The folks at Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary had an opportunity to have their appeal heard before the San Bernardino County Planning Commission on Thursday morning June 18th. Surrounded by dedicated supporters who spoke before the commission, the Almquists won their appeal. The county is withdrawing the requirement to have the sanctuary pay for paving Buttemere Road and for a traffic study.


It was a good day for sanity. As one commissioner expressed it, "There will be no requirement for a road to no where." The commission voted not to support their staff's recommendations. They supported the more reasonable persons who would not want to have a paved road bringing increased traffic to the exotic animal sanctuary. I was proud to be among those in the audience who were present to show their support of the appeal. I did not speak at the hearing, but my position was stated in Tortoise Tales on May 5th and is posted on the Hesperia Star website at the title Sanctuary Jumps Through Hoops.


The Planning Commission must have been favorably impressed by Joel and Chemaine Almquist's personal commitment. Not only do they care for the animals and advocate against people keeping wild animals as pets; but when they rescue the abused animals to protect them, they good-naturedly comply with the numerous requirements for safety that are imposed by various agencies that monitor activities at the sanctuary. The questions to the Almquists were probative. In fact, more questions were asked by the commission that this columnist considers appropriate in their function.


So how did the commission get from a discussion about whether the Almquists carried enough liability insurance and a suggestion that they get funds to pay for the road from their Facebook friends to the pending matter of the staff's recommendation for the non-profit organization to pay for paving one of the county dirt roads? It may have something to do with the fact that the construction price might be four or five times more than the original estimate the county presented; but it more than likely was because of the dozen or more who passionately testified at the hearing.


A county fireman explained that in his experience the road to the sanctuary is adequate for emergency vehicles. The neighbor supported that opinion by stating that both paramedics and fire vehicles had no problem getting to her residence. The architect reminded the commission that we were having a major rainstorm when Extreme Makeover brought in their heavy equipment and that ABC graded the road so it was in better shape than it had been. One of the commission members drove out to the property to take a look for himself and he compared paving Buttemere to paving Summit Valley Road where no one any longer maintains the 30 MPH speed limit.


Long time supporters spoke. There was a retired engineer who explained how he brings food for the animals, and a volunteer who reminded the commissioners that nothing had changed in the way that business is conducted from the time the Almquists first applied for a permit for their sanctuary in April 2003.


Nothing changed except the staff's recommended that the sanctuary pay for paving the road. The question remains why. I suppose it's moot now that the appeal is won. But, the staff report, stating a paved road is needed for emergency vehicle access, is ambiguous. (See the county website, Planning Commission Agenda June 18 APN: 3038-101-01.) Page 3 of the Revised Condition of Approval @ #21 under the County Fire Department section states that the development "shall have a minimum of two points of vehicular access." (It does.) Exhibit A CUP Findings revised @ #6 it states, " ... are applied specially to this development in order to eliminate any potential problems, such as emergency access." From these, the staff recommended denying the appeal and upholding the requirement for paved access and a traffic study. What made the staff take this quantum leap?


The commission sent the study back to staff for another safety evaluation without a recommendation for paving Buttemere Road. The staff should now be able to issue the business permit so the doors can be opened for visitors.