Waheto National Park (Also known as Rancho Guejito)
Waheto is derived from the word Wixe'to, which is the Payomkowishum Indian name for Pine Mountain, or "Sugar Pine Place," a sacred mountain on the northern portion of this land.
"Waheto" is pronounced wa-heh 'toe, with an accent on the 'toe.
5/19/10: We are continuing to develop this new page to provide detailed maps, photos, and descriptions. Please come back frequently for a wonderful source of information on one of California's priceless natural treasures.
Proposed Waheto National Park boundaries (in red) on a recent map of the area north of San Diego, California.
Rancho Guejito is a 21,000+ acre landscape in northern San Diego County filled with natural treasures found nowhere else in California. Old Engelmann oak groves, vast stands of beautiful chaparral, and seemingly endless native grasslands provide habitat for a remarkable variety of animals including mountain lions, bobcats, deer, and the endangered, curious little Stephens' kangaroo rat. It also holds a vast store of Native American tradition and history. Both the Payomkowishum and the Kumeyaay Indians called the area home for thousands of years.
It has always been Benjamin and Nancy Coates' wish (the rancho's owners since the 1970's) that the property be protected from development forever and preserved in its pristine state.
"Mercy no, we're not going to develop it!" said Nancy Coates in February, 2006 when presenting a donation to the Valley Center History Museum. "It is as if time stands still. You are spellbound by its vast and peaceful serenity. My husband fought hard to keep Guejito in its natural state. He could never see how anyone would want to change such a paradise and he used all his connections to keep it so."
To honor Benjamin and Nancy Coates' dream, all of Rancho Guejito needs to be preserved. The best way to do so is by designating the rancho, along with some of the beautiful public lands surrounding the property, as the new Waheto National Park for all Americans to enjoy.
Documents supporting the public acquisition of Waheto
We are helping to distribute information with the goal of preserving Waheto and designating the area as a new national park to protect its rich ecological and culture treasures. If you would like to stay informed, please sign up on our mailing list.
Beautiful ceanothus is a common chaparral shrub on Waheto
Wildflowers abound on Waheto... where they are protected from the cattle
National Park status would prevent further mismanagement of Waheto
While the current land managers of the Guejito Ranch claim they are properly managing and protecting the fragile ecosystems of Waheto, evidence suggests otherwise.
Cattle grazing is preventing the natural regeneration of the rare Englemann oak. If such grazing activity is not controlled significantly, much of the oak woodland now present on Waheto will be lost over time.
Many of the delicate streams have been denuded of their native sycamores and willows and polluted with livestock waste, seriously compromising the ecological health of important riparian habitats.
Cattle grazing continues to prevent the restoration of Waheto's vast native grassland. As the photo below demonstrates, California's official State Grass (Nasella pulchra) is overgrazed, preventing it from developing its normal growth habit and restoring the grassland to its healthy, natural state.
Cattle and goats have been used to eliminate native shrublands across Waheto, in some cases "right down to the ground." Although the current managers have claimed this is being done to supposedly get rid of "fuels," many have speculated the extra goat and cattle grazing is being conducted to render the land less valuable as a future preserve and more valuable to interested developers.
According to a fire management strategy that was apparently developed after the 2003 wildfires, the current managers of the ranch see "environmental preserves" as areas only filled with "brush" that "spawn unnaturally destructive firestorms which will kill everything that cannot fly away or dig deep underground." See our page on Fire and Science for an explanation as to why such a claim is ridiculous. A report released by the current manager's representative also claiming that "cattle" and "clearing" saved Waheto from burning during the 2007 wildfires has been labeled as false and misleading.
In the foreground is a beautiful California native grassland characterized by purple needle grass. This is the way it is supposed to look. On the other side of the fence where cattle are allowed to graze, the grassland has turned into one dominated by non-native weeds.
Most of Waheto burned either in the 2003 Paradise Fire or the 2007 Witch Creek Fire. However, the riparian areas and chaparral are recovering well as can be seen in this photo.
A legacy Englemann oak. Unfortunately, due to extensive cattle grazing on Waheto, few saplings ever survive. Consequently, the Engelmann oak will likely disappear from much of Waheto if cattle are allowed to remain and the land is not properly conserved.
Rancho Guejito caught lying about destruction of habitat
County orders Rancho Guejito to restore canyon, pay fine
North County Times 3/29/12 By Chris Nichols
San Diego County has ordered the company that owns Rancho Guejito to pay a $150,000 fine and restore a canyon where workers illegally bulldozed a road, county officials said in a report released Thursday. The order could complicate Rancho Guejito Corp.'s long-term plans to build a city of homes on the pristine acreage, which stretches across 23,000 acres east of Escondido, between highways 78 and 76.
The road, which gives the ranch access to Highway 78, was termed by observers as "a missing link" to unlocking development. Rancho Guejito Corp. has discussed building up to 10,000 homes on the land. The only other main access is from winding Lake Wohlford Road. "If they're forced to restore the (area where the new) road (is), they lose out on everything," Oliver Smith, chairman of the Valley Center Community Planning Group, said on Thursday.
"I commend the county for doing the right thing," added Dan Silver, a prominent Los Angeles environmentalist whose Endangered Habitats League has long watched development plans at the ranch. Silver said that EHL will scrutinize the extent to which the canyon is restored.
Rancho Guejito Corp., through its spokesman Hank Rupp, has said that the road was a longtime agricultural pathway that was improved last summer. Rupp on Thursday declined to comment on the county's order, other than to say: "We are having ongoing discussions (with authorities) to resolve our farm road matter."
Findings from the county's three-month probe say the corporation:
Impaired or impeded the flow of Guejito Creek without a permit
Failed to provide and maintain adequate erosion control
Graded without a permit
May have committed code violations on other parcels
The corporation has 14 days to appeal the order, which was dated March 26.
In December, the county issued the owner a stop-work order after discovering a recently built dirt road, which extends several thousand feet across the southern portion of the ranch, running through Guejito Creek Canyon. News of the recently built road led some county observers, including Silver, to speculate the corporation was taking a calculated risk. It would pay any fines but keep and eventually use the road, they surmised. Rupp, in interviews earlier this year, said the road had nothing to do with any future development plans for the property.
The ranch sits adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest and east of Valley Center. It includes a 13,000-acre parcel that is the last Mexican land grant in California and dates to 1845. The land includes old adobe homes, American Indian artifacts, running streams and high mountain territory. Rancho Guejito has been described as "a jewel" by historians and conservationists alike. "(It is) probably the most inspiring piece of history in California," Bob Lerner, a Valley Center historian who has written extensively about the property, said last fall. "Once you drive through the main gates, it's like stepping back into another century ---- it is another century," he said. "It's like California was when we were part of Mexico.
Denial of reality: "Google Earth images are not the last word in evidence." -Hank Rupp, San Diego Union Tribune, 2/5/2012
August 2010 Google satellite image prior to Hank Rupp's claimed "maintenance" of the "farm road." Clearly the road did not exist along the pristine streambed. On 1/24/12, the North County Times reported the following: Hank Rupp, a spokesman for Rancho Guejito Corp., which owns the property, said last week the road was nothing more than a farm road connecting two groves. He said it has been on the property for decades and "was maintenanced last summer." Note "A" for location of the illegal road shown in the photos below.
Source: North County Times
Additional sources of information on Rancho Guejito
Incredibly, there have been rumblings about Waheto being developed over the last few years. Everything from ten thousand homes, a business park, to an airport have been suggested. Below are a few articles discussing the threat of development.
Guejito dream or nightmare?
By RICK MERCURIO -- For the North County Times | Posted: March 9, 2010 12:01 am Benjamin Coates had a vision for Rancho Guejito, the last undeveloped Mexican land grant in California. He spoke with passion and pride that his vast, wild land holding in North County would forever remain as open space.
He had good reason for this desire. The land is pristine, with multiple species of native plants and animals living freely in a natural environment. Riparian (riverbed) habitats meander through oak woodlands and chaparral hillsides, leading to mountainous terrain. Native Americans have their own reasons to revere these hills and valleys.
Guejito, 36 square miles east of Escondido and Valley Center, also serves as a wildlife corridor connecting Palomar Mountain and the Cleveland National Forest with some of North County's pockets of open space, including Daley Ranch and Hellhole Canyon.
Coates, who died in 2004, would be devastated that his heirs have not only blurred his vision, but have turned it upside-down. Rather than create the dedicated preserve Coates had planned, they would prefer to create a financial windfall for themselves.
Preliminary plans call for an urbanized cluster of possibly thousands of units to be built on 6,000 acres. The developer, the Rodney Company, touts its generosity of leaving the original land grant intact as open space. The company would only use acreage purchased subsequently.
But this is a disingenuous gesture. Almost all of the land ---- both the original grant and the newly acquired ---- is basically unbuildable. In effect, the offer is to gain approval for a vast, new urban cluster in a rural area, in exchange for not building on land that could not sustain development.
Some of us have seen this tactic before: Buy land with steep slopes, rocky terrain, far from existing infrastructure, then ask governmental bodies for massive zoning concessions, so they can cluster houses on the few relatively level portions of an otherwise unbuildable parcel.
It is true that this is private property, and the owners have been paying taxes on it. But that does not convey an inherent right to rezone the land. No one is standing in their way of developing the land as the general plan permits.
Rural, inaccessible land, however, is taxed and zoned as such, and any request to change its legal status is called real estate speculation. Developers gamble that they can wrangle three votes from the elected bodies that control land use (translated city councils and county boards of supervisors) to approve their general plan amendments.
Not only would the developer of Guejito need a huge increase in zoning, it is asking the public to accept leapfrog development that would shatter the concept of "smart growth" ---- where new growth is adjacent to existing infrastructure and transportation corridors.
Coates was a visionary, and we must remember his dream ---- before the land he loved is transformed into an irreversible urban nightmare.
People often use the term "priceless" to describe possessions that are too valuable to lose. But markets are pretty good at putting a price on "priceless" assets, and that process is under way at Rancho Guejito, the glittering environmental jewel of Southern California that is tucked into a hidden valley of North San Diego County.
If you have never heard of Rancho Guejito, don't feel bad -- few people have ever seen it. The property is big: 36 square miles, or about 21,000 acres, that sprawls in a vast rectangle from behind the Wild Animal Park, near Escondido, northeast to the 4,221-foot peak of Pine Mountain, near the La Jolla Indian Reservation.
Rancho Guejito is the last intact Mexican land grant in California. To stand in the hush of its grasslands is to revisit San Diego's Old West. Along with a token herd of cattle, it is home to golden eagles, mountain lions, deer and pristine stands of Engleman oak trees, along with archaeologically and historically important sites. Eastern industrialist Benjamin Coates bought the property for $10 million in 1974, after the state failed to buy it for a park. He spent 30 years enjoying his property and fighting off environmentalists, airport planners, dump developers and others. But Coates died in 2004. His heirs and partners have been busy since.
Their hand was forced by the county government's General Plan 2020, an unfinished blueprint for growth that could sharply reduce development prospects for the rancho -- and thus the property's market value. So Guejito's owners hired Jim Whalen, a top-tier development consultant who sits on an advisory board to GP2020. Neighbors soon spotted surveyors, prompting the owners' spokesman, Temecula attorney Henry Rupp, to deny that any development was planned. But last week another shoe dropped. The rancho's owners asked Escondido city officials to explore its annexation. This would place the property beyond the reach of county planners.
Rupp will find open arms on Escondido's City Council. Rancho Guejito would double the city's land mass. And Rupp is peddling a vision of a medical research campus to a council that is desperate for high-paying jobs. Of course, annexation is monstrously difficult. And environmentalists are girding for battle. More broadly, Escondido might approve thousands of new homes, miles from roads, power and water supplies. This kind of leap-frog development strains infrastructure and runs afoul of state laws that mandate infill near existing cities. Still, any steps toward development increase Guejito's value -- well into tens of millions of dollars, based on recent deals for the Hearst and Ahmanson ranches.
By far, San Diego County's 3 million people would gain the most from preserving the land. Between state park bonds and environmental funds in the TransNet tax, we have the money. The public should have this jewel, and Coates' heirs can get a fair price.