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Ventura County Perspective | PERSPECTIVES ON SOAR

Compatible Measures A, B Both Merit Voter Approval

Urban growth boundaries are at the heart of each. Together they would offer better strategies to protect farmland and foster the agriculture industry.

November 01, 1998|RON BOTTORFF | Ron Bottorff of Newbury Park was a member of the Ventura County Agriculture Policy Working Group and recently completed a term as the public member of the Local Agency Formation Commission

Campaign fliers are arriving almost daily supporting or opposing Measure B, the county Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative, and the various city SOARs. Numerous letters and articles have been printed about them.

There has been considerably less public discussion, however, of Measure B's companion on Tuesday's ballot, Measure A. In looking over the published letters, one is struck that some voters appear to lack a clear understanding of the relationship between these two measures.

Most, of course, have strong feelings about Measure B--one way or the other. Others seem to feel that they must choose between the two. As a member of the Agriculture Policy Working Group, which developed the strategies incorporated in Measure A, I would like to explain why I believe these measures are completely compatible and that both should pass.

A key element of Measure A is that it is purely advisory. Even if it passes, the various cities and the county may end up being unwilling or unable to implement it. Therefore, to ensure voter approval of future proposals to change the county's General Plan, Measure B is needed.

Measure A is also needed and would result in a significantly better set of strategies for protecting farmland and fostering the agriculture industry than Measure B alone. Here's why:

First, if I could select a name for Measure A I would call it "Beyond SOAR." Urban growth boundaries are at the heart of both Measure A and the city SOAR initiatives. An urban growth boundary is an officially adopted and mapped line that separates an urban area from its surrounding greenbelt of open land, including farms, watersheds and parks. It is, however, more than that. It is a growth management tool that seeks to contain, direct and phase growth to produce more compact, contiguous urban development.

The Ag Policy Working Group's boundaries for the cities are intended as permanent and could only be amended every 10 years, with voter approval. Most boundaries in the city SOAR proposals are set until 2020 and could be revised at any time by voters. Thus, Measure A's boundary provisions are actually stronger than the city SOARs'. Additionally, Measure A incorporates a structured process for establishing new urban growth boundaries through a series of boundary studies under purview of LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission, the agency authorized by the state to set such boundaries. Emphasis in this process would be on protection of agriculture and open space using a "report card" that defines standards and benchmarks for evaluation.

Second, if Measure B passes, Ventura County's General Plan designations would be locked in, with some exceptions, until 2021 unless a change was approved by voters. Although this would allow voters to rule on General Plan changes, by itself it would provide no mechanism for establishing which areas of the county should remain agricultural. Measure A, if implemented, would adopt the six county greenbelts plus five new greenbelts, either through ordinances or joint powers agreements, giving these greenbelts a much stronger legal foundation than the current gentlemen's agreements.

Third, Measure A recommends the creation of an agriculture conservation and open space district for the county. This district would function as the publicly funded equivalent of the Ventura County Agricultural Land Trust and would complement its operations.

I agree with those who contend that our current system, under the Guidelines for Orderly Development, has worked well to contain urban sprawl. However, projected population increases for California over the next few decades indicate that if we wish to remain a county with separated cities, stronger measures are, indeed, required.

The mission of the Ag Policy Working Group was to come up with strategies for the protection of agricultural land and for the long-term survival of agriculture as a vital industry in our county. I believe the committee succeeded in this, over the course of one year and about 30 meetings, including seven town hall forums. The resulting program advocated in Measure A breaks new ground and forges a new direction, both for saving our ag industry and enhancing our quality of life.

The Board of Supervisors already has approved studies aimed at implementing Measure A. Thus we now have a unique opportunity to establish a new and effective growth management system, no less important in my view than the adoption of the very successful Guidelines for Orderly Development almost two decades ago.

Let's start with Measure B and follow up by implementing Measure A.

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