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December, 2007



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MooTown News
Year-End Reflections
By Judy Borello

When I was a tyke, my grandmother, Anna, whose family farmed in Pleasanton, told me, "When you're old enough to vote, always support your firemen because they save lives, and always support the farmers because they grow your food." She reiterated those pearls of wisdom till the day she died, and that's how the passion grew in my soul to protect and support agriculture.
By the time I'd started writing my "Moo Town News" column for the Coastal Post some 25 years ago, I had married a rancher, Robert A. Borello, and he'd tell me about issues that ranchers faced and how newspapers in Marin barely touched on their plights. I've devoted my column mainly to defending ranchers against government intrusions and restrictive regulations on land use rights. The need for unity and a strong voice in agriculture is even greater today, because ranchers are a shrinking percentage of the population.

I credit Don Deane, owner/editor of the Coastal Post, for providing ranchers a voice rarely heard in any other local newspaper. Without the Coastal Post's support, we'd be just a faint cry in the wilderness. I also thank Jeanette Pontacq, who's supported agriculture as the Coastal Post's co-editor.

2007 was consumed by a long, hard fight against a boatload of restrictions that the County dumped on agriculture in the Marin Countywide Plan. The CWP got adopted in November and we're now counting up the damage. We had so many bad policies to deal with - and new ones kept cropping up. It was frustrating that the County discounted ranchers' suggestions, time after time.

We did achieve some significant successes, though. The County finally admitted it cannot legally extract trail easements as a condition of permit approvals! We've been reminding them for years that according to the U.S. Supreme Court this is a taking, and it sunk in at last, at least with the Supervisors. Let's see if the planning commissioners finally get it.

The other big win is the elimination of the "aggregate cap" on the total of all residential square footage we're allowed to build on our ranches. This new, bogus, totally illegal ploy was disguised as a tool to preserve agriculture. Talk about an unconstitutional taking! Had this restriction been upheld, ranchers would've lost countless dollars in land value, and would have been hamstrung in their ability to pass along the family farm to the next generation or to secure loans.

On other issues, the outcome was more troubling. We had several concerns where the County refused to close loopholes or tighten vague, ambiguous language, claiming that, "We'd never apply this to you." They expect us to rely on their good intentions. Trouble is, now that they're carved in stone in the CWP, any planning commission can and will apply them to us. And if they don't, some environmental group will come along and sue the pants off the rancher and the County, just like the Tomales Bay Association is now doing to Warren Weber's Star Route Farms. Why they'd want to leave themselves open to such liability is beyond reason.

One of the worst new policies puts the Inland Rural Corridor under the more restrictive zoning regulations of the Agriculture Production Zone, which Coastal Zone landowners have struggled under for decades. I distinctly remember Steve Kinsey, during his first meeting with Farm Bureau this summer, saying, "We'd never put you guys under these stringent regulations. They're too harsh and restrictive." So what did the County do? They tweaked the language here and there but kept the policy! What really hit me strongly that day - and I wish I'd said it to Steve at the time - was that if APZ regulations are too harsh to be spread to the Inland Rural Corridor, then why apply them to us in the Coastal Zone? And why are you piling all these other new regulations on us all? Seems the government will never stop trying to regulate us to death.

One good thing to come out of the CWP hearings is that we now have the force of the Pacific Legal Foundation behind us! PLF is now watching Marin County closely, and has offered to review people's situations if they're ever turned down for a permit because they refused to cave in to the County's conditions. PLF attorneys might then agree to step in and represent the landowner for free in a lawsuit against the County!

P.S. With the holidays upon us, we reflect on our priorities with gratitude for our lives, friends and family. A top priority for me is giving thanks for living in the only country in the world where there are still laws protecting an individual's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom of private property!

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