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Ventura County Perspective

Changing to Conserve

4 Farmers Explain Why They Support the SOAR Initiatives

October 11, 1998

Editor's note: This letter was mailed to several dozen farmers in Ventura County. It is printed here with the permission of the authors.

We are farmers who endorse the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiatives. We are writing to people we know in the business of agriculture to set forth our reasons, as it has seemed that the presentation of the issue in the ag community has been pretty one-sided so far.

Agricultural land in Ventura County has been piecemealed away over the past 20 years. It's not that long ago that you could top the Conejo Grade heading west at night and it would be dark below you; now it's a sea of lights as far as you can see.

The conversion of agricultural land to urban uses will continue until so much land is gone that the ag infrastructure disappears, and then we'll be just another Orange County or San Bernardino County, all malls, freeways, traffic jams and housing developments. This will happen unless there's a dramatic change in the rules that govern development.

SOAR is that change in the rules. SOAR wouldn't stop development but it would stop sprawl, the relentless eating up of agricultural land and, yes, the beauty of Ventura County. SOAR would give us an opportunity to come together over the next 20 years to figure out how our cities and the county can accommodate population growth and new jobs without paving over priceless farmland.

Basically, SOAR would just require the cities in the county to stick with their current general plans, forbidding the annexation or rezoning of ag and open space land in the county without a public vote. It wouldn't do much else.

From our reading, SOAR would not:

* Take away anyone's property rights.

* Prevent development of adequate housing supply.

* Impede businesses from developing or locating in Ventura County.

Here are some things that SOAR would do:

* Stop for a time the gobbling up of agricultural land for more malls.

* Remove some of the speculative value from farmland.

We've found five or six arguments against SOAR that bear serious discussion. The rest of the arguments that we've seen, especially those in the brochure against SOAR from the Coalition for Community Planning that everyone has seen, are specious. Because this is a letter explaining why we endorse SOAR, we're devoting some space to why we favor SOAR despite some reasonable arguments against it.

SOAR would lead to higher densities by restricting development to within designated urban growth limits. That's probably true, but we look at that as an opportunity rather than a defect. If we don't change the way we populate our landscapes, we're going to choke in our own smog while sitting in traffic jams on our way to the Strawberry Fields Forever Outlet Mall. We must find a way to accommodate population growth that reduces our need to use individual vehicles and makes other forms of transportation feasible; higher density is a way to accomplish these things.

SOAR would limit some farmers' flexibility in some ways. The disappearance of the speculative factor from land valuation would have effects that could range from affecting the financing of loans to making it easier to pass on your farm to your kids. We think the trade-offs are good public policy: Farmland near urban borders would lose its speculative value, which would be hard on those farmers who were counting on selling but maybe good if they wanted to keep it in the family, and definitely good if you assign a high value to the continued existence of farmland.

We agree with SOAR opponents who argue that urban people are ignorant of what agriculture actually consists of and want farmers to subsidize their views. But . . . . we believe that we all benefit from living in a beautiful place, and that as that beauty becomes a rarer commodity over time, there will be opportunities for farmers along with others to benefit from it financially.

We all recognize that we're farming in a giant ag-urban interface; that there are increasing pressures to modify currently common agricultural practices. We live in an increasingly crowded world where we all have to put up with more people and agencies sticking their noses into our businesses. Well, do you think that everyone who bitches about our practices is 100% wrong? We also think passage of SOAR would give farmers considerable leverage to argue for things we really need, like water rates and right-to-farm laws. We might even get some funding for the Agricultural Land Trust out of it.

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