Coastal Post Online


December, 2003


Who is Really Looking Out for Ag?
By Judy Borello
   Who is really looking out for Ag? It certainly isn't the people crying foul over the Pritzer-family ranch in Nicasio and the incessant rantings of "trophy" homes. What constitutes a trophy home? As I've said before, is it huge deer horns over the front door? No, of course not. What the criers of trophy homes tell me is that it's the size, stupid! Well, far be it for me to remind them that there are many "big" homes all over West Marin including Point Reyes Station, Nicasio, etc. Take, for instance, the Gale house (approximately 4,000 square feet), the Giacomini house (approximately 4,000 square feet), the Borello house (approximately 4,000 square feet) and I could go on with even bigger homes on ranches. Right next door to me on McDonald Lane is a home being built on A-3 zoning (one house per three acres) with six bathrooms.
   What is driving the wealthy out here to purchase homes and land? It goes back years ago when many of us wanted the Federal Park Service to purchase approximately 80,000 acres to curtail development along our coast. Our county is 2/3 off the tax roles because of these constant drumbeats for open space -- be it county, state or federal parks. The land surrounding these parks skyrocketed in value. No forethought was given to holding back 10,000 acres of land from the park to build homes (reasonably priced) and held in trust by a board of directors that were wise, integrity-minded people.
   But that didn't happen and now we're stuck with the backside of our decision. We caused the inflation of what available land is left in private ownership. I don't see anybody complain when they can sell their home for a huge profit. What actions we took in the early 70's are haunting us now. The answer is not what Elena Belsky purports in her column last month in the Coastal Post. First of all, prejudice against the wealthy either stems from jealousy or envy. The Pritzers (Hyatt Hotel Chain) paid for the land fair and square as did George Lucas in the past in the Nicasio Valley. Ranchland in the early '70's was zoned A-2 (2 acres per house) and the ranchers were blindsided when the zoning was changed to A-60 (60 acres per house). Now there is a "taking" law that if land use rights are taken away by county, state or federal laws, the owner should be compensated. How would you like it if years ago you purchased a two acre parcel with a home on it zoned A-1 (1 acre per house) and you were waiting for retirement or for your child to grow up and then build a home on your legally-zoned acre and the county said, "No!" You'd be outraged and that's why there's the "taking" law.
   Elena Belsky states in her article, "Allowing grazing on the remaining land by other people should not qualify as an agricultural use..." This concept would put more ranchers out of business because many of them lease out parcels so other ranchers can graze their heifers, bulls or cows or grow produce.
   Belsky's article was devoid of telling the whole story of the Pritzer ranchland. The land is under A-60 zoning and the requirement is that 95 percent of the land must stay in ag-use and 5 percent can be built on. On the Pritzer's 845 acre ranch, 5 percent would be 42.2 acres and the Pritzers didn't even develop over 3 percent of their land. The rule of thumb in grazing is one cow per one acre and five sheep per one acre. The square footage of their homes is 14,720 and their ag-related buildings are 12,925 square feet. There are 4,840 square yards to an acre so if you multiply this number into square feet, you would see that all the residential homes would probably displace one cow.
   If Belsky had her way, and I quote her way, "Ag lands are being offered up for industrial buildings (I guess she means the Strauss Family Creamery or the Giacomini Cheese Company), additional homes, second units, retail uses, etc." She would surely not save agriculture - she would destroy agriculture because ranchers need to diversify if they are to stay in business. With the call for affordable housing, I wouldn't think ranchers being allowed other homes to supplement their income and our fellow citizens of West Marin a place to live. Elena praises the Coastal Commission for not allowing Brubaker to build his home on a 200 acre lot and she constantly rants that Steve Kinsey and the county are the bad guys in the Pritzer case.
   I feel just the opposite based on facts. The Coastal Commission was out of line writing Joe Brubaker a scathing letter before the case was even heard.
   To put down Steve Kinsey and the county over the Pritzer Ranch land is unconscionable as the Pritzers were within the law to get their plan approved. This is not fair and neither is the putting down of people because they're wealthy.
   If Elena really wants to save agriculture, perhaps she and Mr. Nuyens (who's opposing Steve Kinsey for supervisor) should have talks with the agriculturists themselves through the Farm Bureau. MALT doesn't represent most of the ranchers who live ag everyday and they know what they need to stay in business.
   I don't recall the last time that Mr. Nuyens ever addressed the Farm Bureau or, better yet, allowed the Farm Bureau to interview him.
   P.S. The Coastal Commission is under scrutiny by the State Supreme Court for wrapping the legislative, judicial and executive into one function with no checks or balances.



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