Cielo Vista Ranch land-use issues go back to judge
ACCESS to Cielo Vista Ranch in Costilla County is in the hands of Judge Kenneth Plotz. In September, Plotz ordered the owner of Cielo Vista Ranch and members of the San Luis Land Use Council, who continue to press for access to the land, to work out their disagreements and submit a plan to him.
Shirley Romero-Otero with the Land Use Council said the group couldn’t come to full agreement with Cielo Vista Ranch owner William Harrison and now will await Plotz’s guidance.
“We were asked by the judge to draw up stipulations, both sides, and agree on that, but that didn’t happen. We only reached agreement on three very basic stipulations that he couldn’t change anyway,” said Shirley Romero-Otero.
Harrison, through a spokesperson, offered the following explanation of his offers to the San Luis Land Use Council:
“In negotiating an agreement with the Plaintiffs, I first presented an ‘option one’ which would have given 10,000 acres to the local community as a nature preserve and for full recreational use, alongside a $20 million endowment, where half would have gone to individuals with access rights, and the other half would have gone to the ‘Community Original Settlers Foundation,’” Harrison told AlamosaCitizen.com.
“Because this proposal was rejected by the Land Rights Council,” he said, “I then worked with the Plaintiffs to agree to 15 distinct regulations applicable to the use of the Ranch in a collaborative process, during which we both compromised to reach an agreement on numerous regulations. I look forward to the Court’s determination, since having a final list of applicable regulations should remove the ambiguity – allowing us to build a better relationship where we can all coexist and enjoy the land peacefully.”
After revisions from the Land Use Council in San Luis and Harrison, the lists are “now in the hands of the judge, and the judge will make the final decision on what he will accept,” said Otero-Romero.
The hope is for Judge Plotz’s decision to be met in the spring, but there is no tentative deadline.
“We didn’t change our stipulations much, maybe some wording, but the context of the demands are the same, and that’s just to be able to access our rights without any limitations which was awarded to us by the court.”
With the lists in the judge’s hands, all there is left to do is wait.
WHY IT MATTERS
Land use is in question here. The outcome of these stipulations can create a new precedent for the land use holders in San Luis. Dependent upon Judge Plotz’s decision or guidance, how people are able to access the Cielo Vista Ranch and how Cielo Vista Ranch employees are allowed to govern that land will be at the forefront of his findings.
This case has been in and out of court for the better part of a hundred years. Settling land use and land governance will set the stage for the future of land use holder’s grandfathered rights and access to the ranch’s timber and grazing areas.
The preservation of land use holder’s access to necessary materials and grazing lands is vital to their wellbeing and the community’s economic growth and cultural preservation. On the other side, the preservation of the land, its fauna and flora, and the rules that Harrison can set forth in allowing the land use holders access to the private ranch are necessary in setting a precedent for how private land can and should be accessed.
After September’s hearing on land use, Judge Kenneth Plotz gave both sides of the case until the end of the year 2021 to come up with a list of stipulations in regard to how the Cielo Vista Ranch would be accessed by land use holders.
Judge Plotz said the guidelines should be agreed upon and implemented so that the case can “get out of perpetuity.”
After stipulations were initially not agreed upon, both sides were given another deadline of Friday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m. to submit those lists of stipulations.
The Lobato v. Taylor case was in court for two days back in September 2021. This was three years after an olive branch was handed down from William Harrison, the newest owner of the Cielo Vista Ranch.
The court hearing covered land use and alleged harassment of land use holders by ranch security, specifically by head of security Carlos De Leon and his sons, who are also employed as ranch security.
In Alamosa Citizen’s original article, there were two instances of factual inaccuracies that were amended after it was published. The first was that William Harrison was, in fact, present during both days of court. In the article, it was stated that he was not present.
The second instance corrected a quote about Judge Plotz’s findings: “However, he did find that from the evidence provided to the court the ranch employees were not intentionally treating the landowners as second-class citizens, and that in his observations, landowners were often incredibly patronizing towards the ranch employees.” To amend this, alamosacitizen.com acquired court transcripts to verify the statements.
Judge Plotz found that the landowners were being treated as second-class citizens “contrary to the defendants’ assertions … When they’re [the landowners] approached by the ranch owner and ranch owner’s representatives – this is what it appears to this Court – is that they are often treated as second-class citizens.”
But found that the ranch employees were not intentionally treating them as second-class citizens. It was an effect brought on by a power imbalance. And that “the tone of quasi-law enforcement is pervasive in all these videos [shown during the hearing].”
Ranch employees’ contact with landowners was patronizing. “I find it amazingly similar to police encounters with citizens,” Plotz said. The manner in question is landowners who were either scouting for firewood, or simply being on the property, were approached by men in body armor, bodycams, handguns, and given a suspect line of questioning.