North and South County Supes Spar over Future of Ag Land

by Martha Sadler

Joni Gray did everything in her power as chair of the Board of
Supervisors, including repeatedly interrupting 1st District
Supervisor Salud Carbajal, to prevent him from raising questions
about the county’s new plans for its agricultural lands at the
board meeting on Tuesday. Her determination to quash discussion
only fueled suspicions among South County environmentalists that
North County interests are attempting to execute a sleight of hand
to produce gigantic changes in land-use policy before the South
County notices what’s going on.

Some of the proposed changes causing concern among South County
watchdogs are included in the highly public housing element of the
General Plan. Others have been discussed at length in meetings of
the Cattlemen’s Association and the Agricultural Advisory
Commission. However, their combined effect has never been presented
to the public. This is what Carbajal was asking for, on behalf of
mostly South County constituents opposed to commercial and housing
development in the agricultural north.

Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno was right behind Gray,
referring to “fear and hysteria and people stirring up fear and
hysteria.” Centeno was probably not talking about Carbajal, who
appeared only mildly annoyed by the numerous rough interruptions.
Although he didn’t mention any names, Centeno might have been
referring to Cameron Benson, an attorney with the Environmental
Defense Center. Benson was among the first to start piecing
together the various land-use policy changes coming from various
directions to see what they looked like. He’s made no secret of his
conclusion that, with 90 percent of the county’s privately owned
land in agriculture, these changes could drastically alter the
county’s complexion — and not only in the North County, but all the
way down through Carpinteria’s flower farms.

The greatest fear of South Coast environmentalists is that North
County farmers and ranchers are eager to cash out of agriculture by
developing their land. Yet the ostensible — or actual — purpose of
virtually all of the changes in the pipeline is to make it
financially possible for farms and ranches to survive. One of these
changes is to be found in the housing element, which will now allow
four new residential units, for housing agricultural workers, on
each of the thousands of ag parcels in the county. However, critics
wonder how and for how long their exclusive use by farmworkers will
be enforced. Another section of the housing element allows an
additional unit for the landowner’s extended family — grown
children who will eventually take over ranch operations, for
example. To illustrate the kinds of temptations to which landowners
might be subject, a cottage at the Alisal Guest Ranch rents for
$560 nightly.

A second big piece of the picture is the Uniform Rules for
Agricultural Preserves. This will smooth the way for
agriculture-related businesses such as processing plants. Add to
that proposed new Home Occupation rules which would allow
commercial and industrial enterprises unrelated to agriculture on
ag land. In other jurisdictions, for example, car repair businesses
have easily operated within such strictures. Another change
recommended by the Agricultural Advisory Committee is “permit
downshifting,” which would mean more “over-the-counter” permitting
with less environmental or public review.

Carbajal managed to schedule for the December 5 meeting an
informational presentation on the cumulative effects of all the
proposed changes to agricultural land-use policy. And not a moment
too soon: the informational session will be presented either before
or after an item already scheduled for the same agenda, which will
ask the supervisors to approve the Uniform Rules.


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