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April, 2007



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Moo Town News
Friend or Foe?
By Judy Borello

Keep in mind that 70% of Marin County is off the tax rolls, publicly held by either the federal parks, State Parks or County Open Space. Of nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, Marin County has the most trails, with Sonoma County in second place. Marin County has 2 1/2 times more trails per capita than Sonoma County.
In view of the high amount of trails and public lands in Marin available for recreation already, don't you think it ludicrous and unfair that the County now wants the recreating public to have access to privately-owned ranchlands and property as well? What if the County deemed it acceptable for the public to have access to go through your backyard at will?

Our private property rights are being taken from us in a myriad of ways: 1) trails on private property when the County has thousands of acres of Open Space to put them on, 2) taking agricultural land (in the early 70s) from A-2 zoning (1 house per 2 acres) to A-60 zoning (1 house per 60 acres), thus devaluing the property, 3) CAPZ-60 zoning, which puts even more restrictions on ag lands and 4) now reducing the allowable home size on the largest privately-held properties to only 3,000 sq feet, while allowing huge McMansions of 5,000 sq feet and more on small urban lots. It doesn't make sense to me that the larger the parcel, the smaller the house!

This latter restriction reeks of prejudice and discrimination against the rancher and a "taking" of his land use rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. It's twisted thinking that if a rancher builds a 4,000 sq foot home for himself on 800 acres, that it will impact agriculture negatively. Much of our "historic" ag lands had large "historic" homes on them, and still do, and they are operating just fine!

These restrictions above impact the title of the ranchers' property when trying to deal with banks or appraisers for loans and it diminishes the amount they can borrow. Ranchers have to expend a lot of money to rebuild barns, refurbish their herds, put up new fencing, replace tractors and farm equipment, and so on. It is a very costly business!

In the drought years in the mid 1970s, some ranchers went out of business and some of them borrowed against their ranch and stuck it out.

I've seen livestock get a virus or bacterial infection and wipe out whole herds. I've seen crops fail because of drought, flooding or a blight. When those things happen, how does the rancher borrow sufficient amounts to stay in business with such limiting restrictions on the land?

So if the County wants to be friendly or partners with agriculture, and wants sustainable ag, then don't restrict ag to the point of choking it to death - otherwise we both lose!

Average homes in the mid 1970s, when the National Park Service bought 70,000 acres of mostly ranchland, went for an average of $45,000. Now they go for a cool million or more. The ranches sold to the Park Service at that time went for one to two million. Forty years later, homes are valued at 22 times their original worth and are being bought by the wealthy. I don't know a person out here on the coast who would refuse taking the asking price of their home because the buyer was "wealthy."

hat constitutes a "trophy home," a McMansion, Monster Mansion, or a "Starter Castle?" These words are used by people who have 4,000 - 5,000 sq foot homes, so what do they mean? I have mine, but you can't have yours. Is it pure and simple jealousy? Or is the County attempting to devaluate our ag lands so that M.A.L.T. (Marin Agricultural Land Trust) can acquire the easements cheaper?

Unless Marin County wants to just pick on ag land, they should be fair and regulate all new homes in the County to be 3,000 sq feet or less. The present County proposal on ag land is an aggregate of 6,000 sq feet for all residential housing on a ranch, which includes workers, family and such. If you want or need something bigger than 3,000 sq feet, the County will allow you to build it, leaving your workers and family with maybe less than 2,000 for all of them to live in. Then the County will require a permanent easement over your whole property. This is absolute extortion!

What constitutes "viewshed?" If someone can see your proposed home from a mile across Tomales Bay, you cannot build it on your own land. But, of course, it's ok if you can see "their" home on the other side of the Bay. I believe there should be compensation given to the owner of a property when he or she is not allowed to build, sine he or she invested hard earned dollars to acquire it and pay taxes on it.

As to the Planning Commission hearing on March 12th, I was encouraged to see so many ranchers there but their testimony was grossly ignored by the planners. It definitely appeared to me that the planners already knew what they wanted to do ahead of time and ignored the points the ranchers were making. Sometimes the planners seemed to try to placate the ranchers, but did not respect their sound reasoning as the "stewards of the land." In fact, if the County was smart and positive, they would give the ranchers incentives instead of "takings."

Let the ranchers build some low-cost housing on their land. It would benefit the community and the ranchers, and not overbuild one small village in West Marin for the purpose. By building such housing on ranching land, it could be spread out instead of concentrated in one village, thus blending it into the area.

Toward the end of the meeting of March 12th, a planning commissioner made the statement that if the ag-land owners in Indian Valley, the San Geronimo Valley and Black Point had known how crucial the hearing was in regard to their land, "they would have been out in force."

Well, wake up Indian Valley, San Geronimo Valley and Black Point. This issue will go up to the Board of Supervisors to be implemented in June or July. Then we will know if we are just being paid lip service about the County being "friendly" to agriculture or "partners" with ag in Marin! Are we friends or foes?

P.S. Stay until the hearing is over and they make their judgment. Make sure they look you in the eyes while they kick in your teeth!

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