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Ventura County Perspective

Farm Rights Law Ripe for Passage--With 1 Stipulation

Earlier warning for potential neighbors should be required

September 21, 1997

Will there ever come a politically convenient time for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to take up its right-to-farm ordinance?

The measure was on the agenda in July when emotional skirmishes broke out over the effects of the pesticide methyl bromide on neighbors of strawberry fields in Ventura and Camarillo. Right-to-farm was quietly deferred to Sept. 23.

And then, last week, an environmental group announced results of a study that shows pesticide use in California increased sharply between 1991 and 1995. Once again, it seems an awkward moment to stand up for the rights of farmers to do as they please.

Yet the measure is an important one, both for the $1.2-billion-a-year agriculture industry that is Ventura County's largest and for the large majority of citizens who consider farming a desired, fundamental and appreciated cornerstone of the county's culture.

The supervisors should vote on the right-to-farm ordinance Tuesday as planned. The Times supports passage of the measure, with one important amendment to make it more fair.

The ordinance is intended to do three things:

* To stand up for farmers' rights to make noise and dust and smells and other necessary side-effects of growing crops;

* To warn potential home buyers in or near agricultural areas that farms can be unpleasant neighbors;

* To limit those neighbors' legal avenues of complaint.

It would not allow farmers to use chemicals or practices that violate laws, or to use them in illegal ways. And residents concerned about what they consider inadequate protections against drifting pesticide vapors--such as methyl bromide--could still appeal to the state for larger buffers between homes and fields.

A right-to-farm ordinance is important because there is a threat to local agriculture even more worrisome than NAFTA, El Nino or avocado thrips. It's the guy who buys in a housing development newly wedged into former farmland, loves the green vistas, loves the fresh veggies at roadside stands, maybe even hums the theme from "Green Acres" each morning as he drives to his job in town. But when irrigation pumps run all night, or dust from a freshly cultivated field besmirches his stucco, or fertilizer fumes invade his sinuses, he is on the phone to the ag commissioner, his county supervisor or his lawyer.

We agree that new residents who receive fair warning ought to be willing to live with the previously existing activities. But we question whether it is truly fair warning if that disclosure is made at close of escrow rather than months earlier when the initial property-purchase contract is being negotiated.

If the intent of the right-to-farm ordinance is to prevent conflicts rather than simply give farmers an edge in them, warning should be given sooner rather than later. We urge the supervisors to add that stipulation before passing the ordinance.

For the long-range preservation of Ventura County's farming heritage, avoiding conflicts is a better strategy than merely resolving them. That is why we will continue to support new housing in urban areas and oppose it in agricultural areas.

And that is why we support the right-to-farm ordinance if it truly aims to inform potential neighbors while there is still time for them to reconsider.

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