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A lawyer for the Lilac Ranch developer recently tried to stop a planning commissioner from voting on the project, arguing he had a conflict of interest. But if the developer’s reasoning is to be believed, then Supervisor Bill Horn, a crucial supporter of the project, would also be conflicted.
The developers behind Lilac Hills Ranch appear to have inadvertently argued against letting Supervisor Bill Horn, a crucial supporter, vote on the project.
Horn has been irate that the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission said he shouldn’t vote on the project because approving it could increase the value of more than 30 acres of rural land he owns nearby.
He’s pushing the agency to reconsider its decision, and the Board of Supervisors’ vote on the project has been delayed in the meantime. The developers, Accretive Investments, are willing to wait, because Horn could hold the crucial vote on a project the company’s pushed through various roadblocks over the last 10 years.
“I honestly think they need to reconsider this. I don’t see any financial benefit to my property,” Horn said on AM 600 KOGO recently.
But it turns out, Accretive’s own lawyer recently made an argument that the project would give landowners like Horn a financial benefit – and that anyone with such a conflict should be barred from voting on it.
Accretive’s lawyer, Jim Sutton, sent a letter to the FPPC, the county’s lawyers and the chair of the County Planning Commission saying one of the planning commissioners shouldn’t be allowed to vote on Lilac Hills Ranch.
Approving Lilac Hills Ranch, Sutton wrote, would increase the value of rural and undeveloped land in the area, and anyone with an interest in the price of that land should abstain from voting on the project.
Sutton was talking about environmentalist Michael Beck. Beck works for the Endangered Habitats League, which runs a land bank that purchases undeveloped land to keep it that way. Increasing the value of that land would hurt EHL, making Beck predisposed to vote against it, Sutton argued.
“This argument demonstrates that EHL will be affected financially by the County’s decision on Lilac Hills Ranch, because the price which its land trust will have to pay to purchase the rural and undeveloped land will increase if the County approves the General Plan amendment to allow the project,” Sutton wrote.
In a response this month – which didn’t come in until after Beck had already voted on the project – the FPPC shut down Sutton’s argument.
“In your complaint, you suggest that approval of the project raise the price of land that farmers can command for their property and that would increase the price that the Environmental Habitats League (“EHL”) might have to pay for future lands,” the FPPC wrote. “However, we could find no evidence to substantiate those assertions.”
Beck voted against the project, as Accretive predicted, but it passed the commission anyway. The planning commission’s vote is just a recommendation.
Accretive wouldn’t explain whether there was a legal or logical difference between its claim against Beck and the FPPC’s decision that Horn shouldn’t vote.
“We want the process to breathe and take its course,” spokesman Jeff Powers said. “We’ll talk once the FPPC decides whether it will allow a reconsideration or not.”
Regardless, Sutton’s argument accepts the premise that underscores the FPPC’s ruling against Horn: Approving Lilac Hills Ranch would increase the development prospects of rural and undeveloped land in the area – like the land Horn owns just over one mile away.
And that will make the land more valuable.