"If you support agriculture, there shouldn't be any reason to oppose a countywide initiative," Bennett said. If they don't support it, he said, "then development must be their motivation."
But Mobley, the farm bureau president, said he believes the entire approach is misguided and violates landowners' property rights and constitutional rights to due process.
"Sure, we think there are some changes needed to make it more difficult to change land uses," he said. "We might be able to make some changes to preserve farmland, but not tie the hands over everyone so tightly that every change requires a vote of the people."
Francis and Bennett extended an offer to meet with farm officials to discuss the proposed initiatives--an offer readily accepted by the farm bureau. No date has been set.
Francis stressed that the initiatives are merely in draft form and are likely to change over time. "I hope to tailor the initiatives to bring on as much farmer support as we can," he said.
Michael Wesner, chairman of the county Planning Commission, said that he and fellow Commissioner Brian Brennan want to organize meetings between farmers and the slow-growth activists in hopes that face-to-face discussions might yield less divisive ways to protect farmland.
Enough common ground exists between the two groups, Wesner said, to form a basis for dialogue.
"They basically have the same philosophy--they want to keep the land agricultural," he said.
Although many look to the current greenbelt system as a permanent shield against development, Wesner said the greenbelt agreements between the county and cities lack the legal teeth to indefinitely protect farmland and open space.
Thursday morning, the county Planning Commission held a hearing to dispel myths that the county's six greenbelts have binding legal authority to control growth. Rather, that power lies in the general plans and zoning ordinances adopted for those areas.
Furthermore, there exists no countywide consensus on what land uses can be allowed in a greenbelt.
"They're all over the place," Wesner said.
The county's greenbelts encompass about 83,000 acres of agricultural and open-space land. The county's first greenbelt was established between the cities of Ventura and Santa Paula in 1967.
Times correspondent David Baker contributed to this story.