SLO County supervisors extend oak tree, reservoir ordinances

August 17, 2016
Truckloads of lumber being removed

Truckloads of lumber being removed

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to extend a temporary regulation that prohibits the removal of oak trees without a permit. In a separate unanimous vote, the supervisors extended an ordinance that aims to protect the county’s underground water resources.

In July, the board of supervisors adopted the urgency ordinances in response to public outrage over the actions of billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick. Since the Resnicks bought Justin Vineyards in 2010, they have cut down thousands of oak trees from properties they purchased in North County.

During the July meeting, Supervisor Bruce Gibson rejected recommendations by Supervisor Debbie Arnold to have a more comprehensive urgency ordinance that considered zoning. Supervisor Debbie Arnold then voted against the urgency ordinance, saying the regulation was too far-reaching in that it did not differentiate rangeland from agricultural land and placed burdensome requirements on ranchers.

“It is to restrictive and it goes far beyond the problems that we are having,” Arnold said. “It was adopted so quickly it did not take into account the number of dying trees because of the drought or provide exemptions to people building single family homes. It is onerous and expensive.”

 Though Arnold voted Tuesday to extend the ordinance, she, along with Supervisor Lynn Compton, argued against a long-term extension of the regulation.

Arnold and Compton said the tree removal should be a temporary measure that should only be extended for up to six months.

Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill called for extending the ordinance for a full year. Hill argued oak trees are commons, like water and fisheries, that everyone draws from and uses to sustain themselves.

As a compromise, Gibson proposed a nine-month extension, which the supervisors unanimously approved. The ordinance prohibits property owners from removing oak trees without first obtaining a permit. The urgency ordinance requires land owners who want to remove 10 percent of a tree canopy to get a conditional use permit. Those who wish to remove less than 10 percent must obtain a minor use permit.

Arnold said she is now focused on addressing issues with the urgency ordinance in a permanent ordinance.

“We were not permitted to change the urgency ordinance, we either had to keep it or throw it away,” Arnold said. “I want to focus on a well-thought out permanent ordinance. It should address where we are having problems; converting rangeland to development and farming.”

Criticism of the Resnicks and Justin Vineyards peaked after aerial photos showing the clear-cutting of oak trees on Justin Vineyards-managed property emerged in June. At the same time, property owners also voiced concerns with Justin Vineyards using underground water sources to fill large reservoirs during a drought.

Following much less debate, the board approved the extension of the reservoir ordinance. The supervisors also directed county staff to consider drafting permanent regulations for reservoirs and agricultural ponds.

As a measure to protect water resources, the board adopted an ordinance that requires reservoir approvals to likewise go through a county permit process.

On Tuesday, the board voted to extend the tree removal ordinance until April 2017 and to extend the reservoir ordinance until May 2017.

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The reservoirs can catch rainwater and recharge the ground water. They are an excellent idea. Ground water recharge through direct injection is the best solution for California.

People that are now blocked from developing their property should get a property tax refund from all those concerned citizens protecting oak trees.

The city of Paso Robles already has an Oak Tree Removal permit where the applicant has to agree to plant replacement oak trees of the same species, which I think is a good idea. Another great idea is to have a tree arborist do an inspection first before the permit is just signed off.

This makes me wonder how Resnick got away with what he did if there is already a permit process in place in Paso Robles. Was it just a case of cutting the trees down first and begging forgiveness last? If so, then the county board of supervisors needs to take a long hard look at this process that is already in place and how it didn’t work in this case and how to make it work in the future. How about banning all clear cutting of native oak trees period? We don’t have the water here to sustain anymore housing tracks, so large housing developers can go away.

There remains some hard work and research on how to make the native oak tree removal process work. I hope the board does their homework! The oak trees are what make this area so beautiful and special and I would hate to see another Resnick case come up before there are some strict guidelines and even stricter repercussions in place.

Justin Vineyards and Winery isn’t located in the city of Paso Robles so the city’s laws and rules don’t apply. The land fall within the jurisdiction of the County.

Imagine that..a consensus regarding a NO BRAINER decision. Our government officials hard at work.

Bruce got it wrong while the trees continue to fall due to fire and drought. Then there are the dry reservoirs, does he really think that people are going to spend money building more of them? Gov at it’s best, more sloppy regulation when the public specifically asked to take a look at a clear cutting ordinance.

Give me a tractor and a few hours, and I’ll have myself a reservoir. I then drill a deep well, and pump my reservoir full. My grapes are more important then your showers, so my neighbors can take a hike.

Show me an environmentalist and I can show you a hypocrite. If I farmed grapes, it would be more important to irrigate my crop than the neighboring growth of a corporation city (incorporated city like Paso Robles) so that they can afford their youthful retiree pension liabilities, lavished salaries and traveling conferences where they can join other corporations to learn how to grow more houses/taxpayers. Thankfully we have agriculture to keep corporation cities under control. Those nasty corporations cities not the stewards of the land. Get on a hill and look at Paso Robles 40 years ago and look at it today, I rest my case. Oh yes, likewise for the grapes but remember the zoning has not changed and unless all farm land is converted to residential zoning it will be farmed when the ownership decides to.

We certainly need to more good stewards of the land. A bajillion acres of grapes on clear-cut land owned by huge “nasty corporations” sucking up all the water from local growers who are actually good stewards of the land? Not so good.

Here’s how it I think it works. I use my massive financial resources to buy a large tract of farmland (from a farmer, of course). I then “influence” various county officials to rezone the land so I can build houses. If I have enough “influence”, I won’t have to justify where the water is coming from. I build the houses, sell them for way more than they’re worth, and move onto the next tract of land. It looks easy to me.

Can’t sell a house for “way more than it’s worth” unless someone buys it. In your scenario, all people who live in houses should be indicted along with the developer.

I agree, however, that we need more good stewards. I disagree that you can regulate that into place. Regulation chases farmers out and allows attorneys, consultants and big money in.