I love birds.  And, I love this quote which I have framed on my desk, “a bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”

And, when I learned about the tiny endangered songbird Least Bell’s vireo’ story and its connection to the historic San Luis River in North County in San Diego, CA , the proposed location for North River Farms development project, I decided Bell’s story needed to be told.

An interesting bit of related history to the conversation about Measure Y to consider is this: the story of how this little songbird was powerful enough to delay the construction of a multi-million dollar bridge. In the 1980’s, the Bonsall Bridge was to be reconstructed. The reconstruction began and soon met with 2 barriers:

  1. protests to the destruction of the historic bridge, being only 1 of 2 of its kind within the 5-county area, and
  2. a tiny songbird named Least Bell’s vireo. img_4693This tiny gray bird requires a riparian zone for survival and protection from extinction. Turns out, Bell’s home would have been destroyed by the destruction of the bridge because its habitat would have been destroyed by this encroachment.  This story has a happy ending with the original bridge being maintained as a horse and human walkway and habitat consciously created to protect this tiny songbird from extinction. And, once this protection was in place, the new bridge was built.

Prior to learning about Least Bell’s vireo, I had no clue what a riparian zone was. Well, turns out it’s pretty darn important and directly related to the San Luis Rey river valley.  Riparian areas are lands that occur along watercourses, bodies and ways and have many benefits. These benefits include:

  • helping to control  pollution
  • helping to supply food, cover, and water for a large diversity of animals and
  • helping to serve as migration routes and stopping points between habitats for a variety of wildlife.
  • helping to stabilize stream banks
  • helping to reduce floodwater velocity, resulting in reduced downstream flood peaks.
  • helping to maintain the base flow in drier climates as streams lose water that can help build up the water table deep beneath the stream.

The San Luis Rey River has been designated as critical habitat for many animal and plant species: the endangered Least Bell’s vireo, the southwestern willow flycatcher, the endangered southwestern arroyo toad and the threatened California gnatcatcher.  Coastal sage scrub and live oak woodland habitat support numerous species. Golden eagles soar.

SOAR (Measure Y on the ballot) stands for Save Open Space & Agricultural Resources.  It’s a ballot-box initiative brought forth in Oceanside, CA catalyzed by the North River Farms project proposed for South Morro Hills. If passed, it would lock in the current agricultural 2.5 zoning minimum, be in place for 20 years, and require a city-wide vote for changes.

And, it could stop the proposed North River Farms development proposed by Integral Communities which would radically encroach upon the San Luis Rey river riparian zone.

This is an extremely complex issue.  Especially, taking into consideration the housing shortage and need in California as well as need for infrastructure upgrades. My father, Dr. H. Mike Mellano, Sr., supports this development, because he supports the legal right to propose it, and more importantly to him, believes the development will provide much needed affordable housing and infrastructure, which he has been an advocate of for years.


However, I believe there’s another need and possibly greater good to consider. This greater good is preserving THIS land… and its habitat: fragile and invaluable resources. And, in this case, we’re not talking about just any land. We’re talking about sacred land, in an ideal location for agriculture and to align with a beautiful potential for Oceanside’s  AgriVision.  And, we’re talking about sacred land along the historic San Luis Rey river valley once occupied by the Native American Luiseno Tribe,  named after the San Luis Rey Mission’s founder, Fermin Fransigno de Lasuen.  The Luiseno Tribe’s original name was Payomkawichum. Their land and water were taken from them and they were major contributors to developing the San Luis Rey Mission, one of the most historic missions in existence. This historic and rich land is a treasure.

Once this land is paved over and developed according to what the North River Farms’ proposal would accomplish, it’s gone – forever… along with its habitat. “People’s most common disturbance to riparian areas involves clearing vegetation and converting the area to other uses such as cropland and urban land.”

Paradise paved over. Infrastructure used up. Wildlife permanently impacted. Including the Least Bell’s vireo.

SOAR appears to be bad policy for large-scale landowning farming families which the owners of the land for the location of the proposed development are not.  And, this proposed North River Farms development appears to be worse.  Lots to consider for Measure Y … choose wisely.

Written by Maria C. Mellano, youngest daughter of Dr. H. Mike Mellano, Sr., part owner of Mellano & Company and manager for the land for 1/3 of the ownership. Maria is also trained as a clinical social worker, practicing psychotherapist, coach and psychodramatist based out of Boston. She can be reached here.

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