Overwhelmed by a litany of testimony from disgruntled ranchers and farmers, the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors on Nov. 14 punted a decision to amend the General Plan to its Dec. 12 meeting.
- PHOTO BY JESSE ACOSTA
- PROPERTY RIGHTS THROWDOWN : Farmers, ranchers, hikers, bikers, and some community members crossing those lines argued all day in Supervisors chambers on Nov. 14 over proposed amendments to the General Plan. The new public code, once solidified, will direct where and how public trails are laid in San Luis Obispo County over the next 10 to 20 years. Speakers present included heads of the Farm Bureau and SLO Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Adam Fukushima.
# The restructuring included among other things a plan to expand the county's network of recreational trails, laying new paths that would traverse private land at points. Early in the public comment session, it became abundantly clear that the regularly scheduled meeting was about to become a feuding ground between property-rights and public-use interests.
The dialog grew passionate on occasion.
"If they violate our civil rights ... there's going to be the biggest uprising since 1865," railed local landowner and former mine operator Harold Biaggini. "I want to be the general there."
Backed by the Cattlemen's Association, the county Farm Bureau suggested a list of alterations to the plan drafted by planning staff. In addition to assurances that the proposed trails will not wander off public easements something, they asserted, four proposed paths would explicitly do the groups sought further protection from trespassers.
Agriculturists emanated concern involving the outfall of further exposure of the human element to farming operations. Ranchers talked about the danger of Foot and Mouth Disease and other livestock maladies. One avocado grower addressed the problem of foragers pillaging his crop. Other landowners raised issues with the potential outbreak of vandalism and creekside marijuana crops in rural San Luis Obispo County.
"What we have to mitigate against is the public that doesn't give a darn about property rights," said Kevin Kester of the Cattlemen's Association.
Advocates of the trail plan countered that such abuses along existing trails prove relatively rare.
Upon learning from staff that approximately 95 percent of the paths run on public property, board member Shirley Bianchi expressed a desire to pass the General Plan amendments on the spot. The District 2 supervisor stated the road infrastructure already exists and that it's "illegal and immoral" to restrict public access to public areas because of the potential of some to engage in illegal activities on nearby private land.
Supervisor James Patterson agreed.
"This process has gone on long enough," he responded to another board member's motion to mull longer over the proposal.
Numerous hikers, bikers, and outdoor recreation seekers also took the podium, urging the board to pass the General Plan amendments sooner than later. Cyclists argued that present inadequacies force them along perilous thoroughfares such as Hwy. 227 or Hwy. 41 West to access the bounty of parkland that agriculturists believe the new trails should be restricted to.
Then, of course, there's the problem in areas like Paso Robles of setting access trails now before development swallows up the opportunity.
"[This plan] takes into consideration the growing pains our county will face," SLO Bicycle Coalition representative Kathe Hustace said. "The county is changing. It's hard, it's tough, but if we don't address this now, we're going to regret it."
Public comment reached deep into the afternoon and raised more questions than planning staff had readied answers for. Staff representatives disagreed that the Farm Bureau's alterations would afford better protection for agriculture near the trails, but said they wouldn't fight an amendment keeping easements off land with airstrips and so-called "ag tourism" facilities.
County staff also objected to some of the wording in the Farm Bureau alterations, claiming that certain provisions would jeopardize existing public use planning code.
"It has a lot of things in it that are troubling to me," County Parks consultant Chris Clark said. "For example, the language here would exempt Dalidio from providing a trail easement."
Clark referred to a segment of fine print in the recently passed Measure J ballot item that requires developer Ernie Dalidio to accommodate for the Bob Jones "City to the Sea" Bike Trail on his controversial retail ranch.
The Farm Bureau and planning staff will attempt to iron out some of these issues over the next month. According to county counsel, if amendments to the General Plan are not reached on or by Dec. 12, the opportunity to discuss the future of trails in San Luis Obispo County will eclipse until late spring.