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When filming last week’s San Diego Explained on the county’s new land-use blueprint, we slowly made our way up a dirt road in search of a place we’d only heard about and few had ever seen: Rancho Guejito. We eventually found the gate, and were greeted with a simple and strong message on a sign: There were guards on the premises, and they were armed.

So continued the mysteries of Rancho Guejito.

I first became intrigued with this massive, private estate in 2007 when I read these first three paragraphs from a Los Angeles Times story:

ASTRIDE his horse, Benjamin Coates could gaze across 21,400 acres and see the sweep of his power reflected in nature. A riot of mesas and meadows laced with gurgling streams. Miles of chaparral and clusters of stately oaks. A mountain that Native Americans considered a deity. Herds of deer, golden eagles overhead, enough wildlife to stock a zoo. And not another soul in sight.

This was Xanadu and it belonged to Coates.

The Pennsylvania-born businessman collected property the way others accumulate Hummel figurines. He owned a Manhattan office building, a hunting estate in Scotland, a Swiss chalet, apartments in Paris, New York and Tokyo. But above all else, he prized Rancho Guejito, Southern California’s last undivided Mexican land grant.

Now, Rancho Guejito has become a principal player in the county’s attempt to update its rules for what can and can’t be built on the unincorporated land outside of cities. Right now, you can build one home for every 40 acres on much of the land inside the ranch. That would change to one home for every 80 acres if the county’s proposal goes through.

Developing the land has been a source of great controversy. Owners of the land have commissioned polling to see what residents think of adding thousands of homes in the area in exchange for preservation promises. But even the typically pro-development Supervisor Bill Horn has lobbied heavily for its preservation and environmentalists cherish its unspoiled terrain.

I’m interested in doing more reporting on the ranch and the General Plan update. I’ve requested a tour inside. The L.A. Times writer didn’t get his request granted, but had this description:

Seen from the air, Rancho Guejito is a startling contrast to the jumble of housing tracts and commercial strips that inch closer with each year. That one man owned this much of Southern California — a spread five times the size of Griffith Park — is nearly unimaginable.

The 8,000-square-foot hacienda-style home Coates built is on a ridge at the ranch’s southern end. Its U-shaped courtyard and swimming pool overlook the property — a dozen miles long, 3 across.

A broad mesa stretches north flanked by two pine-studded valleys that converge in a vast meadow fed by Guejito Creek and its numerous tributaries. Cows munch grass that is 2 feet high in places. Everywhere are stands of Engelmann oaks. Over the lush hills are more mesas, valleys and creeks. A maze of rugged mountains anchors the ranch’s northern end.

The Union-Tribune’s Logan Jenkins took a stab at forecasting the ranch’s future last year. Does he have an idea of how it’s going to shake out? “I sure as hell don’t,” he wrote.

Anything I should know about Rancho Guejito? You can reach me at andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526. Follow me on Twitter: @AndrewDonohue.

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