January 13, 2016

Marco Gonzalez, [email protected]

San Diego – The Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF), Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF), and Save Our Forest and Ranchlands (SOFAR) today announced they have filed a lawsuit challenging the County of San Diego’s approval of a paramilitary training facility at Covert Canyon within the boundary of the Cleveland National Forest outside of the town of Alpine. The lawsuit cites violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, abuse of discretion in changing the use classification of the commercial firearms shooting facility, and violation of the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (commonly referred to as the “Williamson Act”).

The Covert Canyon, LLC property has repeatedly violated county codes regarding illegal grading and unlawful commercial training activities over most of the past decade. Despite numerous notices of violation and failures to cease the illegal activities or obtain proper permits, in October, 2015 the County ignored its ministerial and statutory duties and entered into a Stipulated Administrative Enforcement Order (SAEO) with Covert Canyon, LLC to allow the previously-determined illegal activity. At the core of Petitioners’ lawsuit is the fact that permission for such activity was granted absent environmental review. Potential environmental impacts identified include lead pollution to surface and ground water, habitat and wetlands destruction, noise, increased fire danger, erosion, and public safety concerns.

In addition to being located in the heart of protected Cleveland National Forest land, the Covert Canyon property is also contractually bound under the Williamson Act to be maintained as farmland and open-space land, not to be developed or converted to a non-agricultural commercial use. The firearms and paramilitary training activities granted by the County are directly at odds with the property’s contract that has provided a property tax benefit in exchange for the commitment to limit uses on site.

“I cannot think of another circumstance where County Staff has so blatantly disregarded its environmental responsibilities. Not only has the County refused to even discuss the CEQA allegations, it has bent over backwards to accommodate a use and an applicant that are borderline criminal in their disregard for the sanctity of the Cleveland National Forest. We are, frankly, in shock at the County’s irresponsibility,” said Marco Gonzalez, attorney for the environmental groups. He added, “given the years of illegal activity known to have occurred at Covert Canyon, the County has done more than just turn a blind eye. It is absolutely complicit.”