The High Sierra Rural Alliance is a non-profit grassroots organization committed to the preservation and enhancement of the rural Sierra experience. Our goal is to promote good local and regional land use planning that will balance economic growth with the preservation of the area's unique natural and scenic resources.

The Assault on Timberland Production Zoning is a Statewide Problem

posted Dec 27, 2017, 12:52 PM by Stevee Duber


California is losing its prized rural forestland, one luxury home and one ski run at a time



Sacramento Bee 

DECEMBER 01, 2017 03:55 AM

UPDATED DECEMBER 02, 2017 08:03 AM

California values forests. From coastal stands of iconic redwoods to high-elevation pines, trees cover 33 million acres, nearly one-third of the state. Private owners manage around 40 percent of these forests, an area more than twice the size of Alaska’s Denali National Park.

Today California is losing these prized forestlands incrementally – one luxury home, one ski run at a time.

Lawmakers have historically recognized the critical role private forests play in the state’s economy and beyond: providing water and wildlife habitat, storing carbon, creating and retaining soil. Among the steps they have taken to protect timberlands is the Forest Taxation Reform Act of 1976, the cornerstone of California forest policy. It establishes Timber Production Zoning (TPZ) designed to promote the long-term growth of timber on private lands by offering tax incentives that encourage protection of young trees and restrict other land uses.


Instead of taxing owners on the market value of their standing timber, the act values timberland based on its ability to produce timber. In exchange for a commitment to manage their forests for timber production for 10 years, landowners enjoy generous property-tax reductions.

Despite these safeguards, the very forests this landmark legislation is designed to protect are in jeopardy. As the demand for rural recreation and housing grows, TPZ landowners are increasingly looking for ways to cash in. And county officials, tasked with implementing timber production zoning, are increasingly bowing to the pressure.

Take Placer County, where supervisors rezoned 662 acres designated for timber production to allow 760 residences and commercial development on forestland adjacent to the Lake Tahoe Basin owned by Sierra Pacific Industries.

The October 2016 decision used a discretionary provision to bypass the 10-year wait without adequately documenting specific findings to support its decision, said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch. Along with the impact on timberland, the new development will affect traffic, the clarity of Lake Tahoe and starry night skies.

California taxpayers did not mean to give timber companies a tax deduction for replacing trees with luxury homes. Keeping forests available for the long term is a primary goal of the 1976 legislation. Sierra Watch has challenged the zone change in a case scheduled to be heard Dec. 14 in Placer Superior Court.

In Plumas County officials revised the county general plan in 2013, modifying the restrictions on development in a timber production zone to allow residential construction. Sierra Pacific Industries and other corporate timber owners requested the change to accommodate new uses on their land “because timber is not enough,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lori Simpson. The supervisors obliged, dropping the state-mandated review to determine that residences are compatible with and necessary for timber management.

Their decision allows the unregulated development that is precisely what TPZ regulations are designed to prevent. After enjoying decades of reduced taxes in exchange for managing to produce timber, owners now see more profitable uses for their land, said Stevee Duber, CEO of High Sierra Rural Alliance: “They want to have their cake and eat it, too.”

In February Placer County amended its zoning code to allow ski lifts and runs in TPZs. That’s a boon to Northstar Resort, which can now rezone its forest properties to timber production at a tax savings of nearly $1500 an acre. How it will be possible to grow and harvest timber in the midst of a ski resort is a question the Placer supervisors apparently chose not to address.

Piecemeal relaxation of the state’s timberland protections will not fell the world’s forests, or even California’s, but it is chipping away at the economic and ecological fabric of forestlands. That adds to the global loss of tree cover, an astonishing 73.4 million acres in 2016.

Along with the trees themselves, each loss lessens the amount of carbon stored and increases the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere of a state committed to curbing climate change.

California taxpayers intended TPZ tax relief to benefit forests, not for-profit developers. If county officials continue to cave in an isolated decision here, one there, private timberlands are doomed to death by a thousand ax whacks.

Jane Braxton Little, a freelance writer, covers science, natural resources and rural Northern California from Plumas County.


2017--HSRA Continues to Protect Timberlands

posted Nov 13, 2017, 1:41 PM by Stevee Duber   [ updated Nov 13, 2017, 1:48 PM ]

    The theme this year is protection of timberlands from development. Placer County recently amended their Zoning Code to allow ski lifts and ski runs on land zoned Timber Production. Timber Production Zone (TPZ) lands receive a substantial tax deduction to ensure the long term productivity of timberland.

    Right now land being used by commercial skiing resorts in Placer County is zoned Forest and appraised for tax purposes as Unrestricted Timberland at approximately $1470/acre. The appraisal on TPZ lands, which are restricted to growing timber and compatible uses, is about $42/acre. 

    The Zone Amendment, approved at the request of Northstar Mountain Resort will allow ski resorts in Placer County, which are not in the Tahoe Basin, the ability to rezone to TPZ the property they use for ski lifts and ski runs, substantially lowering their property taxes while incentivizing the development of ski runs and ski lifts on timberland. 

    Prior to the zone amendment, ski runs and lifts were not allowed on TPZ land. They were considered incompatible with the long term viability of timber production. In order to locate incompatible uses, such as ski lifts and ski runs on TPZ property, the property would have to be rezoned and removed from the program in order to ensure an appropriate tax rate for those non-timber commercial uses. 

    Ski runs and ski lifts are still incompatible with growing timber. Trees don’t grow on ski slopes. We don’t think the California taxpayer meant to give ski resorts a tax deduction to use timberland for commercial skiing operations instead of growing trees. Placer County’s amendment defeats the intention of the Timber Production Act. 

    Meanwhile, back in Plumas County, we are still waiting for a hearing date on our challenge of the Plumas County General Plan where one of the issues is the change in Plumas County policy that will allow residential development on lands zoned Timber Production. 

    As always, your financial help is vital. Every donation helps keep us focused on protecting the natural resources of the High Sierra.

Please donate. 


or send a check to:

P.O. Box 65
Sierra City, CA 96125


 The High Sierra Rural Alliance is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. All donations are tax-deductible.

HSRA Appeals Court Decision on Plumas General Plan

posted Jun 10, 2016, 2:37 PM by Stevee Duber

After considerable thought, HSRA has decided to appeal the Superior Court decision denying our challenge of the Plumas County General Plan Update. We believe the GPU contains policies which unintentionally put agricultural and forested lands at risk of rural sprawl. Without changes to the GPU now, there will be no way to address the problems of rural sprawl on a project by project basis in the future. we take this step cautiously understanding the potential strain to County and HSRA resources; however, we feel that the threat to resource production lands posed by certain policies in the GPU demands the careful consideration only the appeals court can provide.

Please help support this challenge by making a donation.

Focus 2015-2016:

posted Dec 14, 2015, 2:09 PM by Stevee Duber

Challenging the Approval of the Plumas County General Plan Update

HSRA has been concerned about the lack of protection for open space lands, especially agricultural and timber land, in the Plumas County General Plan since 2004 when we first challenged the “loophole” in the County’s 1984 General Plan. The “loophole” required agricultural lands to be rezoned to residential uses if a soils test provided by the owner of the property didn’t meet certain requirements. The “loophole” could have changed most of the agricultural land in Sierra Valley from agriculture to residential development. Due in large part to our efforts the County embarked on an update of its general plan beginning in 2005, though it didn’t really pick up steam until 2009, and finished in 2014. 

Unfortunately, the General Plan Update (GPU) contains loopholes which promote rural sprawl on natural resource lands remote from existing communities. A policy promoting clustering will allow subdivisions on resource production lands that weren’t previously allowed without a general plan and zoning amendment. Though clustering provides environmental benefits for developments on large parcels located within Planning Areas, outside of Planning Areas the same policies result in rural sprawl.  As a matter of right the GPU will allow huge structures—each up to an acre in size and up to two acres total per parcel--to be built all over the County. These structures can be used not only for residences, but also for purposes such as gas stations, recycling centers, campgrounds, animal husbandry, kennels, laundromats, lodging facilities, marinas and resorts to mention only a few without any further environmental analysis. The Plan puts water quality at risk because it does not contain any building setbacks from streams and rivers for those uses which are allowed by right. 

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the GPU hid this information from reader. The maps showing the location and extent of the Plan left out over 60% of the area affected by the Plan. The building intensity standards showing that the Plan allows structures to cover up to two acres of land in several land use designations weren’t revealed until after the close of the public hearing. The public and government agencies reading the GPU and EIR did not know the full extent or location of the development being proposed by the GPU.  

And, the GPU gives Sierra Pacific Industries and other large TPZ landowners a huge financial windfall by declaring without any evidence and contrary to state law that residences are allowed as a matter of right on lands zoned Timberland Production. This zone was created to protect timberlands from the encroachment of urban services. By agreeing to limit residential development to only residences necessary for the management of these lands, the property owners were awarded with substantially lower property taxes. Now that SPI has cashed in on the timber value of these lands, they are attempting to cash in on development potential which should not exist; and, Plumas County is aiding this swindle of the public’s largesse. 

HSRA attempted to influence the County's new General Plan at every practical opportunity. Some of our recommendations were incorporated, but still the Plan is deeply flawed. In 2014 we turned to the only available option left--litigation. The wheels of justice turn slowly. We are in the middle of that process now. 

In our challenge we are asking the Court to direct the County to set aside the approval of the Plan, require analysis of the environmental impacts of the Plan according to law; and, let the public and decision makers review the complete analysis before making a decision. Once the public understands the true parameters of the Plan, it will be up to the public to let the Board of Supervisors know, if it is a Plan which should or shouldn't be adopted or how it could be changed to truly implement the desires of the community. 

The HSRA is unique in its independence and commitment to advancing the public interest in Sierra and Plumas County land use decisions. With your financial support we can continue to influence the environmental policies regulating development in these beautiful places. Please give what you can. 

The Z Word

posted May 12, 2015, 6:21 PM by Stevee Duber

     Below is an article recently published in the High Country News. We thought it expressed our sentiments exactly as we embark on a legal challenge of the Plumas County General Plan Update. Among other things, the Update will allow construction of two acre buildings in the Sierra Valley without any environmental review, right next to streams and in floodplains. That's a mistake and that's why HSRA is going to court to stop senseless development.  

        The challenge is expensive. We need your financial support to protect the Sierra Valley from dangerous development.

Let’s talk about the “Z” word

Linda M. Hasselstrom OPINIONFeb. 4, 2015 Web Exclusive 

I am a rancher in a ranching community, so I imagine you’re not surprised to learn that we don’t like anyone else to tell us what we can do with our land.

This worked when we all raised cattle. Even when some folks started raising sheep or buffalo, we generally got along. The requirements of breeding livestock were similar enough so we could negotiate problems before they got ugly. Recently, however, our county of around 8,500 people has seen subdivisions sprout like mushrooms after a rain: A 2010 study counted 524 separate developments in the works. 

Then, after the need for it was already acute, county officials finally began to discuss zoning. Problems were mounting: An airport next to one group of homes wanted to expand; developers demanded roads to areas they wanted to plat.

Here’s just one example of the consequences we faced because we lacked zoning. Near my small hometown a few years ago, developers built a subdivision in a creek’s ancient and well-documented floodplain. Homebuyers were told that town government had “taken the subdivision out of the floodplain.” This meant the town council required the developer to raise homes one foot above ground level. The developer did this by putting a couple of concrete blocks at each corner of each house.

One night, floodwater from a heavy rain damaged or destroyed 34 of the subdivision’s 36 houses. Fortunately, the flood occurred while residents were awake, so nobody was killed. But many residents soon learned their insurance failed to cover their losses because their homes were located in a floodplain. And no one wanted to buy their damaged homes.

An entire house -- and everything that had been stored under the other 35 -- floated into my hayfield. Neighbors eventually piled the huge mess into a mound of car parts, gas cans, stored pesticides, lawn mowers, trees, dead pets and other debris. The weed-covered mound contains at least 23,000 cubic feet of waste.

The town tried to make me remove the garbage; I pointed out that I did not create it. Everyone who did -- subdivision residents, the town and county officials -- declined responsibility.


Homeowners lost their houses and possessions. We repaired our fences, but my hayfield and ranching business were permanently damaged by greed and government’s failure to plan.  

Intelligent zoning would have banned housing development in the floodplain and saved the county thousands of dollars in cleanup costs. It would have allowed the water to flow, preventing a flood and eliminating risk to people’s lives. The hayfield could have continued its auxiliary function as wildlife habitat, benefiting people by feeding and sheltering wild turkeys, deer, antelope, herons and other wildlife. There would have been no need for lawsuits from property owners damaged by the flood. I sought neither sympathy nor compensation for the garbage pile, and after several years it still covers several acres of formerly valuable land.

This happened because county residents stubbornly resisted zoning. But if a community doesn’t make zoning choices, someone else does. One developer made a decision that led to flooding that might have killed his customers, and the town and county let him get away with it. 

A common response these days to community concerns is a shrug and denial because it’s “not my problem.” But lack of zoning is everyone’s problem. Why not discuss what we might tolerate before a neighbor opens up a confined animal operation of 1,000 chickens or imports 60 rusty automobiles or 180 pigs?

With more subdivisions being platted upstream, I must now consider what I can do with my property. Before the flood, I was considering making a gift of the fields or selling them at a low price to the town as a recreational space, kept free of homes precisely because of the danger of flooding. Now, I’m not inclined to make such a gift to a town that has shown such irresponsibility. And if encroaching housing developments make it difficult for me to keep cattle there, I won’t put lives at risk by allowing housing. Besides, who’d want a house next to 23,000 tons of garbage? To develop the land, I’d have to choose a business that could afford to haul away all that junk.

Sometimes I wonder why we irrationally choose not to learn from experience. Why do we let prejudice blind us to the need to plan for a responsible future? I’m not afraid of the “Z word”; what I’m really afraid of is doing nothing and letting developers rule the roost.

Linda M. Hasselstrom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service ofHigh Country News. She ranches in South Dakota and is the author of several books about the West.


Sierra and Plumas Counties are under pressure to alter their rural character. 
We need your help to
Stay Rural!  

Please donate. 

by clicking on the link in the right sidebar or sending a check to: 


P.O. Box 65 

Sierra City, CA 96125

The High Sierra Rural Alliance is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. All donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

Plumas County General Plan Update Challenged

posted Jan 20, 2014, 1:51 PM by Stevee Duber

         HSRA claims TPZ policy on residences conflicts with state law and County failed to evaluate the potential for development on resource production lands

            High Sierra Rural Alliance petitioned Superior Court on Thursday, January 16, 2014 requesting the Court order Plumas County to set aside and revise portions of the recently adopted General Plan Update ( GPU ) which are contrary to the Timber Production Act; and, revise the Environmental Impact Report ( EIR ) to consider the environmental impacts of allowing development to occur on resource production lands without any discretionary review process.

HSRA CEO, Stevee Duber stated, "We made the decision to challenge the Plumas County General Plan Update after very careful consideration. Many people worked hard on the Plan for a long time; and, the County invested a lot of money on it. But ultimately, we feel allowing over 87,000 square feet of construction per parcel on timber, agricultural and mining lands without environmental and discretionary review threatens the rural values of the County. The potential for unregulated development on resource production lands without any setbacks from streams or other water resources is too important to ignore."

The petition alleges the County removed the requirement for discretionary review on residences in the Timber Production Zone. In state law parcels of land in TPZ's are restricted to the growing and harvesting of timber and compatible uses. A residence or other structure may be allowed on TPZ lands, but under state law the County would have to find that the residence or other structure was both necessary for and compatible with the management of lands zoned TPZ. In exchange for these enforceable restrictions, owners of TPZ land benefit by receiving substantially lower property tax valuations.

The GPU is inconsistent with the state law requirement because it allows a residence and structure, on a TPZ parcel of 160 acres without any assessment of whether such development is necessary for, or compatible with the management of TPZ land. Providing services for residential development far from established communities is expensive for the County. Because the taxes paid on TPZ land do not cover the cost, taxpayers living within established communities would have to foot the bill to provide police and fire protection, among other services, to residences on TPZ land.

Additionally, building intensity standards identifying the size of buildings allowable on resource production lands were not disclosed to the public until after the opportunity for review had passed. The GPU allows residences and accompanying structures up to 43,560 square feet each on Agricultural, Timber and Mining lands without any discretionary review. Nor, does the GPU make any provisions to protect streams and other water resources from encroaching development. The GPU does not provide any regulations to buffer streams from the construction of structures which require a building permit, but not a discretionary permit such as a conditional use permit or variance.

            Throughout the General Plan update process, the HSRA has made extensive comments detailing these issues. Our comments can be read by clicking on the links below.

We need your financial help to support this challenge 

Please donate 

     or send a check to:

P.O. Box 65
Sierra City, CA 96125

A Residence on Every Parcel?

posted Oct 26, 2012, 1:09 PM by Stevee Duber

More Thoughts on the Petition to Amend the General Plan

      A petition is currently being circulated by CAPR (Citizens for Property Rights) to place an Initiative on the ballot which would amend Sierra County's General Plan to allow a single family residence on practically every legal parcel in the County. On first blush the idea of a residence on every legal parcel may be appealing, but what are the consequences?  When the County allows development on a parcel, it also commits taxpayers to pay for providing services to the residence—fire protection, police protection, building inspections, and road access, to name a few.  

     In Sierra County where many parcels are located in remote, difficult to access areas providing these services is expensive and the property taxes on the residence do not cover the cost. That means the cost of providing services to remote parcels is subsidized by residents in existing communities like Loyalton, Downieville and Sierra City

At a time when the County must increase taxes or cut other services to pay for solid waste disposal, we can’t afford to siphon money away from existing communities to provide services to remote areas. At a time when County workers are being laid off, increasing the difficulty of providing services to existing communities, we can’t afford to expand their obligations.


Sierra County has committed $200,000 to update and implement the General Plan. More than half of that has already been spent. If passed, the Initiative will require hundreds of thousands more to re-evaluate and re-update the General Plan and Zoning Code. Before ithe Initiative even qualifies to be on a ballot, the Supervisors are talking about spending $10,000 to analyze the impacts of the Initiative. Then there will be the cost of a special election.


Private property rights must be responsibly balanced with economic realities and public good. We can’t afford the Initiative. Please don’t sign the petition. 

Let your Supervisor know you support their effort to implement the General Plan without any policy revisions that would expand the taxpayers’ obligation to provide services to remote residential parcels.


  Save taxpayer money.

Don’t sign the petition. 

Without enough signatures, there is no need to spend money on an analysis of the measure or an election.

Spread the word.

Sierra County Adopts Water Resource Ordinances

posted Sep 25, 2012, 4:18 PM by Stevee Duber

Downieville---On September 4, 2012 the Sierra County Board of Supervisors approved and adopted a suite of regulations entitled Water Resources Ordinances. This is a major step in satisfying the settlement agreement reached in November 2010 between the High Sierra Rural Alliance and the County. It is also a major step in implementing the Sierra County General Plan adopted in 1996. 

The Ordinances specify where development can occur in relation to streams, lakes, wetlands and other water resources. Consistent with the General Plan, the ordinances relax setbacks within Community Areas. For instance, in the old code, all development had to be 100 feet from the 100-year floodplain of a river. Meaning just about everyone in Downieville and Sierraville needed a variance. Now, in those communities, development need only be 50 feet from the seasonal high water line of the river.

 “This is a great first step in finally implementing the General Plan,” said HSRA spokesperson, Stevee Duber. “A lot of people think development in Sierra County has been hindered by the General Plan, but really the problem is that the County is using an antiquated Zoning Code which is inconsistent with the General Plan.”

In 1973 Sierra County borrowed a Zoning Code developed for a rural Sacramento Valley County. According to Sierra County Planning Director, “the 1973 Zoning Code has been tinkered with from time to time,” but without changing much except the name of the county, Sierra County uses the vintage code to regulate land use. For eight years HSRA has been fighting to get the Sierra County General Plan implemented through an update of the Zoning Code.

 “In a lot of instances the 1973 regulations don’t make sense in a mountainous environment with a small population. The confusion has frustrated a lot of projects,” Duber stated. “It’s the Zoning Code not the General Plan which has caused problems for development in Sierra County.”

The County is now in the process of updating the Zoning Code. The Board of Supervisors hired a consultant last February to rectify technical problems with the General Plan and draft a consistent Zoning Code. The Zoning Code comprises the regulations which implement the policies of the General Plan.

Adoption of the Sierra County General Plan in 1996 came after a rigorous public process which included over 50 public meetings and environmental review. The Plan had broad public support and garnered awards and accolades. “We’re excited to see the County moving forward on implementing and extending the 1996 General Plan,” said Duber. “The Plan protects the rural character of Sierra County by keeping development focused around community areas and protecting vital resources such as water, timber and agriculture.” 

Settlement Reached on TPZ Ordinance

posted May 9, 2012, 5:12 PM by Stevee Duber

         A settlement has been agreed upon in the case brought by the High Sierra Rural Alliance challenging Sierra County’s adoption of a Timber Production Zone Ordinance. The Ordinance adopted in December 2010 authorizes development of large acre residential estates on TPZ parcels. The HSRA argued the action had the potential for significant environmental impacts and thus the County’s approval using the “common sense exemption” was inappropriate under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The settlement includes a court order prohibiting approval or issuance of a building permit for any new residences on lands zoned TPZ until the County adopts a new land use policy for TPZ lands, or a new TPZ ordinance. 

        HSRA spokesperson, Stevee Duber expressed satisfaction with the settlement:

“The injunction ensures that before any residences are built on TPZ lands, the County will have to prove to the public that the potential impacts of doing so will be mitigated without being a burden on taxpayers.
         “In adopting the General Plan, the County found that the proposed land use pattern of rural clusters effectively mitigates the significant environmental impacts of development in the County. Clustering minimizes fire hazard; discourages inefficient vehicle use; prevents growth inducement along transportation corridors inconsistent with existing land use patterns; allows orderly and cost effective extension of public facilities and services; prevents conversion of timber producing lands to other uses; protects habitat and species diversity; reduces the potential for conflicts resulting from residential development on timber management.
         “Lands zoned TPZ are afforded generous tax benefits in exchange for the being limited to timber production enhancing uses. If residences are allowed on remote TPZ parcels, the property taxes paid by the parcel owners will not cover the cost of extending police and fire protection to them for example. Permit fees will not cover the cost of sending building inspectors to remote locations. In the end the residents of existing communities would end up subsidizing the cost of providing services to new residences on TPZ parcels and/or see a reduction in services to existing communities.”

         Michael Graf, attorney for the plaintiff, added, "there are real impacts from allowing persons to build large residential estates on lands supposedly intended for timber production. This settlement should ensure that the necessary environmental review occurs before there is a conversion of use.."  

HSRA Highlighted in Sierra Nevada Alliance Newsletter

posted Dec 12, 2011, 12:42 PM by Stevee Duber

         HSRA is honored to be the spotlighted member group in the SNA Newsletter. The most recent issue contains an article about HSRA on page 9 and a summary of a conference workshop about Tea Party political tactics in the Sierra on page 1. The panelists included HSRA project manager, Stevee Duber. 

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