Ask Bill Ostrem—vice president of J.G. Boswell Co., president of its San Diego–based East-Lake unit, and president of its newly formed Yokohl Ranch Co.—just how tricky popularity can get.

Its mercurial nature became crystal clear as Ostrem and his team last month when they petitioned Visalia, Calif.'s Tulare County board of supervisors for a General Plan Amendment Initiation, a baby-step they needed an “okay” on in order to proceed with plans for their massive 36,000-acre master planned community called Yokohl Ranch, in the heart of the Central Valley.

Indicative of how controversial the matter may become, 100 or so public attendees—residents pro and con, environmental groups, and the press—waited six hours for the Yokohl Ranch agenda item to come up for review.

In his turn, Ostrem stood and spoke to the heart of the community. Family-owned and managed, J.G. Boswell Co. is a massive landowner in the county, well-known for cotton production, tomato farming, and running cattle. In the Central Valley, the Boswell name carries the reputation of a good neighbor and community supporter.

Outside the Valley, the Pasadena, Calif.–based company is regarded as a pioneer in developing master planned communities. In fact, the original concept for Sun City (and the active adult concept) was crafted by J.G. Boswell, who in a 1959 transaction, brought in Del Webb to make it a reality.

That was followed by Denver's Interlock-en and a 3,200-acres, 8,900-home project in southern San Diego County called EastLake. Scheduled for build-out in 2010 after more than 20 years of development, Ostrem himself has been instrumental in the success of the EastLake community that 26,000 people now call home.

To date, the Central Valley's development consists of builders who have acquired parcels of farmland, rezoned it, and waded through their own master–developer-like efforts—on a comparatively tiny scale. So at the meeting last month, Ostrem took great care to walk the fine line: balancing his position between that of a powerful developing entity with the impression of a cattle company with some extra land to develop. “Any time you are introducing a master plan into an area that's really unfamiliar with the process and the benefits of it, it's all about education,” he stresses.

“I didn't want it to seem like this was the case of some farmer who wanted to get into development. Boswell is actually a farmer, but one that just happens to have vast experience in development. It's not just someone trying to make a quick buck,” Ostrem adds.

A staff presentation followed Ostrem's intro and several citizens spoke—some with concern and others in support. At the end of the day, Tulare County supervisors voted 5 to 0 in favor of the application.

A FOOTHOLD IN THE FOOTHILLS Boswell's successful first step blipped immediately on the radar of savvy land acquisition folks regionally, and even statewide. “As I got back into San Diego, it was amazing to realize how many people already knew about the outcome of the hearing,” he says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Visalia, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Fresno, CA.