JULY 14, 1997
San Diego is trying to coordinate its land use by setting aside separate, massive plots for wildlife preserves and for commercial development. It may become a model for the rest of the U.S. Jeffrey Kaye reports.
JIM LEHRER: Approval is expected this week of a unique conservation plan in San Diego, California. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles tells the story.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
February 19, 1996:
A report on the Wise Use movement in the West.
February 13, 1996:
A new way to solve conflicts on the range.
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Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) program
California Resources Agency
JEFFREY KAYE: In an ordinary looking field, San Diego botanists recently plotted the locations of a rare species, the Otai Tar plant. The plant is considered endangered by the state of California, so Pardee Construction Company, which owns the field, cannot build on it. Pardee, San Diegoís largest developer, is putting a 3,000 house subdivision on adjacent property.
The company has also wanted to build on the land with the imperiled Otai Tar plant, but government officials insisted the field remain undeveloped. Company senior vice president Mike Madigan said Pardee had no choice.
MIKE MADIGAN, Pardee Construction Co.: It was not a good deal for us. It took a great deal longer to process the changes than the city had committed to--a lot longer--that cost us a great deal of money, and so itís not a good deal. And itís a necessary part of staying in business.
JEFFREY KAYE: Since the development business in San Diego makes heavy use of the areaís picturesque and often expensive landscape, there have been endless conflicts between the interests of nature and the needs of urban growth. Project after project has required bouts of detailed bargaining over federal and state endangered species laws.
But if a sweeping new conservation plan takes effect, decisions will no longer be made tract by tract, species by species. The plan is unprecedented in scope, according to Marc Ebbin, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Interior, a prime supporter of the program.
MARC EBBIN, Department of the Interior: It takes a look at the entire San Diego landscape, and it thinks about what are the needs, not just for species that are heading toward trouble, but the whole range of species associated with a very, very unique ecosystem down here and also makes it very, very clear to landowners down here what they can and canít develop.
JEFFREY KAYE: The plan covers 900 square miles in Southwest San Diego. In addition to setting out which land can and cannot be built on, it establishes a 172,000 acre preserve system. The aim is to protect habitat and preserve 85 rare plants and animals.
San Diego County is believed to have more endangered species than any other county in the nation. They range from the Tarry Pine to the Bald Eagle.
MAYOR SUSAN GOLDING, San Diego: We have accomplished something that both people of San Diego and the state will remember for a long time...
JEFFREY KAYE: The conservation plan was approved in March by the city of San Diego. The endorsement followed six years of negotiations among developers, environmentalists, and politicians. Other local and state government entities are expected to approve it soon. San Diegoís Republican mayor, Susan Golding, is a leading proponent.
MAYOR SUSAN GOLDING: Everybody wins. Property owners win that are outside the preserve because theyíll have better use of their property, and less frustration in developing. I mean, weíre talking about small property owners, as well as large property owners, The--we win because the environment will be preserved in a way that we were not able to do before, and our children and our grandchildren win--and the property owners inside the preserve win because weíve committed to buy any property that is sold at fair market values.
JEFFREY KAYE: One area slated to remain open space is under constant surveillance by the U.S. Border Patrol, as well as by vigilant biologists, such as Keith Greer.
KEITH GREER, Biologist: Artemisia Californica is one of the main components of the gnat catcher habitat.
JEFFREY KAYE: Greer, an associate planner for the city of San Diego, says this scrub and chaparral is home to scores of threatened species, such as the Coastal California Gnat Catcher. He says if the land is preserved, endangered species will also be saved.
KEITH GREER: And so thatís why this area is being set aside. The importance of it maybe is from the species, itself, and the more habitat we protect, the more species you protect.
JEFFREY KAYE: The plan is being cautiously embraced by some groups normally at loggerheads, developers and environmentalists. The Sierra Clubís Craig Adams says one attractive feature of the plan is the connections it establishes between environmentally sensitive areas.
CRAIG ADAMS, Sierra Club: It attempts to identify where there are existing natural areas and to connect those to other natural areas, because if you have isolated islands, thatís where essentially species go extinct, because they need to be able to move, and they need to re-establish themselves. And so what this attempts to do is on a broad, 900 square mile basis and actually beyond, to identify a habitat system that will work over the long run.
JEFFREY KAYE: To link the habits, the plan sets aside corridors. Some corridors will run along freeways. Others will be bordered by fences. Even though the plan hasnít been implemented yet, Pardee Construction has agreed to install two thirty-foot tunnels underneath a road to a new subdivision.
The tunnels are supposed to act as subways for animals. Pardeeís Mike Madigan says that despite expenses entailed in meeting environmental conditions, the plan could end up saving developers money.
MIKE MADIGAN: If it works, we will be able to look at a map of this city and say, yes, thatís developable land; no, thatís not developable land. We then wonít go buy land where we get caught in the middle of the process, having thought that something was developable and finding out that, nope, weíve changed our minds, now you canít build on that land. Thatís a huge financial hit.
JEFFREY KAYE: And thatís what happens all the time.
MIKE MADIGAN: That happens regularly.
JEFFREY KAYE: So just merely by streamlining the process, even if you arenít in 100 percent accord, agreement with the outcome, thatís a big money saver for you.
MIKE MADIGAN: Time is, in fact, money, and if we can knock a couple of years off of the processing time of one of these projects, thatís a benefit.
JEFFREY KAYE: The conservation plan does have broad support, but there are opponents on both sides. Some environmentalists say the plan doesnít go far enough. Some property rights advocates say it goes too far. Bill Horn, the conservative chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, says the plan is an unconstitutional land grab by the federal government.
BILL HORN, Supervisor, San Diego Co.: If somebody else can tell you what to do with your land, and you do not have that right anymore, I mean, whereís the Bill of Rights here? I donít want the federal government into our jurisdiction, which is land use, and thatís what this does.
JEFFREY KAYE: Hornís message may have wide appeal in conservative San Diego. He wants the plan put to a popular vote. But residents also enjoy the regionís open spaces and environmentalists have wide support. However, some environmentalists say this conservation plan falls short of its stated goals and doesnít adequately protect endangered species.
DAVE HOGAN, Center for Biological Diversity: This is Carmel Mountain. Itís one of the most sensitive biological areas in the county.
JEFFREY KAYE: Biologist Dave Hogan is with the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. Botanist Cindy Burrascano represents the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. They provided a guided tour of an area they complain is not included in the preserve, even though it contains endangered plants, such as the Delmar Mansanita.
DAVE HOGAN: Very rare plant. Itís only found on approximately 20 miles of the San Diego coast line.
JEFFREY KAYE: Another endangered plant here is the dime-sized Dudlia. Only a few thousand remain. Hogan and Burrascano say the planís preserve area is too small, badly configured, and relies on inadequate scientific data.
DAVE HOGAN: The reality is that this plan, based on preserve line boundaries, is drawn up to protect the interest of the most politically powerful landowners.
CINDY BURRASCANAO, California Native Plant Society: There wasnít enough surveying done to find out what the resources are on any one area. And if you donít know whatís there, how can you design a good plan?
DAVE HOGAN: Based on what we know is the best judgments that we can. Nothing is locked in place. We can make changes down the road if we find out that our assumptions are flawed; that we made a grievous mistake in our interpretations of the data. We can make those kinds of mid-course corrections or adjustments.
JEFFREY KAYE: Clinton administration officials say if additional land is needed, theyíll buy it. The federal government will also pay half the initial cost of private land for the preserve. Local governments would pay for the other half if they get voter approval for the funding, so thereís some uncertainty about whether there will be enough money to manage the preserve and to buy needed land. Optimistic, federal officials say they expect the San Diego plan to go forward and to serve as a model for the nation.