SOAR or SUSTAIN?

Measures on ballot designed to control land use. Photo by Michael Gordon

by Sheli Ellsworth

November voters will vote on several city and county measures designed to control land use. One of them is a City of Ventura ordinance supported by Save Our Agricultural Resources aka SOAR, and combines the existing ordinance approved in 1995 with the Hillsides Voter Participation ordinance approved in 2002 and extends them both past their 2030 expiration until 2050. Measure F, a countywide initiative, is formulated by local farmers and supported by SUSTAIN VC, is more specific in scope and promotes what its proponents label as “sustainable farming” encouraging agriculture to be economically viable in Ventura County and could be passed in place of the Ventura Countywide SOAR. The countywide SOAR that was originally passed in 1998 set to expire in 2020 unless Measure C passes (see below) extending the expiration to 20150. Measure F would be up for renewal in 2036. All three measures encourage voter approval on open space and agricultural lands considered for other uses like development. Measure F does not contain language that would compete or override any city SOAR measures.

 

A debate hosted by the Ventura County Bar’s Natural Resource Section was held on August 24. Former Mayor, longtime litigator and co-author of SOAR, Richard Francis discussed the County’s SOAR initiative and Lynn Jensen the executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business Ventura County argued for Measure F.

 

“SOAR has largely worked,” according to Francis who took the floor first. “SOAR is not a land use initiative. It is a chance for voters to have their say.”

 

“Is SOAR really working?” Jensen countered. “Ventura is last in job growth. We have the highest average household size and the highest average rent. It’s about the ability to keep farming the land,” countered Jensen. “Our measure allows for the infrastructure and the facilities to make farming in Ventura County sustainable.” Jensen says that local farmers have so many obstacles that such a long-term initiative is largely impractical. Farmers are up against invasive species from other regions coupled with ever-tightening chemical control laws. The lack of adequate buffers around agricultural areas, international competition, a rising minimum wage, droughts, lack of labor and rising housing costs have made farming next to impossible. “We have had three farms close down lately.”

 

Measure F proposes that the County of Ventura “study the economic impacts of the initiative.” A task to be completed by January 2026. The measure also promotes zoning policies that encourage long-term farm investment, farm worker housing, limited local food processing, local agricultural research and agricultural infrastructure improvements. Jensen says other areas like Napa have “rich language that supports farming . . . It (Measure F) has much of the same language as SOAR with respect to requiring a vote of the people to change the county land use designations from Agricultural, Open-Space and Rural to other uses. But the important difference is that the Countywide SOAR re-adopts antiquated goals for agricultural lands from the 1988 County General Plan.”

 

The biggest difference between the two measures is the time-frame. Extending Ventura Counties SOAR until 2050 might seem like a good idea except that given the current problems, farming might not survive until 2050 whether farmers are raising berries or cattle.

 

Breeze: Are you confused, it’s just beginning?

 

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