The Local Agency Formation Commission passed a measure in September of 2012 that requires all cities in Stanislaus County to present plans to preserve an equal amount of farmland as is taken out of production when new homes are built. Other types of development were not to be affected as part of the plan.
Deputy City Attorney Doug White said at the planning commission meeting that the countywide panel has made it clear that no developments that require annexation of land will pass through LAFCo without a plan for agricultural preservation. In other words if the city does not have an agricultural land preservation plan in place it will not be able to annex and grow its boundary lines beyond its current sphere of influence.
The ordinance mirrors the general concepts of LAFCo policy, he said.
Patterson Planning Commission Chairman Ron West was uneasy about the policy.
“For five years we went through a General Plan process on this,” he said. “For 30 years the Ag-land folks have been trying to stop growth.”
West cited a few statistics that opposed the Ag mitigation idea.
“From 1997 to 2007 we increased land production 82,500 acres,” he said, noting in that time, farm revenues rose in that 10-year span from $1.3 billion to $2.4 billion.
“In that time LAFCo took 9,000 acres of Ag land out of production,” he said. “I don’t have that fear that apparently goes with the way LAFCo is thinking.”
Patterson resident and developer Keith Schneider stated the LAFCo policy was nothing more than a transfer of wealth from the development industry to farmers.
“They clearly have Patterson over a barrel,” he said.
LAFCo set forth the ways in which a city and developer could mitigate agricultural land.
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.
Three ways to ensure the preservation of farmland were passed for house builders to begin developing land in the future:
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.
• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31 or firstname.lastname@example.org.