WHAT: Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sept. 26
WHERE: County supervisors chambers, basement, 1010 10th St., in Modesto
DETAILS: Chairman Charlie Goeken, Vice Chairman William O’Brien, City Member Amy Bublak, County Member Jim DeMartini, Public Member Tia Saletta, Alternate City Member Matt Beekman, Alternate County Member Vito Chiesa and Alternate Public Member Ron Freitas were all present. Alternate members do not vote.
MODESTO-The Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission adopted an agricultural land mitigation policy Sept. 26 that says cities must set aside farmland whenever they authorize development.
Voting members passed the measure 4-1 during the meeting in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, with Commissioner Tia Saletta dissenting.
The new policy requires that all cities in Stanislaus County preserve an equal amount of farmland as is taken out of production when new homes are built. Other types of development are not affected.
They can do so either by paying into a trust an amount of money equal to the value of the farmland being developed or by setting aside comparable farmland elsewhere with a ban on development.
“Agricultural lands in this county are virtually invaluable,” said Ron Freitas, an alternate commissioner for LAFCo. “This will allow cities to create their own ag mitigation policy.”
The proposed policy originally allowed four ways to ensure the preservation of farmland when house builders begin developing land in the future. Three were included in the final version.
First, cities could remove farmland from their spheres of influence to make up for future residential development. The sphere of influence is an area a city can annex into its city limits.
Second, cities or developers could make a monetary contribution to a farmland trust fund equal to the value of each acre developed on an acre-by-acre basis, or set aside the same amount of land for farming only. For instance, a home developer could pay the fair market value of a 500-acre parcel of farmland it planned to develop into a trust dedicated to preserve 500 acres of farmland somewhere else in the county.
Third, a voter-approved growth boundary could be established to limit urban development during a specified time period.
Finally, the proposed policy would have allowed other adopted policies that demonstrated reduced impacts on farmland on a case-by-case basis. In other words, cities would be free to come up with their own policy for agricultural land mitigation. LAFCo Chairman Charlie Goeken requested that this portion of the measure be taken out in the final vote, as well as language specifically clarifying that the resolution was for residential development only and did not include commercial development. The panel approved the changes.
Saletta, the lone commissioner to oppose ratifying the policy, said she did not trust city leaders to make good decisions.
“I would love (the boundaries) to work, but too many cities do what the developers want,” she said. “The (case-by-case option) has too many loopholes.”
LAFCo Commissioner Jim DeMartini said city officials had the authority to provide their own agricultural mitigation measures, but they had refused to do so.
“The problem is the cities have shown a total lack of desire to mitigate ag land,” he said. “The cities just don’t want to deal with this.”
Patterson City Planner Joel Andrews said LAFCo did a good job clarifying the residential component and exempting commercial projects, but the panel left cities at a disadvantage in comparison with the county, which is not under the jurisdiction of the commission.
The county, which has a one-to-one acre agricultural mitigation policy, can remove its provision for any project with a vote of the county supervisors, potentially making it easier for the county to develop housing.
“It’s not a fair playing field,” Andrews said. “But it’s not something that could affect us for a long time.”
DeMartini, a farmer who grows nine crops, argued that agriculture is by far the biggest employer in the county.
More than 200 different crops are grown in Stanislaus County, and the county’s 17 largest employers, excluding government, are agriculturally based, he said.
“Agriculture is a big deal,” he said.
• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31, or firstname.lastname@example.org.