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Justin Vineyards fallout: SLO County Supervisors to consider protecting oaks

San Luis Obispo County
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will tackle the issues of oak preservation and groundwater retention ponds during its special meeting on Friday, July 15, 2016.

The controversy surrounding oak woodland clear cutting by Justin Vineyards on its properties in North County San Luis Obispo is now making its way to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

The Board will consider draft emergency ordinances Friday, July 15, to temporarily regulate agricultural water retention ponds and native tree removal while permanent rules are drafted.

San Luis Obispo Tribune Reporter Lindsey Holden has been following this issue and joined KCBX News Director Randol White in studio.

Randol White: Let's start with the origin and content of these temporary ordinances. What will the supervisors be considering and how did we get here?

Lindsey Holden: So, they'll be considering a couple of different things. The first thing most people probably know about is an oak, well it's actually a native tree protection ordinance... 

White: So it's not just oaks, I mean oaks are the focus but more than that will be protected.

Holden: Yeah, madrones, I think there are a couple of other types of trees. And, when I spoke with county staff, they did that because they're giving supervisors a lot of leeway to consider some different options. So there's that. Right now there are no protections for inland, unincorporated areas of the county.

White: That's not the case in neighboring counties, Santa Barbara and Monterey, where our signal is heard as well.

Holden: Yes, you're correct. Right now cities, including Paso Robles — which this is closest to — and San Luis Obispo, do have protections for trees, but just not inland unincorporated areas, and coastal areas are totally different.

White: And then, because this Justin property also contained a large water retention pond — the plan was to pull up groundwater and hold it in this pond — that has now also become an issue.

Holden: Yeah, so then this other separate ordinance looks at agricultural ponds and reservoirs, specifically ones that are five acre feet. The Justin pond, just for reference, was going to be 20 acre feet. So, this new ordinance would cover ponds that are five acre feet or bigger.

White: And, is there any sort of finger in the wind as to how the supervisors may vote on these issues?

Holden: I would be extremely surprised if the oak ordinance doesn't move forward, and then it would be effective immediately for 45 days, and then they would have an option to extend it for almost two years. The pond, it will be interesting to see what happens because people in the public discussion at the last Board of Supervisors meeting pushed a lot of water issues. The Board definitely wanted to have a discussion about it and then they threw the ordinance in as well. So, we'll see what happens with that. That one will be more interesting, but I would think they might move that one forward as well.

White: How do you feel this will be different from the past. This is not the first time the Supervisors have brought up these issues.

Holden: Yeah. In the past, I think in the late 90s this became an issue as well and they looked at a couple of different ideas, but I don't think there was quite as much public moment as there is now. I mean a lot of different groups are on board; environmentalists, area farmers and ranchers, residents who care about the area they live in, so I think that they're really pushing this issue right now.

White: Has the company that spurred this movement, Justin Vineyards, weighed in on whether they'd like to see changes on these issues at a county level?

Holden: They haven't weighed in on this ordinance specifically. They've pretty much committed to not removing oak trees on their properties in the future, they want to steer clear of that. But, they haven't commented on this ordinance, no.

White: Is there any sense of how these temporary ordinances would differ from a permanent version?

Holden: Yeah, I think that a permanent version would get more into the nitty gritty of things. For instance, if you look at Santa Barbara County's ordinance, it makes very specific recommendations for replanting and specifically numbers of trees that can be removed, so that might be something the Board would look at in the future. So, I think it might just get more specific.