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Ventura County Perspective | PERSPECTIVE IN FAVOR OF
SOAR . . .

Measure A Complements, Strengthens Open-Space Initiatives

Guidelines on the November ballot would seek to protect greenbelts and oversee establishment of urban growth boundaries.

October 04, 1998|FRANK SCHILLO | Frank Schillo represents the 2nd District on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors

Nearly 1,000 acres of prime farmland in Ventura County gives way to the bulldozer each year for tract homes and malls. Once the land is paved over, it's gone forever--there's no turning back. Next month, voters will let us know how they feel about keeping our greenbelts and open spaces intact and our prime farmland away from development.

At my urging, and with the full support of Supervisors John Flynn and Susan Lacey, an advisory measure, Measure A, was placed on the November ballot by your Board of Supervisors. The primary purpose of this advisory measure is to provide guidance in carrying out a far-reaching plan designed to preserve our vanishing farmland and to stop urban sprawl.

Some have said that Measure A is in competition to the several SOAR--Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources--initiatives on the ballot in November. In reality, Measure A would complement the SOAR initiatives by providing sound guidelines to not only fully protect our greenbelts but oversee establishment of urban growth boundaries.

Measure A would add strength to the SOAR initiatives in three ways: First, it would provide a two-year moratorium prohibiting any changes to the current exterior boundaries of the county's 10 cities until urban growth boundaries were developed and approved by the voters. Second, it would adopt by ordinance six existing and five proposed greenbelts, which would permanently separate our cities from urban sprawl. And third, it would establish an open space conservation district that would receive public and private funds to acquire open space and farmland, which would be dedicated as open space in perpetuity.

We need to create a firm urban-farm edge for healthy cities and healthy agriculture. And that edge is an urban growth boundary--a 20-year boundary between the countryside and urban development. This would provide a real and lasting boundary to let everyone know where the cities end and farming begins, where you can build and where you cannot.

If nothing is done to protect our greenbelts now, just imagine our children discussing this same issue in the future. If we build homes on our greenbelts stretching as far as the horizon and beyond, our children will have the same questions as we have today. I want to keep our greenbelts, the open space that separates our cities, intact. That's what sets us apart from our neighboring cities and counties to the south, where they have back-to-back development.

The economic incentive to sell land is tremendous, considering the difference between the value of that land for development and what a farmer can make from it raising crops, especially farmland on the urban edge--that thin line separating cities and farms. Many of our farmers have been highly vocal, saying that the growth-control measures would usurp their property rights and take away their choice of whether to stay in farming or not. However, if a farmer decided not to farm anymore, the conservation district would either purchase the land or purchase the development rights so that the land could continue to be used for farming.

The money to fund the conservation district could come from several sources. The U.S. House of Representatives has before it the Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act of 1998, which would allow tax-exempt revenue bonds to be issued for the acquisition of agriculture land. Another source of revenue could be a tax on future development to be paid by the developers to buy the farmers' development rights. We must be as creative in coming up with funding as we are for preserving our greenbelts and establishing urban growth boundaries.

For many years this loss of prime agriculture land to development has been a mounting concern for many of us. We need to save our greenbelts, open space and farmland from development. Measure A, in concert with the SOAR measures, would help us do just that. These measures would assure that our county remains semi-rural not only for today, but for tomorrow and forever.

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