12/16/10

PROPOSED GENERAL PLAN VIOLATES PROPERTY RIGHTS

The following commentary was printed in the San Diego Union-Tribune and on December 17, 2010 in The North County Times:

Proposed general plan violates property rights

By Bill Horn

The County of San Diego has been updating its general plan for the past 12 years. A general plan is often called the constitution for land use, dictating where development can and should occur in the future.

I am a private property rights advocate. I am a supervisor today because of a plan similar to this one. Twenty years ago, the county threatened to take my land. As a result of that experience, I ran for supervisor to protect and preserve land rights. Twelve years ago, I promised my constituents that I would not support downzoning their property without their permission. I have had the pleasure of meeting with hundreds of property owners concerned about the government taking their land.

And, yes, that is what I believe this general plan update is – a taking. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” As anyone who has testified over the course of this process will tell you, there has been no “just compensation.” My concern has never been for big development. I believe, as I always have, that developers can take care of themselves. Nor do I believe this is about making so-called land speculators whole. Family farms, passed through many generations, are not land speculation.

Ironically, this process started with a lawsuit over agriculture and yet agriculture is completely ignored in this plan. How do we as a county with a $5.1 billion agriculture industry bring forward a plan that is opposed by the Farm Bureau? The reality is agriculture is dying in this county. Water cutbacks and extreme environmentalism are forcing our farmers out of their homes and businesses. Look around North County and you will see stumped groves and abandoned farms, blight where a once-booming industry thrived, fire danger where good land stewardship once prevailed. If we take their land value, the farmers in San Diego will cease to exist. I do not believe there is a greater economic impact to our county than decimating agriculture.

Many argue that density is merely value on paper. But I have heard stories like the man whose parents bought a family farm in 1963. After they passed, he paid inheritance tax on the value of the land – at its highest and best use. If this plan goes through, how does he recover those taxes? Or the story of another family, horse ranchers who were looking to sell their land until the buyer’s attorney looked at the proposed general plan and told them their land was worth half of the initial offer. Or the numerous farmers who have told me that their operation loans are tied to their land’s highest and best use. These farmers are not looking to subdivide, but if the bank calls their loans they may be looking for a change of vocation.

We have come a long way in this process and I do not believe the decision should be rushed for political expedience. We supervisors have an obligation to this county and the property owners in it to approve the right plan, not just the right-now plan.

Horn represents the 5th District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, covering the North County communities from Oceanside and Carlsbad east to Borrego Springs.