement announcing that he was recusing himself from voting on Lilac Hills.
Horn quickly backtracked. In public statements made in the following days, the North County supervisor attacked the commission for intruding on democracy and silencing his constituents by preventing him from voting on the development. He called the letter a "clear case of overreach."
Horn claims that he has nothing to gain from the development. He has said his land is not suitable for development; besides, he entered into a contract with the state under the the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, also known as the Williamson Act, which prevents him from developing any portion of his property in exchange for breaks on property taxes.
Cleveland National Forest Foundation on alert
Horn's decision to fight the commission's advice has raised questions from the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit environmental preservation group.
In an October 19 letter, the group demanded that Horn and his colleagues take heed of the commission's advice, or else be in jeopardy of legal action.
"There is no reason for Supervisor Horn or the County to be alarmed at the [Fair Political Practices Commission's] advice, which provides a narrow, fact-based analysis of Supervisor Horn’s particular situation in this instance. The [commission] nowhere implies that other Supervisors in other situations will also have to recuse themselves in decisions involving smaller developments, or developments in more built-up areas. Likewise, the situation might be different if a Supervisor merely owned a home nearby a proposed development, and did not own developable land, as Supervisor Horn does. In any event, Supervisors concerned about potential conflicts in the future may always seek the [commission's] advice, as Supervisor Horn did here."
As for Horn's agreement to not develop the land, attorneys for the Cleveland National Forest Foundation say that the contract will likely expire before the development is complete, and Horn could cash in later.
"Supervisor Horn claims that the Lilac Hills Ranch project cannot increase the value of his property because it is currently under a Williamson Act contract and contains many steep, allegedly undevelopable slopes. While it is true that his land is currently protected by a Williamson Act contract, the [commission] has already described why this fact is not relevant. Specifically, such contracts are subject to termination, which would allow Supervisor Horn or successors in interest to develop the property.
"...[T]here is no basis for Supervisor Horn to ask the [commission] to reconsider its advice that he has a disqualifying conflict of interest with regard to the Lilac Hills Ranch development. But if Supervisor Horn requests new advice, it is imperative that he present accurate and complete information to the [Fair Political Practices Commission] regarding the development potential of his property. His failure to do so would undermine public trust, subvert our democratic system, and expose himself and the County to liability."