County releases conservation plan for review
By Scott T. Barnes
The North County’s Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) has particular plans for Ramona.
The plan includes 200 pages of text and maps, with the stated purposes of creating environmental corridors to protect wildlife, making it easier for developers and landowners to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and maintaining the quality of life in North County.
A preliminary draft of the North County Plan was released for public review on Feb. 19, with a 45-day public comment period that will end on April 6.
The plan will set up large open spaces connected by wildlife corridors. Approximately 77 percent of the land in North County falls under jurisdiction of the plan, basically everything now under private ownership. Eight percent falls on land already owned by the county.
This is a contrast to the neighboring East County Plan, still under development, where only 23 percent of the land is held by private individuals. That plan will cover all private property east of Ramona.
The price tag of the North County plan: $1.486 billion.
Ramona is unique in that many vernal pools are located here. These are areas that retain water over 10 days after a rainstorm. According to the report, most vernal pools are in downtown backyards and vacant lots, with a second concentration near the airport.
The plan calls for the County to purchase 20 to 30 acres containing vernal pools to use as a “mitigation bank.” People developing land containing a vernal pool would have to pay for land within this bank to mitigate the damage their development would cause to their own pools, similar to the way carbon credits are used to offset carbon emissions.
Just about any construction within the Pre-Approved Mitigation Areas (PAMA) would require mitigation. This means that anyone building there would have to deed to the county—or give a permanent conservation easement—from one to three acres for each acre developed. Agricultural uses are similarly impacted.
Nearly $1 billion of the plan’s price tag would come from the private landowners required to mitigate. The county hopes to get the rest of the money from already-passed bond measures, including $450 million from the voter-approved TransNet extension of the 1/2 cent sales tax increase.
Twenty nine plants and 34 animals are listed as “species of interest.” This is only about a third of the species originally proposed by members of the Steering Committee. Others were rejected because studies indicated they would not be severely impacted by North County development.
Three of the main species of interest include the California gnatcatcher (bird), the Stephens’ kangaroo rat and the arroyo toad.
Although the county began working on the plan in early 2000, public interest has remained low. The Steering Committee hopes that, with the release of the draft ordinance, more North County residents will give feedback.
To see how a property may fit within the plan, an interactive mapping tool is available at gis.co.san-diego.ca.us/imf/sites/mscp. For questions or comments on the North County Plan, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call 858-495-5524 or 888-643-0433, send a facsimile to 858-694-3755, or send a letter to the County of San Diego, Department of Planning and Land Use, MSCP Division, 5201 Ruffin Road, Suite B, San Diego, CA 92123.
For those east of Ramona, topics of the next Steering Committee meeting for the East County Plan will include agriculture, permit streamlining under the MSCP and feedback on the preliminary draft map. A date for the meeting is not yet set.
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