On Wednesday, October 19, San Diego County supervisors will consider whether to approve a proposal to transform 1416 acres of untouched wilderness in Julian into 24 residential properties called Hoskings Ranch II.
They will consider the development, as reported by the Reader in June of this year, despite warnings from the State of California's Department of Conservation that approving the project could be illegal.
Local residents have criticized the proposal from Colorado-based Genesee Properties Incorporated and accused county staff and supervisors of kowtowing to the development company's owner (Linden Blue, who along with his brother James Neal Blue own General Atomics), San Diego County's largest defense contractor.
Residents say that Genesee is taking advantage of state tax credits included in the Williamson Act which reward rural landowners for preserving open space by providing major tax breaks. At the same time,
however, the act requires the developer to enter into long-term contracts. In order to exit the program the developer must give notification which begins a ten-year long process wherein the tax breaks are reduced.
Tax records show that in 2006 Blue received a $36,000 tax break for preserving the land.
But Blue, with the county's permission, wants it both ways. The developer is asking supervisors to adjust the minimum lot sizes required by the Williamson Act from 160-acre parcels to 40 acres in order to allow him to continue to collect the tax breaks while selling off the land for a profit.
In a February 2016 letter, the Department of Conservation notified the county that the project violated the Williamson Act.
“The proposed subdivision of contracted land has no relevance to the existing commercial agricultural use of the land: therefore, the imminent residential development which will follow this subdivision cannot be considered incidental. …[T]he department finds the proposed subdivision inconsistent with the Williamson Act and the Subdivision Map Act,” read the letter.
Despite the warning the county's planning commission approved subdividing the property. That decision has now come to the full board for final approval.
Residents of Julian have objected to the development since it first surfaced in 2003 and have been steadfast in their opposition. They formed the Julian Action Committee to try and raise awareness.
The group believes the development will create additional traffic, obstruct views, and deplete natural resources. Making matters worse, the group objects to the fact that the billionaire developer and new tenants will be allowed to forego paying taxes which would normally help pay for public services.
“A billionaire will continue to receive tax breaks and be able to get that much more profit by promising prospective owners nominal property tax bills while our small community struggles to provide public safety and public works services to them,” resident Brian Kramer told the Reader in June 2016.
Residents have hinted that they would be willing to file a lawsuit to challenge the development. It appears as if the county will be prepared to fight the suit.
Included in the October 19 vote is a motion that would force Blue and Genessee Properties to indemnify the county if a lawsuit is filed.
Reads the agenda item, "Require the [Genessee Properties] to enter into a Defense and Indemnification Agreement with the county...and authorize the Director of [Planning and Development Services] to execute the agreement. If litigation is filed challenging the board's action on this project, require Genesee properties, Inc. to provide security in the amount of $750,000.00 in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit or bond..."
The board will hear the item during the 9am meeting at the County Administration Building.