02/26/07

RANCHO GUEJITO: OBSTACLES OR OPPORTUNITIES?

Supervisor Bill Horn

Printed in the San Diego Union-Tribune on February 26, 2007

At the State of the North County speech this month, I spoke about a threat to an important piece of San Diego County history and the only remaining intact Mexican land grant in the state, Rancho Guejito. This treasure with its historic adobes, Native American pictographs, and pristine natural habitat, is legendary. Now, after years of saying they want to preserve the Guejito as a working ranch and environmental gem, Coates family representatives indicate they want to annex to the City of Escondido. The people of our region have trusted the Coates family for 30 years and now feel betrayed. However, obstacles can be turned into opportunities.

San Diegans have a history of etching their legacy in the mountains and valleys of our region. In 1933, Ralph Dyar sold the 25,000 acre Cuyamaca Rancho to the State of California. Today it is used by thousands for camping, fishing, and hiking. More recently the Tulloch family has worked with the Nature Conservancy to add their 2,117 acre ranch to the park. The Daley family is well known for their land legacies near Jamul and Escondido. The Rutherford family has been working with the Trust for Public Lands, the state and the county to sell their 14,000 acre ranch to preserve the headwaters of the San Dieguito River and Volcan Mountain linking Anza Borrego Desert State Park to the coast. In all of these cases there was a willing property owner that understood the importance of creating a family legacy by preserving a piece of San Diego history.

An obstacle could be the question of money. In 1974 the state nearly bought the Guejito for a state park but then Governor Jerry Brown killed the acquisition. Now, more than 30 years later, the idea of buying the land can be resurrected.

In November, voters approved Proposition 84, $5.3 billion in bonds for a variety of projects. $400 million must be spent on local and regional parks, $400 million needs to be spent for state park system acquisitions and development, and $225 million will be spent on wildlife habitat protection. Rancho Guejito is a perfect fit for all of these categories.

Rancho Guejito is adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest. The Guejito could add to more than 420,000 acres of existing National Forest. In March, I will be traveling to Washington D.C. and will speak to our congressional delegation about preserving this piece of our heritage.

The size of Rancho Guejito may seem to be an obstacle, but in reality it is an opportunity. Along the Central Coast near San Simeon, the Hearst family recently completed a deal with the state to preserve 128 square miles including 18 miles of coastland along Highway 1. The 82,000 acre Hearst Ranch deal includes $80 million from the state and $15 million in tax credits.

William Randolph Hearst is quoted as saying, “You must keep your mind on the objective, not the obstacle.” Generations later, his heirs took this advice and completed what may be the largest preservation of a working ranch in the history of California. The Coates family has an opportunity to do the same. By working with private organizations, the state, and the federal government, the legacy of the Coates family can be written on the hills of Rancho Guejito forever