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Genesee Friends taking a stand against private heliports

Following is a timeline of events regarding the Genesee Ranch heliport:

Plumas County General Plan: “Airports shall not be permitted in Genesee Valley Special Management Area.”

Federal Aviation Administration: “airport is an area … used … for … landing and takeoff of aircraft….”

January 2016 Oak Court Palmaz, Ltd applies to FAA for heliport in Genesee.

March 2016: Palmaz applies to County Planning Department for Barn and Storage building.

March 2016: Planning grants permit for Barn and Storage building.

May 2016: FAA grants permission for heliport.

August 8, 2016: Planning approves Barn and Storage building.

August 15, 2016: Oak Court Palmaz Ltd/Palmaz Ranch /Genesee Valley Ranch LLC applies to County for “functionally equivalent use to a defined use.”

August 26, 2016: Genesee Friends files complaint with County for violation of General Plan.

May 2017: County decides helicopter is “functional equivalent” of truck or tractor and airports are allowable on all County agriculture-zoned lands.

July 2017: Genesee Friends appeals to Board of Supervisors.

August 1, 2017: Board calendar has date-setting for Appeal on agenda, but in session decides to not hear Appeal.

Lawsuit awaiting court decision

Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson’s decision last year that “the Genesee Ranch heliport and a heliport on other lands zoned Agricultural Preserve is a functionally equivalent use …. similar to a use of a tractor or a truck….” changes agriculture in Plumas County as we know it.

If the courts and general public allow Wilson’s decision to stand, any entity or corporation (such as the Genesee Valley Ranch Limited Liability Corporation) can buy agricultural land, construct an airport — without public or environmental review — and produce who knows what for sale to the rest of us. Or, since real estate values skyrocket for properties with airports, even while decreasing values on adjacent properties, permitting airports on agriculture-zoned lands can lead to high-end subdivisions. Is this what we want for Plumas County Ag. lands?

Let’s say a hobby farmer does use his helicopter as a “tool,” to view his land from 10,000 feet above. Once the farmer with those kinds of (monetary) resources buys what’s left of Plumas County Ag. Land who else will be able to farm here? Not many, we think, of the people working at farming and ranching now. We won’t be able to purchase, as an agricultural tool, a private helicopter and spend the million-plus dollars for a heli-barn. Marijuana corporations could, however, and no doubt will, if Wilson’s decision isn’t overturned by a judge and informed public.

When Hollywood icon Bruce Willis began construction of a private airstrip on his “ranch” in central Idaho, 5th District Judge Robert Elgee stopped it with his May 2017 ruling that Camas County commissioners violated state law by allowing…a private airport in agriculture-zoned county lands, showing “‘complete disregard’ for property rights and the well-being of the neighborhood.”

In California, Napa County planning commissioners blocked a private heliport on the Genesee Valley Ranch LLC’s vineyard there, and voters in the last election approved Measure D to prohibit private airports/heliports. In Napa, those who would travel by air are required to use county facilities where zoning recognizes the effects of noise and other impacts from air traffic. The same is appropriate here with county airports in Chester, Beckwourth and Quincy.

But despite our General Plan that specifically prohibits private airports in Genesee, our Planning Director and Board of Supervisors (with one dissenting vote) choose to ignore decades of county planning and their own constituents in favor of corporate thinking and money. Unbeknownst to most Plumas County residents, they are changing zoning in a way that diminishes local capacity to farm and ranch on agriculture-zoned lands, county wide,

In a recent letter to the Editor in support of his preferred candidate’s campaign, Genesee Valley Ranch LLC, shareholder Christian Palmaz — who claims the Executive Bell helicopter he flies from their Napa Vineyard to Genesee is necessary for managing his entirely fenced-in wagyu cattle — refers to Plumas County as a “special place; a bucolic community centered around high-country values.” His letter goes on to say that’s why his family bought here. But then his language shifts: “If the county is a corporation then we are its shareholders.” If.

That’s just it. We aren’t a corporation. We’re people, in places who live on the land, who developed a County General Plan to guide the kind of development and activities we want in our communities, who elected members of the Board of Supervisors to represent and protect us over special interests.

Genesee Friends is challenging Plumas County’s decision that a helicopter is a “tool” for agriculture, and a heliport is a barn for storing it. We believe that the sum total of the County: the supervisors we elect to represent us, the employees we pay to do their jobs, the places we live, and those with whom we share our lives is much more than a corporation. Idaho Judge Elgee’s ruling seems to agree, as do the voters and Planning Commissioners in Napa County and other places working to protect agricultural lands and communities. The General Plan in its preface recognizes the need for local farming, and for decreasing our dependence on oil. Helicopter ranching responds to neither goal. It is corporate. It displaces the rest of us.

We need to remind the County to support and protect local farming and ranching done by local families and people —on horseback, on foot, in trucks, in four-wheelers. Because if only those who can buy $5 million helicopters with operational costs (in 2010) of  $664 per hour and build private airports heliports for personal door to door convenience, the work of the rest of us, the food we eat, the neighbors we have, our communities and homes, will be only regulated parts on another’s corporate spreadsheet. That’s why Genesee Friends is standing with farmers and ranchers with their feet on the ground, in this place and, like communities in Idaho, Napa and elsewhere, saying No to private heliports/airports on lands zoned for agriculture.

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