SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved a draft version of a North County region conservation plan.
The board voted to receive the revised North County Multiple Species Conservation Plan, which according to the Parks and Recreation Department would provide the greatest environmental benefits.
Along with preserving open space, the goals of the North County plan are to protect water resources, create recreational opportunities, promote agricultural operations and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Deborah Mosley, Parks and Recreation group program manager, said the department reviewed five proposals and recommended Option 5, which also features a streamlined permitting process.
A final draft of the North County plan could be available for board consideration by 2024 or 2025.
The 50-year plan would cost up to $360 million, according to the Parks and Recreation Department. Initial plan costs would be $3.5 million.
Last year, the county hired ICF Consulting to review a 2017 draft version of the North County plan.
The county held numerous meetings with community groups, wildlife agencies, building groups, city officials and the general public. Stakeholder feedback was generally supportive of Option 5, Mosley said.
In 1997, the supervisors passed a conservation plan for the South County region, which has preserved nearly 80,000 acres. Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she hopes the North County plan will show similar results.
“This is a big day, and I hope we can be successful, again,” said Jacob, who was on the board when it approved the original MSCP. “I for one want to get this plan done.”
Jacob added that if the board didn’t approve the North County plan, future developments would deal with a long and costly process with the federal government. Jacob said agriculture will play an integral role in the plan.
Board Chairman Greg Cox said despite his earlier reservations when it was passed in the late 1990s, the South County MSCP has worked exceptionally well.
That MSCP “hasn’t been perfect, but a lot better than having no plan,” Cox said. “I hope those in support will live by the regulations.”
Supervisor Jim Desmond said he was OK with Option 5, but it was important to have a balance between preservation and development, especially in the areas along Interstate 15.
“I’m all in favor of protecting the environment, but we don’t live in a vacuum,” said Desmond, board vice chairman. “Where is development going to be placed?”
Desmond said another issue was the plan’s long-term cost, especially over a 50-year period.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the plan is a good starting place, but “we have to be mindful of implementation. This can be a useful tool to our county and provide a pathway to responsible development.”
Before voting, supervisors heard from the public, along with environmental and industry groups. Most voiced their support for Option 5.
Laura Hunter, coordinator with the Wildlife Habitat Conservation Coalition, described the plan as “a very important, smart-growth effort.”
Hannah Gbeh, executive director of San Diego County Farm Bureau, said the county is the state’s 12th largest farm economy, and there are concerns over how the North County plan may affect those working the land.
“We need assurances that North County MSCP will not kill agriculture in San Diego County,” Gbeh added.
Matthew Adams, vice president of Building Industry Association of San Diego, said his organization supports Option 5. “An appropriately designed plan could be beneficial for all concerned,” he added.
Two private landowners called in and requested that the county ensure a transparent process for approving the plan.
“The entire MSCP process has been insulated from land owners; it’s impossible to participate in it,” one woman told the board. “I request that staff engage with constituents.”