By Tommy Hough
In a surprise move, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has opted to reject the long-running Lilac Hills Ranch proposal. Called "unsafe" by Cal Fire San Diego Unit Chief Tony Mecham at today's hearing, and recommended for denial by county staff in a highly unusual move, Lilac Hills was one of our region's most persistent and durable "zombie projects."
Initially denied by county planners in 2009, and at the ballot box with the defeat of Measure B in 2016, Lilac Hills was a loser with the courts, voters, and fire safety professionals. Hopefully the cycle of approving reckless sprawl developments in fire-prone areas is, at last, reaching an end.
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
My name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa. I'm the V.P. for policy and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, and I support the staff recommendation to reject the Lilac Hills development.
In 2016 our organization was active in the effort to defeat what was then Measure B, which was the Lilac Hills ballot measure. As you may recall, it was soundly defeated, as residents throughout the county made it clear, as they did again with Newland Sierra on the primary ballot this March, that sprawl development must not be the future of this county, and is not the highest or best use of the rural areas and open space in our county.
We are not Riverside County, and this county should make it a point of pride to resist the temptation to throw open our wildlands, watersheds, and wildlife corridors to sprawl housing developers as has occurred there. If you take a trip north on the 215 to Perris and head east to Hemet, the signs along the road aren't placed by counties or municipalities, but by sprawl housing developers. You know their names. It's clear who holds sway there. It is not a future we should embrace here.
When I ran for San Diego City Council in 2018, I often spoke about our housing crisis, and cited areas within the district I was running in (District 6) where denser housing is a functional option that would require some tweaks to zoning laws, but would enable residents to live within our already-established urbanized footprint, near transit, and the abundant employment centers in our district in Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa, and Kearny Mesa.
Furthermore, to claim that any of these homes or housing are truly affordable for average San Diegans, is a gross distortion. Unless we're talking about developer-subsidized, or government-subsidized housing, it will NOT be affordable for the majority of working San Diegans. And housing should not be predicated, anywhere, on the false premise that "affordable" housing at the level this area clearly needs can be achieved by setting aside a required percentage of homes that developers can simply buy their way out of. This is to say nothing of the wildfire danger, and significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for new miles traveled to and from manufactured cities in our backcountry like that proposed with Lilac Hills.
It is no longer 1980, and the cycle of approving these reckless developments in fire-prone areas must end. Stop putting citizens in harm's way. There is nothing safe or responsible about this project. Please approve the motion and support the recommendations of staff and county fire in opposition to the Lilac Hills zombie project that was so soundly defeated when it was on the ballot four years ago.
By Tommy Hough
Maxim One: Everything that Trump comes in contact with, good or bad, innocent or guilty, dies an early death in reputation, career, conscience, or lifespan.
Maxim Two: If Trump touches or meddles with anything you love or cherish, like our environment or our democratic heritage or humanity in general, it too will die an early, ugly death (see maxim one).
Maxim Three: Donald Trump is President of the United States, and will continue to inflict maxims one and two on all of us until he is driven from office.
When Ryan Zinke, the most corrupt Secretary of the Interior of our modern era, moved to redraw the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah in 2017, it was an unprecedented act of desecration, and a terrible harbinger for our nation's conservation heritage that will only become more pronounced and destructive should Donald Trump win re-election in November.
Prior to the sheer awfulness of the Trump administration, no president or administration had ever moved, erased, altered, or so violated the set boundaries of parks or monuments, certainly not to facilitate oil and gas interests, thereby undoing the very reason they were established as monuments in the first place: to protect them from environmental destruction and exploitation. Certainly no one has ever even attempted to do so in a manner as transparent and craven as Trump.
But this is an administration that, in three short years, has:
That's a partial list, of course.
Dating back to the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln, the idea of erasing the boundaries of protected places was considered cowardly, reckless, needless, and defiant of well-worn American traditions of conservation, however imperfect they may be from time to time.
One of the more notable, and uglier, exceptions to this was the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam along the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park, from 1919 to 1923. Abhorrent as it was, it was voted on in broad daylight as an Act of Congress for maximum culpability, and didn't physically alter the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. But there's no doubt the stress of the Hetch Hetchy tragedy is what killed John Muir.
The lesson was crystal clear: Parks and monuments, intended for the benefit of all Americans, are not placeholders until some other project comes along. The resources protected within them are sacrosanct.
Previously, presidents and politicians understood that areas protected for conservation had often been the subject of frequently intense, long-term campaigns by communities and generations of activists. After all, National Parks and National Monuments don't fall out of the clear blue sky. They are established because committed citizens demand these areas be saved. Long before and long after John Muir, careers and lifetimes have been spent to preserve such places.
Notable instances in California include the campaigns to save surviving ancient Redwoods and end old-growth logging on federal public land, the lengthy effort to preserve the Stanislaus River, the decades-long fight to preserve the wildest expanses of the Mojave Desert, and more recently, the campaign to Save Trestles and stop repeated efforts to build a toll road through the backcountry of San Onofre State Beach along the length of San Mateo Creek.
In erasing the intent, meaning, and boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017, the Trump administration deliberately set a terrible, dangerous precedent, and now they're at it in California as oil exploration (!), i.e. the precursor to drilling, begins at Carrizo Plain National Monument along the border of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, on the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.
Established by President Bill Clinton in 2001, the monument was intended to preserve the native grasslands of this otherwise unusual depression along the San Andreas Fault in a "land that time forgot" that explodes into extraordinary springtime wildflower shows, and prevent the same kind destruction wrought by the oil extraction that goes on around it for 50 miles in each direction in a network of Chevron and Shell oil and fracking fields, some of which are the size of cities. Now, like other affected National Monuments, Carrizo Plain faces an uncertain future.
Further north in the Central Valley, Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County was similarly put on notice in 2017, and sold out by that county's own board of supervisors, who applauded the move (!) and even asked Trump to shrink the monument. Sickening.
If we hope to preserve our nation's natural heritage and spirit of preservation – to say nothing of the nation itself – then Donald Trump and his destructive anti-leadership must be soundly defeated and driven from office like the environmental and Constitutional criminal he is.
To use an oil and water example, this president and a healthier planet are simply incompatible. As he has demonstrated on far too many occasions when he has turned American against American and neighbor against neighbor, from his Central Park Five accusations to Charlottesville and Lafayette Square, Trump's lifetime of toxic words, deeds, and destructive rhetoric have revealed zero interest or capable curiosity in crafting a more perfect union or bringing our nation together.
Trump is the toxic darkness that seeks to divide, conquer, and pillage. No amount of light or empty riches will ever satisfy his corrupt heart. In any ordinary era, he would've been a disaster. In the midst of actual crises like a pandemic and unchecked foreign interference in our elections, to say nothing of our nation's social reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police, Trump is anathema to democratic traditions (see maxim one).
Staring out into the emptiness from the steps of St. John's Church on June 1st, shortly after he and his pack of jackals followed White House security forces that literally gassed and beat the shit out of citizens gathered along the route, waving a Bible around as a cheap prop for all to see, Trump became the living embodiment of Vishnu in his cruelest form. From the Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita, it was Trump revealing his soulless, blackened heart to our nation and its people: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."
Plenty of us already knew, of course, long before Trump took the oath of office. That toll continues to be played out on our nation, our people, and our future. On refugees jammed into coronavirus-ridden concentration camps, kept in cages on freezing concrete floors. On families willfully and deliberately separated, tossed into the wind for maximum angst and emotional trauma. On black men and women harassed and murdered by police who turn off body cameras and use chemical weapons not even used in warfare.
And on our wild refuges of America, heretofore and hopefully left untouched by today's daily Washington psychodramas. Our long national nightmare of Trump continues.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.