Inhabitants of Julian who oppose the development of 1416 acres of local back country have a newfound victory to celebrate. An appellate court has reversed the decision by the county board of supervisors which would have allowed a 24-lot subdivision to be built on the land.
The development of the property (known as Hosking’s Ranch II) is being spearheaded by Linden Blue’s Genesee Properties, Inc. The company is based out of Lakewood, Colorado, but has a strong local connection to San Diego. Linden Blue and his brother James Neal Blue own San Diego’s largest defense contractor, General Atomics.
The use of the land in Julian was in dispute because the majority of it was under a Williamson Act contract. The Williamson Act (known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965) “enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use. In return, landowners receive property tax assessments which are much lower than normal because they are based upon farming and open space uses as opposed to full market value.”
In other words, property owners get sweet tax-breaks for restricting their land to agricultural use. The question that quickly popped-up when the plans for Hosking’s Ranch II were revealed was how these subdivisions could be defined as agricultural and not residential.
When they approved the tentative map of the development, the county board of supervisors found that the subdivision "will not result in residential development not incidental to the commercial agricultural use of the land." The Cleveland National Forest Foundation appealed this decision, and argued that it violated both the Subdivision Map Act and, according to the appellate ruling, “undermines the Williamson Act by permitting a residential, rather than agricultural, subdivision on the property and giving the property developers a valuable residential entitlement while they are still receiving a taxpayer subsidy intended for those who maintain the land in agricultural or compatible non-urban uses.”
In arguing that the subdivisions were residential and not agricultural, Cleveland National Forest “points to evidence that the site cannot support small commercial farms in terms of soil and sufficient groundwater, as well as conclusions within the final EIR and the agricultural analysis that it claims show each individual lot is not feasible for commercially viable agriculture or farming.”
The appellate court agreed with this assessment and so, for now, the area will remain untouched.
Lynne Jarman (a Julian resident since 2012) has been following this issue since December of 2015. At that time, she was notified by one of her neighbors that he had received several notices advising him that the county was going to have a hearing at the planning commission to approve a recommendation from the department of planning services — the subdivisions of Hosking’s Ranch. Jarman began to investigate the project and spread the word about it to her community.
“What I found talking with so many people, starting in December of 2015, was that most people had no idea this was going on,” Jarman said. “Once we started informing them and discussing how we interpreted the law that controlled this type of land use, I can’t recall any real opposition. The Julian Planning Group, which had been asked by the County of San Diego Department of Planning and Land Use to evaluate the project and make a recommendation had done so, basically years before — occasionally, tuning up whatever additional or different input they wanted to give to the department of planning and land use. They were initially surprised that there was so much opposition to this in the community because it had been very quietly pursued from what I could understand over the course of quite a few years.”
As previously reported in the Reader, Hosking’s Ranch II was first pitched and rejected in 2003, and once again shot down in 2006, even though, at that time, county “supervisors directed staff to work with Genesee Properties to come up with a solution to subdivide the property while allowing them to remain in compliance with the Williamson Act.” The fruits of their labor may have been the new plans that were presented in 2015. These also arrived with a large portion of the land being dedicated to agricultural use and 60 head of cattle to graze close enough to the new homes to deem the subdivisions agricultural.
“The only thing that changed was that in 2018, when this matter came before the board of supervisors, according to the ranch manager for Hosking’s Ranch, there were approximately 40-60 head of cattle on the property that were grazing. Leased cattle at the rate of about 10 dollars a month of rental income. That hardly qualifies as a commercial agricultural experience and it was generating $400-600 a month to the owner of 1400 acres of what’s known as Hosking’s Ranch,” Jarman said.
While the developers tried to milk the grazing cows for all they were worth, Jarman feels that they are a better addition to the land than the apple orchards that they hinted at including. Julian has an issue with water, and apple orchards require thousands of gallons of it. The entire Pine Hills area where the property is located depends on well water that is harvested from small fissures. It is a resource that is in short supply.
“I thought that was kind of crazy because our water is not only very scarce, it’s very unpredictable and it’s been changing dramatically and getting much smaller every year. This past year, we finally had a winter and a spring with enough precipitation to make a huge difference, but every hydrologist and well person I talk to tells me you need ten years of that kind of water production from the sky in order to recharge whatever water sources we have in the community. One year of water is not going to change it,” she said.
The county and Genesee Properties have requested a rehearing from the court of appeals. If that is either denied or once again doesn’t work out in their favor Genesee Properties could take the case to the California Supreme Court. For the moment, the land remains undisturbed.
“I think it’s very bad policy to allow these kinds of developments to materially change the plan of the people who are monitoring how California evolves as we go forward into each new century,” Jarman concluded. “We are very glad that the California Court of Appeals was receptive to our argument and that they too, in enforcing the law, want to make sure that we comply with the environmental focus of the Williamson Act and the Subdivision Map Act.”