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In defense of the Palmaz Family and Genesee Valley Ranch

Sometimes environmentalists hurt the environment more than anyone else. For example: organizations I have supported in the past sued the US Forest Service after the Moonlight Fire to block logging of the burned timber. The environmental groups cited studies that observed more robust rejuvenation when whole trees rot back into forest. Unfortunately, when we do not log our own timber, we replace the lag in the U.S. market by purchasing timber from Asia. How is that more environmentally sound?

Another example: Genesee Friends oppose the use of the Palmaz family-owned helicopter in Genesee Valley to travel to and from their Genesee Valley ranch. The family also uses the helicopter to help manage organic cattle grazing on the ranch. Renowned inventor, Julio Palmaz, M.D., due to a health condition, cannot ride in an automobile for more than a few hours. Without the helicopter, Dr. Palmaz could not visit the ranch. Also because Julio’s son Christian runs Palmaz Vineyards and the ranch in Genesee, he also needs to visit often, especially right now as the family is reopening the Genesee Store. Without the use of the helicopter, the family might sell the ranch. Next in line interested parties, who also looked at the ranch, are developers who plan to either subdivide or build a heavy traffic facility like a bottled water plant. How would that be an eco-friendly outcome?

Even while blaring an alarm that the Palmaz helicopter will set a precedent allowing helicopters and airplanes to inundate Plumas County, the Friends have failed to act. As much as the group proclaims in their article in the paper and elsewhere to have filed an appeal to the Plumas County decision approving the helicopter for ranch use, the Friends filed nothing of the sort, at least nothing that vaguely resembles the Planning Department’s clearly stated appeal procedure. Michael Jackson, legal counsel for the Friends, wrote a hurried letter that did not use the County form or follow appeal guidelines.

The County Supervisors held a public hearing to decide if the letter satisfied enough appeal requirements to accept. In the hearing, Michael Jackson not only blamed county employees for not explaining the appeal guidelines that we all read at the bottom of the original decision document, his letter did not identify who made the appeal, but hid their names behind, “Genesee Friends.” Therefore, the Supervisors voted 4-1 to deny the appeal.

Genesee Friends have not only tried to bend the law, but in their newspaper article, they misled readers by claiming widespread public support. The Genesee Friends consists of seven people, by far a minority in Genesee. The majority of people in Genesee, Indian, American and other local valleys are tired of hearing from Genesee Friends and support the Palmaz family.

Furthermore, the Friends constructed a bizarre illusion that the Genesee Valley Ranch is a major corporate entity with shareholders. To protect against liability, family owned ranches and farms often put holdings in LLCs. It is commonly known that the Genesee Valley Ranch and even Palmaz Vineyards are structurally small enterprises with no owners other than the immediate Palmaz Family. The Palmaz family practices sustainable, not industrial agriculture, and has for three generations.

The Genesee Friends claim to be on the side of ranchers in Plumas County, but their article presumes that ranchers cannot make wise stewardship decisions on their own land. The Friends paint a dark future in which ranchers allow helicopters and landing pads to take over wetlands and other valuable croplands. Dubious at best, this flies in the face of the work of ranchers over the last 150 years. I have heard ranchers around the West and Midwest give good explanations of how and why they are better stewards of the land than anyone else including environmentalists. Many of them supported Planning Commissioner Randy Wilson’s decision in favor of the Palmaz helicopter, as a brilliant way to substantially limit helicopter proliferation.

Fact is, the Palmaz Family built a private helipad and hangar on their own ranch property in compliance with all existing codes, ordinances, governing documents and laws — local, national and aeronautical. They also asked for prior input and suggestions from neighbors and invested in an independent noise study to be sure they would minimize impacts on wildlife and people. Neighbors living closest to the helicopter flight path said they do not hear takeoffs and landings.

Comparing the scenario and laws here in Plumas County to Idaho is like comparing apples to potatoes. Comparing to Napa is much more dissimilar, like apples to baseballs. Napa denies private heliports because they have concerns about customers visiting wineries in private aircraft — laws we do not have and do not need in our county.

Based on ignorance of the law and thinking wishfully that we can be like Idaho or Napa, the Genesee group is now suing our county, as if we were not fiscally struggling enough. The Friends accuse the county of trying to give a blanket approval of all private helicopter facilities as part of ranching infrastructure.

In fact, anyone who understands how Plumas County zoning law disallows uses by default if they are not approved, understands that the Planning Department decision will make it harder to build heliports on all other lands not zoned for agriculture. Building residential subdivisions on agricultural lands is impossible. Not only would the zoning have to change, but other government agencies such as Cal Trans and the FAA also have regulations preventing it.

Wilson’s decision merely simplified the Plumas County law and administrative burden, now more in line with other counties in California and other agrarian states that approve aircraft for farming.

What we need rather than more laws and regulations is a task force with representation and buy-in from all interested parties, not just one faction or another. Let’s bring everyone to the table for civil discourse. Litigation ought to be the last and rarely if ever used resort in a civil society, especially against small local governments whose motives are mainly to stay afloat by limiting red tape.

Back when the Palmaz Family bought the property, Neff advertised a “heliport” as one of the amenities of the ranch. Neff landed helicopters in the same spot for decades many times a month. The Genesee Friends years after claim this violates the Genesee Valley Special Management Area Plan, a poorly written appendix to the General Plan, which the county decision on Palmaz helicopter use explained was never codified into the zoning code. The citing of the Special Management Area document by the Genesee Friends in opposition to the Palmaz Family helicopter, hinges on re-defining the word “airport” to mean the same as “private helipad,” which it does not according to the FAA, county, dictionary or any other definition.

The purchase of the ranch by the Palmaz Family is the most historically and environmentally beneficial event to occur in Genesee Valley for 100 years. The land has been restored to its original use as a working ranch, the buildings are being restored and the land is already environmentally healthier. Few if any other folks with the means to purchase such a spread, have the background in organic food and sustainable agriculture like the Palmaz family.

People have accused me of defending the Palmaz family for purely monetary reasons because Christian Palmaz contracted with me to photograph for the ranch. The very heart of ranch strategy is to accomplish family goals by hiring all local employees and contractors. This boosts the local economy through environmentally friendly means, which is precisely the kind of work we need here. The Genesee Valley Ranch is the culmination of many local people’s efforts and knowledge. Therefore, the Palmaz family invites any of you who have related skills, please contact the ranch and offer your services. Genesee Valley ranch is team building as you read this, unlike a certain few others who are dividing people against each other and missing the larger vision.

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