SOFAR Background

Our Mission

Save Our Forest and Ranchlands is dedicated to the protection of the wilderness, watershed, and agricultural resources of San Diego County through proper land use planning.

We believe Urban Sprawl to be the #1 threat to our natural resources and to the quality of life in San Diego.

In this endeavor, we review and comment on EIRs and project proposals and speak at community forums on land use issues to educate the public and our decision-makers.

Who Are We?

SOFAR is a non-profit membership-based corporation with over 500 members. We are assisted by expert advisors in the fields of conservation, biology, planning, and land use who help us to work to defend sustainable development in the San Diego backcountry.

Board of Directors
Duncan McFetridge, Founder and President
Jana Clark, Vice President
Gene Helsel, Secretary
Donna Regan, Treasurer
Doug Bell
Carl Meyer

Michael Soule, Conservation Biologist
Former Senator Pro Tem James R. Mills
Gregory Pregill, Biologist, University of San Diego
Burt Nelson, Astronomer, San Diego State University
Thomas Anglewicz, AIA
Ellen Bauder, Biologist (vernal pool expert)

Background Narrative


San Diego is blessed with all the elements of paradise - bountiful land, a beautiful coast line, Mediterranean climate, a deep water port, nearby pine covered mountains, majestic valleys, valuable watershed and desert retreats. But, we could lose it all to poorly planned development otherwise known as sprawl. Special interest politics driven by land speculators have generally held sway over all Southern California. Los Angeles and Orange County are textbook cases of legislative land use failures that have produced uncontrolled development detrimental to both our economy and our quality of life.

Urban Sprawl's harmful effects on both the cities and rural lands of America has received National attention in such publications as the Bank of America report "Beyond Sprawl", The American Farmland Trust magazine Special Editions on Sprawl, The American City & County Magazine and The Regionalist. These publications all agree that it is the politics of land use that lie at the heart of the problem of sprawl: the art of planning has been replaced by the craft of salesmanship.

Sprawl is, in essence, the subsidizing of special interests by the American taxpayers.

The answer, therefore, to the problem of sprawl is leadership i.e., leadership for the common good. Instead of throwing taxpayer money at the symptoms of misplanning i.e., building more freeways to service ever more distant suburbs, we need leaders to follow the advice that professionals have been giving us for decades.

In San Diego County, the legislative failure to adequately plan for resource protection dates back to at least the mid-to-late 1970's, when the State of California mandated that every city and county adopt an Open Space and Conservation Element to their General Plan.

In addition, in 1978, San Diego County mandated the adoption of an Agriculture Element. The legislative process by which the Open Space and Conservation Elements were adopted in San Diego County was so weighted with special interests that these elements ended up having no regulatory effect.

The Agriculture Element was supposed to designate exclusive agricultural areas and analyze, improve, and promote methods of preserving agriculture throughout the County. The Draft Agriculture Element was published in 1979 after two years of exhaustive economic and land use study and at a cost of over half a million dollars. This Agriculture Element, which contemplated the redesignation and rezone of 600,000 acres of agricultural resource land, was never adopted.

With the Open Space and Conservation Elements functioning as a masquerade for development and the Agriculture Element missing altogether, urban zoning remained over all land in San Diego County including wilderness, scenic, watershed, and agriculture land. Frustration with the lack of planning for these important rural lands led to legal challenges and citizen-drafted initiatives. In 1992, Save Our Forests and Ranchlands (SOFAR) successfully challenged the Central Mountain Community Plan for promoting development in the County's private inholdings of the Cleveland National Forest. In 1993, SOFAR drafted the Forest Conservation Initiative, approved by County voters, which protected the Cleveland National Forest from small-lot sub divisions by establishing a 40-acre minimum lot size within the Forest's boundaries. In 1995, SOFAR won a lawsuit against the County for inadequate planning for the 400,000 acres of agricultural preserve land in the backcountry. Additionally, the Court noted that the General Plan was inadequate since it lacked the adoption of a mandatory Agriculture Element. A moratorium was placed on agricultural preserve land, and the County was ordered to bring its General Plan into compliance with state law. To this date, the County has failed to comply with the Court's order.

In our search for a solution to the crisis of urban sprawl, our committee has made many discoveries, the most notable of which is the overwhelming response we have received whenever we spoke of the need to save the rural lands of San Diego County. Across the county from planners, from civic leaders, from citizens, from students, from the scientific community, the response has been one and the same: stop urban sprawl. We have been richly rewarded in making many new friends. On the other hand, we have also discovered a darker side to this issue. Some persons are trying to use County government, not to achieve the common good, but to serve the special interests of money and power.

Today, land speculators are attempting to influence the planning process to sway land use decisions in their favor. We have discovered late, but not too late, that there is another way. The courts have long affirmed that inherent in the life of a community is the absolute power to rule, plan, and guide itself. Indeed, the formal rights of a community to ensure that the heritage of the past and the benefits of a just and rational society extend in full measure to the public at large outweigh the material claims of some to enrich themselves to the detriment of that same community. "It is thoroughly established in this Country that the rights preserved to the individual by these constitutional provisions are held in subordination to the rights of society. Although one owns property he may not do with it as he pleases any more than he can act in accordance with his personal desires." (HFH - G) Furthermore, "Landowners do not have a vested right in zoning classifications." (HFH - G)

Biologists are agreed that fragmentation of habitat is the fundamental cause of the deterioration of our natural resources. In the past, we have divided our lands and then attempted to make them whole through mitigation measures. These measures have universally failed. Soule's studies in Southern California give dramatic evidence to this point. We have mitigated Southern California to the point where it is now called the epicenter of extinction in North America. This is the type of planning and thinking that we utterly reject. Our rural lands by some miracle have escaped the hand of planners, mitigators, and developers. The answer to what our rural lands need is simple: stewardship, an ancient and noble concept. By it 's very nature, the backcountry is a self-contained, self-maintained entity capable of providing for all its needs as well as providing nourishment for all human beings as long as our use does not change its fundamental core. Fragment it, disturb it, mitigate it, and you will destroy it.

In 1997, the Rural Heritage & Watershed Initiative was filed by a broad coalition of concerned citizens, planning and conservation experts, landowners, and political leaders. The most comprehensive land use initiative in the County's history, the RHWI would have amended the General Plan by establishing an urban-rural boundary. This boundary would have protected the backcountry from inappropriate development and prevented uncontrolled urban sprawl. This plan also, in effect, ;encouraged the revitalization of the County's established cities and suburbs. Finally, after 20 years of mismanagement by politicians, we, through initiative process, presented a real choice for the voters of San Diego county: a plan for livable cities and a sustainable backcountry. It was called the Rural Heritage and Watershed Initiative. Disastrously, the Initiative failed to achieve a majority of voter approval after a campaign of deception managed to dissuade voters from the positive benefits that would accrue.

Today, SOFAR remains committed to its mission and works project by project to preserve what remains of our beautiful backcountry. We believe that our efforts are appreciated by the citizens who value rural areas and natural resources for their inherent worth, not for the development value of the land. Therefore, we must continue to rely on our members for support, financially and as activists who will stand behind truth.

To join SOFAR, make a contribution, volunteer, or to contact us, click here.

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