An artist’s rendering of the proposed 10,000-home Yokohl Ranch development, which cost more than $5.5 million in development costs reimbursed to Tulare County.
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Yokohl Ranch, a proposed 10,000-home foothills town east of Exeter, may never be built, but the 13 years of effort to do so came at a significant cost.
In fact, Tulare County employees put in just over 13,000 hours of combined work to help develop the project at a cost — along with fees paid to contractors hired by the county — of more than $5.52 million, according to a report released Thursday in the agenda for Tuesday’s county Board of Supervisors meeting.
But those millions haven’t come out of the county’s coffers.
Early on in the development of Yokohl Ranch — before the developers announced in late January of this year that they were scrapping their plans — officials concluded that working to help develop the series of homes and businesses on 36,000 acres in the Yokohl Valley would involve considerable county resources.
That work involved initiating work to modify the county’s General Plan and Foothill Growth Management Plan, as well as developing a community plan or master development plan, along with other plans to accommodate the project.
So in November 2006, the county entered a memorandum of understanding with the developer, Yokohl Ranch Company — owned by Corcoran-based J.G. Boswell Company, California’s largest farming business — to reimburse the county for 100 percent of its staff time and payments to consultants for the project.
The development proposal involved building homes for about 30,000 residents over 25 to 30 years, along with parks, schools, a golf course and retail and commercial spaces that would have included grocery stores, restaurants, medical offices and more.
But the plan faced opposition from the start, which included challenges to whether Boswell Company could get enough water to the site to support a community with a population comparable to Selma, along with the effects such a large community might have on the area’s ecology and on the quiet, country lifestyles of residents already there.
The recent recession also delayed the development.
Boswell Company notified the county on Jan. 31 that it no longer would pursue the project, stating in a letter that its decision was “consistent with the company’s strategic goal of building shareholder value by directing resources and efforts to its core agricultural businesses.”
Company officials also concluded that market conditions and the economic forecast didn’t justify the financial investment necessary to continue the project, it continued.
Days later, the county asked all vendors that had done work for the county on the project to send in their final bills.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors are expected to vote to agree to pay $28,638 to the San Diego office of Michael Baker International, a planning and review consulting business, for its contracted work.
That would leave $16,570 in the reimbursement account that Yokohl Ranch Company had been paying into as part of its agreement with the county.
The board also is expected to return all but $3,000 and hold it for 90 more days to cover any more unexpected bills from contractors, rather than the county having to go back to the developer to ask for that money, said Sherman Dix, Tulare County’s Resource Management Agency director.
It’s not clear how much more developers invested in the Yokohl Ranch. While that may seem a big waste now, that may not be the case in the future, as the report to the supervisors notes that all the work the county and the contractors did are on file and could be used later if the developers ever decide to revive the project.