RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Habitat protection falters as land owners push back
K. Erik Friess in The Press-Enterprise
A decade ago, Riverside County and 14 cities set up a regional conservation agency to acquire and protect wildlife habitat and remove red tape for developers who want to build in the western part of the county. The setup became a model for local governments in California and elsewhere in the nation. But some say the mission is in jeopardy. The agency faces pressure from people whose property has been targeted for eventual acquisition and who want to sell now, at the same time the agency is juggling depressed funding and higher-priority land purchases. In one instance, a San Diego development partnership used the rule and a lawsuit to force the agency to spend nearly $5.9 million on 48 acres in Hemet. San Diego-based Warren Road Partners bought the property for $13 million in 2006 with the intention of building a hotel and shopping center, although the firm never sought entitlements from the city of Hemet. The partners believed when they purchased the land that they would be able to develop it, but it later became clear that wasn’t true, said K. Erik Friess, an Irvine attorney for the group.