William Johnson's persimmon trees get a reprieve

City officials will not force a longtime resident to rip out his persimmon trees any time soon.

The City Council voted Tuesday to approve the city's updated General Plan, which does not permit agricultural activity on open spaces. But they may make a deal with one resident to keep his operation running.

William Johnson maintains a farm on his property with a 475-tree persimmon grove, horses and alpacas. Southern California Edison owns the 11-acre plot of land where the trees are located.

Johnson said he has signed a memorandum with the city that allows him to continue his operation. But officials said they only agreed that they would consider his request.

“That memorandum does not state that he can use the Edison property for agriculture uses,” said City Atty. Mark Steres.

Steres said Johnson can initiate a process with the Planning Commission to handle his case and create an overlay zone.

For now, no one is planning to remove any trees or force Johnson to move any part of his agricultural operation, said Mayor Steve Del Guercio.

Johnson's use of his property is a divisive issue among his neighbors.

El Rey Ensch, who lives on Orchard Lane, said he has never met Johnson but supports his operation.

“This community has a history of agriculture,” Ensch said. “Obviously, times have changed. But I think all communities need to maintain their ties to historical roots.”

George Crispin said he can see the persimmon trees from his yard, but they are not the issue. Crispin isn't happy with the animals Johnson has kept on his property.

He recalled a time when he stepped outside his house and saw a cow pie just outside his driveway. The cows, Crispin said, were kept in an area surrounded by a barbed-wire fence that encroached on the Cross Town Trail.

Johnson often yelled, “Get off my property” at the hikers who crossed the trail, Crispin said.

“He isn't as sweet and calm as he is at this City Council meeting, “ Crispin said, “but he is a rather abrasive individual when it comes to somebody crossing what he says is his property, which isn't his property.”

After receiving complaints several years ago, the city pressed Johnson to remove fencing that blocked the trail. He does not currently have cows but has said he would like to have some again.

“Don't give him another inch,” Crispin said. “He's been going at this for 15 years now, and I think it's about time we put a stop to that.”

City officials said if Johnson pursues initiating an overlay zone on the Edison property, he would have to keep his area clean.

Senior Planner Fred Buss said the city does not know what they will do with Johnson's property if he does not apply for an overlay zone.

“Those are issues that we haven't dealt with,” he said.

Buss confirmed that Johnson has had numerous code violations on his property over the years.

While the city has no plans to make sure his property is in line with new zoning codes, Buss said, “In time, we will have to take some sort of action.”


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