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June, 2007



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The Marin Countywide Plan is Bad for Agriculture
by Nancy Gates Chair, Land Use Committee Marin County Farm Bureau

This year, Marin County has an opportunity to make its agriculture sustainable. How? By supporting ag through valid programs in the Marin Countywide Plan (CWP), and by imposing fewer regulations that would make it impossible to live, survive and thrive on Marin's ranches and farms. The proposed CWP does not do that. Although the Marin County Planning Commission would have you believe otherwise, the CWP contains policies and programs, which, if adopted, will spell disaster for the future of ranchers and growers in the county.
The Farm Bureau requests that Marin County residents stand up and pay attention to the proposed CWP. It will affect all residents, not just farmers and ranchers. The entire community benefits from the open space that farming and ranching provides, and if Marin's farmers and ranchers continue to suffer increased restrictions and regulations on their land, it will not be long before the remaining farms and ranches disappear completely. Agriculture is a key resource in Marin, and all of its residents should fight to protect it.

Dozens of ranchers, farmers and ag landowners offered logical and impassioned testimony at the Planning Commission's CWP update hearings. The Marin County Farm Bureau submitted a position paper detailing over 20 issues important to the ag community. Despite exclaiming that it was the "best letter they'd ever received," the commissioners proceeded to disregard, misinterpret, or simply ignore nearly every one of Farm Bureau's issues, voting instead to retain onerous CWP language and even adding new, more restrictive regulations as the hearing process unfolded.

Trails and production agriculture just don't mix

Over 70% of the land in Marin County is already designated as publicly-owned park or open space. This is plenty of land on which to locate the county's trails. Farm Bureau offered many good reasons why public access should circumvent ag lands. It would disrupt operations, destroy fences and gates, damage fragile biological resources, and result in poaching, theft, vandalism and predation loss of sheep, cattle and wildlife due to dogs. Public trails also raise the risk of fire, agriterrorism, biological contamination, disease, and the introduction of noxious, invasive, non-native plants.

Planning Commission Chairman Wade Holland, in his May guest column, acknowledged that the courts have made clear that the government cannot force a property owner to dedicate a trail as a condition of permit approvals, yet the planning commission still voted to retain language allowing them to try to impose such dedication.

The solution is simple. Realign proposed trails onto public, not private, property.

Restricting residential floor area on ag-zoned lands is not the way to preserve agriculture

Contrary to the prevailing myth, large homes are not a threat to ag production. Chairman Holland stated that when "estate" homes are built, "agricultural on the land typically disappears." There is no example anywhere in the county where a larger home has resulted in the demise of agriculture. In fact, many of Marin's ranchers now live in homes exceeding the proposed limits. Large homes, and residential compounds providing housing for multiple generations of farm families, are wholly appropriate on ag properties, where the average parcel is over 300 acres and many total several hundred acres and more.

The independent report the county used as its basis to "justify" restrictions is flawed, outdated and illogical, and its conclusions are unfounded and unsupported by fact. The commissioners admitted as much during the hearings. Residential size restrictions place unfair limits on long-time ranching families and discourage the introduction of new agriculturalists who might choose to invest substantial resources into creative, new agricultural infrastructures, but would be prevented from doing so by requirements unfairly limiting their personal residences to an arbitrary size dictated by the whim of misguided planning.

The truth is, if the county imposes caps on the total floor area of homes on ag lands, the government will take millions of dollars from farm families' futures in the form of reduced property values. In the early 1970s, much of Marin's ag land was down-zoned from A-2 to A-60, preventing residential subdivisions. Now, today's proposed limits will have the unfair consequence of virtually wiping out the A-60 zoning and automatically creating the equivalent of A-61 to A-1000+, depending upon the size of one's acreage. Without due process of law and fair compensation, this amounts to a constitutional taking.

Chairman Holland's column also missed the point when it likened house size limits on ag land to restrictions in other communities. While other communities may impose restrictions, they do so to mitigate impacts that arise in more dense developments, such as lot-line setbacks and height limits. These issues do not exist on our large ranches.

All Marin County residents should be outraged and concerned that the Planning Commission supports regulations that will so substantially decrease property values on agricultural land.

Other important issues
The county insists that, in practice, it won't require permits to grow crops and graze animals or to change the agricultural use on the land, yet it steadfastly refuses to exempt such activities from the definition of development, or to agree to amend the Development Code such that these ag uses are not subjected to the requirement to apply for and obtain a Master Code Waiver. This could not only burden agriculturists, but have unintended consequences, including nuisance lawsuits - one of which is already in the courts - from those who claim the law is not being followed.

The CWP also gives the government the ability to extract a permanent, perpetual conservation easement from a landowner as a condition of a permit approval. Farm Bureau believes that while conservation easements can play a worthwhile role in maintaining land in agriculture production, they should always be negotiated and sold by willing sellers, not taken without just compensation.

The revised Draft Countywide Plan will hurt Marin County's farmers and ranchers. If you want to help sustain agriculture in Marin County, tell the Board of Supervisors that you do NOT support it.





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