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Ventura County Perspective | SECOND OPINION

'Buying' Farmland a Costly Proposition

Preservation: If government bought all the land to 'save' it from development, where would taxes come from?

September 28, 1997|BRUCE ROLAND | Bruce Roland is an Ojai resident

The days are indeed strange when ideas as absurd as William P. McGowan's "How to Save Ventura? Buy It" (Sept. 14) are taken seriously enough to warrant editorial exposure.

For McGowan to call upon the memories of his early stomping grounds in the north to suggest saving Ventura by buying it is laughable. That he might actually persuade someone that government ownership of land is even remotely capitalistic is frightening. To be sure, government ownership of land in the public trust is the cornerstone of socialism and poses as potent an impediment to capitalism as one could ever imagine.

Unlike the northern third of the state which is currently 70% to 80% "public" land, Southern California's lands are by and large privately owned. Taxpayers here naturally tend to put a higher premium on private property ownership and the rights associated with it as guaranteed in the Constitution's 5th Amendment. This is probably why the last government land-grab initiative the likes of which McGowan proposed (Proposition 180 in 1994) fared so much more poorly here than it did in Northern California.

Taxpayers here seem to have a better understanding of the critical link between private property ownership and the purposes for the taxation upon it. They more readily realize that the tax-exempt nature of "public" land precludes it from contribution to the tax pool that provides funding for government services like police and fire protection, schools, libraries and, indeed, maintenance of parklands and other open spaces. They have paid attention to how, as more and more private, taxable land has slipped into the "public" land abyss, their taxes have risen while the services they receive have deteriorated.

Farmland loss is an issue about which everyone should be concerned but the worst way to halt it is to blur the lines of distinction between agricultural land and ridgelines or other open spaces, then shamelessly jerk on emotional cords like this loss to further other agendas.

"Buying" farmland, as McGowan suggests, may keep it from ever being developed but the long-term effects of doing so will be far more costly than he cares to admit.

The loss of agricultural land to the developer's plow isn't going to stop as long as environmental groups continue to wage "water wars" on growers and pursue stricter regulations on the chemicals they must sometimes use to keep their businesses profitable.


Returning the profitability to farming will keep growers from ever facing that day when their options are narrowed down to either selling to developers or losing their land outright to the banks. This approach will also allow us to keep the money William P. McGowan wants to tax away, using it instead to "buy" the things that we need--in a capitalistic way.

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