The Coastal Post - April, 1997

Farmlands Protection Bill Falling Flat With Farmers

By Don Deane

Despite proposed federal legislation which would see $30 million earmarked for the "preservation of farms and ranches" along the east side of Tomales Bay, a majority of the effected farmers and ranchers want nothing to do with the funding which would come through the Department of Interior and the United States Park Service. They say they don't trust the feds and the legislation isn't about preserving agriculture.

Rancher Sally Pozzi, wife of former Marin County Farm Bureau President Martin Pozzi, observes, "We do not believe this is going to preserve agriculture. This is a park expansion bill. Martin's family already sold their development rights. He's committed to agriculture."

Bruce Blodgitt, Director of National Affairs of the California Farm Bureau Federation asks, "Do you want the National Park Service and the Interior Department to be your landlord? This is the major question. If this were simply a bill to sell conservation easements, that would be one thing. But you have to be part of the park to do this. The park service designation isn't going to do what the farmers and ranchers need to stay in business. Basically, they (the feds) are getting parkland on the cheap."

The bill was first introduced by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in 1993 as the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Expansion Bill (HR 3079). Adding the east shore of Tomales Bay to the park was the brainchild and dream of then Marin County Supervisor Gary Giacomini.

In 1996 it was reintroduced as the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Farmland Protection Act. But it lacked strong support from ranchers and was killed in committee by Congressman Don Young.

In March of 1997 Woolsey introduced bipartisan legislation called the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Farmland Protection Act authorizing the Department of Interior to spend $30 million to purchase development rights from willing landowners within an eligibility boundary for farmland protection on the east shores of Tomales and Bodega Bays.

Woolsey says the legislation is all about protecting agriculture.

"Good ideas survive," Woolsey said last week. "I've been meeting with dozens of landowners and the more they understand the bill the more comfortable they are with it. Misinformation has gotten in the way of it moving forward. We're sending out the bill I introduced to all the landowners. Those who are hard-core opponents disagree philosophically. I believe at this point if it's philosophical, I can't bridge the gap."

Longtime community leaders such as rancher Boyd Steward say the legislation will do much to guarantee agriculture's future in Marin. Opponents say the legislation will do nothing positive for agriculture.

Gordon Thurnton, Farm Bureau President, says, " They really haven't changed the bill since last year. There were a few word changes, condemnation was taken out. The majority of the people at the March meeting were against the bill and the farm bureau has not changed its position. It does nothing for ranchers and farmers. The $15 million ties up the land for a long time, it's a cloud on the land. Malt has done a good job with ranches. But within the park there are many more restrictions. There's already 60 percent of our county in parkland. We don't need any more."

Rancher Judy Borello, observes, "Once you are in the zone, you are under the auspices of the park. What's scary is the ranches will be under the original park bill and you can't do anything to threaten the character or the enhancement of the park. There really needs to be the money to give the ranchers the choice to get out, be bought out in fee. There's not enough to take care of everybody. There isn't enough money to buy everyone out. It will pit rancher against rancher. My view is over 60 percent of the ranchers oppose this bill. If we go with this bill it weakens agriculture.

Thor Spargo, Judy Borello's son with a masters degree in agribusiness, says, "It weakens agriculture because we never get fair market value for the land.You land is abandoned from the free market even for borrowing. You put a strangle hold on future generations. This land is the way it is because a bunch of ranchers have kept it this way for a lot of years."