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Loophole Lucier

Despite opposition from supervisors Tom Lucier and Michael Delbar, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday finally adopted a resolution sent to them by the county's Forest Council reaffirming that growing trees was the "highest and best use" for Mendocino County timberlands.

The resolution will be sent to the California Department of Forestry in Sacramento, to "provide guidance to CDF," Forest Council staffer Greg Giusti told the board, "if and when an application for any large-scale timberland conversion permit is received. This puts the County of Mendocino on record as saying the county views timberland's use as timberland as the highest and best use and that other land uses considered compatible should not degrade this principal use. Lucier, who sits on the Forest Council along with supervisor David Colfax, did not vote against the draft resolution at the Forest Council meeting two weeks ago, although his questions implied his position was that a property owner should be able to cut all his trees and plant grapes if he wanted to. There was no formal vote on the resolution taken, as is often the case -- the Forest Council has tried to operate mostly by a sort of informal consensus. However, when Giusti read the final draft version aloud and asked if there any were further refinements, none of the council members spoke up. Their silence, after a lively three-hour discussion and numerous changes, was taken to be approval, and the meeting was adjourned.

Nonetheless, when this draft resolution came before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Lucier said he saw no need for the county to take a position on timberland conversions, that he thought the resolution would take away "flexibility," and he tried to talk his board colleagues into supporting a different version of the resolution with a substantial number of changes. Copies of Lucier's alternative resolution were not distributed to the press, to other Forest Council members, or included in agenda packets, however a copy obtained by this reporter included a cover page dated Aug. 6, 1999 and signed by Coastal Forestlands Ltd. employee Bob Whitney that makes it clear that Lucier's alternative came word-for-word directly from CFL.

"Tom," the cover page memo reads: "Our position is that no resolution is necessary at this time; however, if a majority prefer to send a resolution, then please consider the attached amendments. Attached is a clean copy and underline/strikeout copy of the proposed Forest Council resolution for your review." Whitney went on to suggest that CFL would also be happy with a "straightforward" resolution that limited conversion to non-timber uses of any one piece of timberland to 25 percent of the total acreage -- a solution that had been discussed and firmly rejected at the Forest Council meeting, a meeting Whitney was present at.

CFL, for those coming in halfway through this story, is the Willits-based timber company whose proposal to turn 10,000 acres of timberland it spent the last 10 years logging into depletion into an industrial vineyard is precisely what brought the whole issue of timberland conversion to the forefront in Mendocino County to begin with.

Although Lucier Tuesday claimed to agree with Supervisor Patti Campbell's statement that "one thing we don't want to do is have wholesale conversions," his attempts to convince the county to adopt a private businesses' self-interested language as its own policy casts a certain doubt on his true intentions.

Both Lucier and Delbar also made a point of saying several times that they felt timberland owners and ranchers had not had an adequate chance to give input into the Forest Council's resolution. This resolution, however, was certainly as well "noticed" as any other piece of county business, and in fact was supported at the Forest Council meeting by two well-known members of the local ag community, timberland owner Aletta Hollister and rancher Dave Sagehorn.

Also, several locals present at a special meeting of the Farm Bureau called two weeks ago to hear a presentation from CFL on the 310,000 acres of grapes project told the AVA that the majority of Bureau members present were decidedly -- and vocally -- opposed to CFL's conversion project. Farm Bureau Executive Director Carre Brown told the board Tuesday that although her organization hadn't taken any formal position on the resolution: "I don't see any problems personally with it."

One other interesting note: One good but not completely confirmed source identified the man accompanying CFL's Whitney to Tuesday's board meeting as Michael H. Remy, a well-known environmental attorney, who was president for 10 years of the state Planning and Conservation League, and lead author of a guidebook to the California Environmental Quality Act that is considered "the CEQA Bible" in legal and agency circles. Remy's Sacramento law firm, Remy, Thomas and Moose, has been working with the City of Fort Bragg on the Dominic Affinito Tradewinds Motel case.

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