Supervisors likely would have approved foothills city


Three Tulare County Supervisors speak glowingly of Yokohl Ranch during closeout of the project

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – Opponents of the Yokohl Ranch project celebrated the Jan. 31 announcement that the J.G. Boswell Company had withdrawn its application to develop a city in the foothills east of Exeter, in part, because they suspected it would have passed. And they were right, according to comments made at the April 10 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Three supervisors gave glowing remarks about the project during a closeout of the project at the meeting. Chairman Steven Worthley said he had personally spoken with Jim Boswell and the said the project would have been a “great benefit to Tulare County” because 60% of the land was slated for a permanent pasture land and it would have improved property tax revenue for the county.

“In thinking about Tulare County, this would have been a great shot in the arm,” Worthley said. “Maybe this will come back.”

Supervisor Mike Ennis, whose District 5 would have bordered the project on the southern edge, called it a “great project” and Supervisor Pete Vander Poel described J.G. Boswell Company as one of the “premiere developers in the state.” Supervisor Amy Shuklian did not make any public comments about the project and Supervisor Kuyler Crocker, whose District 1 would have encompassed the development, was not in attendance at the meeting.

At the very least, the County of Tulare did not lose anything processing the project. During his report to the supervisors, Sherman Diggs with the Resource Management Agency said staff put in 13,000 hours and J.G. Boswell Company paid $5.5 million to cover all of the hours and costs associated with the application to build 10,000 homes on the 36,000-acre Boston Ranch in Yokohl Valley. There was even a $16,500 balance that was returned to the company. Between 2005 and 2016, county staff developed three area management plans, a fire management plan, an infrastructure master plan, a tentative tract map, a master development plan, development agreement, preliminary financing plan and completed 80% of the project’s environmental impact report. 

“I do think there are a lot of compliments to the Boswell Company,” Vander Poel said. “We aren’t coming out of pocket any money and that says a lot about Boswell as a company.”

In a previous interview, Supervisor Crocker called the project a “mixed bag” because it would have created jobs but faced major challenges in a tough regulatory environment. He said the project was delayed during the Great Recession and never really finished its draft environmental impact report after it was picked back up in 2014. About that time, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requiring local agencies to draft plans that ensure watersheds create a balance between how much groundwater is used and how much of the underground water basins can be recharged. Boswell is the second largest holder of private water rights in California, including water rights on the Kings River but may not have been allowed to ship water from one river basin to another under the new law.

“SGMA may have played a factor but the environmental review process, including air quality and transportation, were also major issues for the project,” Crocker said.

In his letter to Chairman Worthley and CAO Michael Spata James W. Boswell, chairman and CEO of J.G. Boswell Company, stated that the project was no longer economically viable and inconsistent with the company’s agriculture interests.

“Our decision is based on very thorough analysis which indicates that market conditions and economic forecasts do not justify the financial investment necessary to develop and build out the Yokohl Ranch project,” wrote James W. Boswell, chairman and CEO of J.G. Boswell Company. “Also, this decision is consistent with J. G. Boswell Company’s strategic goal of building shareholder value by directing our resources and efforts to our core agricultural businesses.”

J.G. Boswell Company, one of the largest private landholders in the Western United States, owns about 150,000 acres and is the country’s largest cotton producer and one of the world’s largest tomato growers. Once operated out of Corcoran, Calif. in Kings County, the company is now based in Pasadena, Calif. and had diversified into community building in the last half century. 

If completed, Yokohl Ranch would have built more than 10,000 homes in the foothills between Exeter and Springville, making it the county’s fourth largest city with an estimated population of 30,000. It would have redrawn local, state and federal political boundaries, and changed traffic patterns in the eastern part of the county. Throughout the application process, J.G. Boswell Co. insisted that more than 60 percent of the 36,000-acre Boston Ranch would remain cattle grazing land.

“Throughout the process, we made and kept all of our commitments of ensuring visionary balance between land stewardship, sustainability and community development,” the letter from Boswell stated.

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