The issue of preserving agricultural lands took center stage Wednesday at a forum for candidates vying for the supervisors' seat now held by Susan K. Lacey.
Lacey's most vocal critic, rancher Carolyn Leavens, said some development is inevitable and urged that the county draw up a comprehensive plan to route it to less fertile and economically viable greenbelt areas.
"Prime ag lands should be protected," Leavens told the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. However, the county should "put development on ag lands that aren't capable" of economic success.
Lacey, who represents the Ventura area and is seeking her third term, took the opposite tack. She said that she helped put together the county's landmark Agricultural Lands Protection Program--which set aside more than 500,000 acres for open space--in the early 1980s and that she is against tampering with those guidelines today.
"We've got them in place and we have to leave them there," Lacey said about the agricultural greenbelts that crisscross Ventura County. "They make good economic and common sense."
Lacey also called the agricultural lands "our mental-health belt," contending that the open space contributes to the quality of life in Ventura County. She stressed her accomplishments in eight years of office, especially in the mental health, child care and social services areas.
Vowed to Fight
In slow-growth Ventura County, Leavens' comments about development show a marked departure from the status quo. Elected and appointed officials in the past have consistently denounced the erosion of greenbelts and vowed that they would fight development of agricultural land located outside the boundaries of Ventura County's 10 cities.
A former president of the California Women in Agriculture, Leavens has the backing of some wealthy ranchers and Assemblyman Tom McClintock, whom she calls an old family friend.
Two other candidates running against Lacey also spoke on Wednesday.
Robert W. McKay, a writer, consultant and former state president of the California Wildlife Federation, said he is concerned about growth in Ventura County, specifically in connection with the county's ability to provide enough water for its residents.
Herschel M. Johnston Jr., a Ventura real estate agent, also stressed the county's need for orderly development in maintaining air and water quality and said the county should plan carefully to avoid the sprawl of places such as Orange County.