Dragging a dream through the mud

ROSS is a writer and member of the Carmel Valley Planning Board.

06-Jul-1995 Thursday

Public officials rarely have an opportunity to exhibit statesmanship by
casting a vote that eloquently speaks for social values and democratic
principles while creating a legacy.

Members of the Board of Supervisors proved themselves incapable of grasping
that moment with their recent vote to blow off 30,000 acres of the San
Dieguito River Park, the 55-mile-long dream of pristine open space
stretching between Del Mar and Julian. Instead, they fanned the flames of
anti-government hysteria.

Rather than standing tall for a vision 20 years in the making by people
representing all segments of the political spectrum, four Republican
supervisors established their property-rights credentials by exploiting the
fears of East County ranchers and farmers. Supervisors Dianne Jacob and
Bill Horn led the drive to recommend exclusion of all private property from
the planning area of the park.

More than a recommendation, the result is a threat by the county to
withdraw from the park's Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and to take over
already-acquired park land in its jurisdiction if over half of the
envisioned park is not trimmed from the plan.

In the process, the supervisors didn't kill the park dream; they dragged
it through the mud. By encouraging property owners' fears, they added
"park" to the growing list of four-letter words that include "arts" and
"NASA." Thanks to the supervisors' performance, the Joint Powers Authority
for the river park can join the ranks of the "jack-booted government

Park advocates and elected officials on the JPA have been called effete
flatlanders, elitist coastal yuppies, defilers of the Fifth Amendment and

In all their preening for whipped-up ranchers waving the Fifth Amendment,
the supervisors and their followers on this issue have failed to remind
themselves and the property owners that the JPA has no power to change
zoning nor does it have the resources to condemn private property. Even
with owner consent, condemnation is too expensive for any government agency
to currently consider.

In the good old days, when environmental credentials were essential for a
politician's resume, conservatives climbed all over each other to serve
time on the San Dieguito River Park JPA. The JPA was virtually powerless to
do anything but scramble for money, to plan and to hope. Miraculously,
through 10 years of diligent effort by committed volunteers, a skeleton
staff and elected officials with vision, a thoughtful plan emerged that
reflected a broad political consensus.

The JPA actually managed to acquire land through careful purchases and land
donations. The JPA proved that there could not be a more fiscally
responsible organization nor one more mindful of the Fifth Amendment. The
agency's biggest coup was the acquisition of Rutherford Ranch, a 900-acre
eastern connection into the Borrego Desert.

But soon after the champagne corks popped at the ranch, rumors began
spreading among property owners west of Rutherford that the government was
coming to take away their land. After losing a court battle against the JPA
last year, fear found a friend in newly elected Supervisor Bill Horn and
politically ambitious Dianne Jacob, who mined this new movement and fed the
fires of government paranoia. Land owners received a letter from a
property-rights group before the recent vote, warning that unless they
testified at public hearings, they could lose their land to a government

Clearly, the Board of Supervisors was poised to embark on an agenda so
radically out of the mainstream that conservative Republican Ron Roberts
looked like a moderate, casting the only opposition vote to Jacob's
motion. San Diego City Council member Harry Mathis, a representative on the
JPA, and Mayor Susan Golding, neither of whom could be described as
tree-hugging liberals, have worked behind the scenes to counter Board of
Supervisors' moves.

On this issue, Supervisor Pam Slater, whose district includes the western
end of the park, has sold her own allies down their precious river. The
shock of that betrayal has been even more stunning than the supervisors'
actions for the people who devoted a decade to the park dream with
Slater's support.

Slater's announcement for re-election on a conservative talk radio show
forewarned the new property-rights credentialing fad among some Republican
politicians with their sights on higher office. But sacrificing a visionary
park for those credentials is Machiavellian even to the most cynical among

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