Our country’s focus on requiring sustainability principles in all land use, energy, and transportation policies is putting a choke hold on the American people that has them suffocating and pounding the mat for relief as they wrestle with the consequences of increasing regulatory pressures. The most recent, egregious example of this was the case of the Sacketts from Idaho, who were beat-down by $75,000 a day fines by the EPA for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.

In areas of California where land owners are in the path of a biodiversity connectivity corridor for example, (read Wildlife Connectivity Schemes Spur More Land Acquisitions by the State of California) land owners are being asked to sell all or portions of their land. In other cases, if private property has a creek, any endangered species, protected plants, non-indigenous trees or is next to a land preserve, or the coast, etc., the owner can be mandated to submit to state and federal regulations by various agencies such as Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management, California Coastal Commission or EPA under CEQA and ESA mandates and rules.

The landowner can agree to sell the part of the land in dispute to the federal, state government or a NGO trust and set it up as a conservation easement. This land is typically purchased for less than that of an outright purchase and the landowner loses all development rights; often in perpetuity.  If the conservation easement allows the landowner to use the land, he must continuously submit to new regulations making it increasingly difficult to live off of the land. If the landowner cannot continue to use the land, he loses all financial benefit that part of the land might have yielded in the future.

The Wildlife Conservation Board has various programs that are supported by its general policy. The WCB is “authorized by statute to acquire, and make grants for the acquisition of interests in real property to preserve and protect fish and wildlife and provide suitable recreation throughout the State.”

Some of these programs include: Rangeland, Grazing Land and Grassland Protection Program, Forest Conservation Program, Land Acquisition Program, Public Access Program,  Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Program, and California Riparian Habitat Conservation Program.

The activities of the WCB are generally supported by other agencies which include but are not limited to: Department of Conservation, Department of Boating and Waterways, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Water Resources, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, State Coastal Conservancy, California Conservation Corps, California Coastal Commission, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and State Lands Commission.

The original intent of the California Wildlife Conservation Law of 1947 was to allow the state to acquire land so as to preserve, protect and restore wildlife and provide adequate recreation in the interest of public welfare. The state of California seems to be using this statute and other frameworks for legislation to tag-team the public and private property owners and restrict or severely limit their use of the land.

In an era of probable state bankruptcy, the costs of these policies must be highlighted.

  1. The fiscal cost of these land acquisitions to the taxpayers.
  2. The personal cost of the loss of liberty landowners suffer under these autocratic regulations.
  3. The cost to the public when state land that was supposed to be used for recreational purposes by the public is now off limits or has been severely limited because of the purported lack of funding available to support the safe and proper operations of the park.

Public Cost #1

In the Wildlife Conservation Board meeting held May 31, 2012, the members of the board reviewed 36 grants allocation proposals for land acquisitions, restoration projects, and infrastructure improvements in the state of California. Real property targeted for purchase by the WCB ranged all over the state including the following counties: Siskiyou, Humboldt, Fresno, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Riverside, San Diego, Solano, and Los Angeles.

Proposed grants would be allocated to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, CAL FIRE, San Joaquin River Conservancy, Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, The Chaparral Lands Conservancy, Endangered Habitats Conservancy, California Waterfowl Association, Riverside Land Conservancy, and California Coastal Conservancy.

The price range for all grants allocation proposals starts at $5,000 for “core habitat linkages” for example to $8,000,000 for “wetland restoration construction.” The total cost for land acquisitions is $16,615,976 +/- and the proposed acreage increase associated with these purchases to the state would be 17,284 +/- acres.

The Public Cost #2

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is one of the most active and aggressive agencies in California when it comes to extorting land from private property owners. Pacific Legal Foundation has represented numerous citizens whom have been prevented from making improvements on their property because the CCC would not grant a permit unless the landowners agreed to sequester a portion of their land for conservation or “public use.” PLF also fights cases where by the CCC has intervened and overturned building permits granted to a private property owner by the local government council.

Case example #1: SDS Family Trust vs. California Coastal Commission

Summary: “The California Coastal Commission is unconstitutionally trying to coerce a family out of property as a condition for permitting them to repair their farmhouse and rebuild their barn, on their land in the Cayucos area of unincorporated San Luis Obispo County.” [Read more…]

Case example #2: Sterling vs. California Coastal Commission

Summary: “This case involves the California Coastal Commission’s attempt to require a family to dedicate an agricultural easement to the State requiring 143 acres of their land to be farmed forever (with no other use allowed) in return for a permit allowing a home on a 10,000 square-foot building pad.” [Read more…]

Case example #3: Charles A. Pratt Construction Co. vs. California Coastal Commission

Summary:  “Charles A. Pratt Construction Company has been attempting for over 30 years to subdivide and develop property that it owns in San Luis Obispo County, California. Finally, after 10 years of negotiating, the County approved subdividing one portion of his property for the building of residential homes. However, the California Coastal Commission then intervened, appealing the County’s decision to itself. The Commission ended up prohibiting the development, on the grounds that recently adopted and more stringent land use policies render almost the entire lot an undevelopable Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area.” [Read more…]

The Public Cost #3

In May of 2011, California State Parks announced its plan to close up to 70 of its 278 parks due to budget cuts laid out by Governor Jerry Brown in his FY2012-2013 budget plan. In the press release, the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CADPR) stated that “the closures were necessary to achieve an $11 million reduction in the next fiscal year 2011/12, that amount increasing to $22 million in the following fiscal year 2012/2013.” Though the CADPR assured that the closure plan would only affect a minority of the parks’ systems that have minimal attendance and revenue, the list does include Henry Coe State Park in Northern California, Palomar Mountain State Park in Southern California, Turlock Lake in the Central Valley, and Limekiln State Park on the Central Coast.

The cost to the California residents goes beyond the obvious loss of affordable vacation destinations that include nature activities like boating, camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and swimming. Closing the parks and removing the staff that oversees the maintenance of the parks’ natural resources, buildings, roads, etc. will in effect cost more in the long run if and when the parks reopen. When the parks reach full closure by July of 2012, the cost to our economy will become evident as Californians and tourists who flock to California in the summer are turned away by closure signs and No Trespassing placards. This will effectively distress local businesses that rely on the seasonal business that various parks attract.

This regulatory wrestling match is a lose-lose for the California economy and its residents.