Farmland Committee Presents Findings


Culminating months of discussion among 23 business owners, politicians, bureaucrats and farming advocates, a countywide group analyzing the future of agriculture in Ventura County opened the issue to the public Monday night.

Members of the policy group, put together by county officials, have been wrestling with the issue of farmland preservation for months. Monday night they presented four scenarios for the future.

Group members say they did not seek to provide an alternative to a countywide farmland-preservation initiative proposed for the fall ballot, but instead attempted to underscore the fact that preservation will require making hard choices.


About 200 residents from Oxnard and surrounding communities crowded the Oxnard Performing Arts Center on Monday to voice their concerns about local growth policies and react to scenarios presented by the group.

“I can’t imagine a society or world without farming,” said 74-year-old Jerome Hopkins of Oxnard. “If we ourselves are not willing to save our agricultural land, nobody’s going to do it for us.”

Hopkins, one of many who signed up to speak at a microphone in the center of the crowded room, said he realized residents would have to accept greater crowding in cities to preserve farms.

“I support plan B,” Hopkins said, referring to one of four scenarios. That plan would tighten current development restrictions while encouraging public transportation and pedestrian-oriented development.

Letha Marshall, another Oxnard resident, also favored this scenario. “We cannot afford to lose this industry, which contributes multibillions of dollars to this country,” she said.

But for some, new government limits on growth would not be enough.

John Barone of Somis urged audience members to support the farmland-preservation measure, titled Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, or SOAR.


In an impassioned speech, Barone, a grocery store worker, rejected all of the alternatives offered by the policy group.

“The scenario is Election Day,” he screamed into the microphone. “The scenario is L.A. County or Ventura County--a beautiful place to live in or those poor people who listened to their politicians 25 to 30 years ago.”

Meanwhile, John Sherwood of Oxnard, another SOAR supporter, urged audience members who back the initiative to give $100 to the campaign.

Supporters of development were far less vocal Monday night. However, Mitchel Kahn, a policy group member and president of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn., said the solution to farmland preservation is complicated.

“The solution . . . involves much more than simply shutting down developers,” he said.

Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez said that council members in his city will continue efforts to adopt urban limit lines. Those lines, in theory, would protect certain agricultural areas from development for several years.

Lopez said he will recommend at tonight’s City Council meeting that Oxnard officials convene a series of public meetings of their own to consider those limits.


The policy group has been working on the issue since last May. After many sessions, the group came up with four scenarios outlining the divergent paths county residents can take.

The scenarios--labeled A, B, C, and D--are meant to underscore the fact that farmland preservation is a complex question, group members say. Protecting farms--which polls have showed is important to Ventura County residents--could also mean numerous sacrifices, group members argue.

For instance, Scenario A is similar to this year’s proposed preservation initiative. That measure seeks to take away the right to zone farmland for development from farmers and elected officials, putting the issue in the hands of voters.

But Scenario A points out that toughening development restrictions would have its costs: Housing and rent prices could shoot up countywide, and smaller cities such as Santa Paula would struggle to increase tax revenues because of the restrictions.

At the other extreme, the group explored what would happen if the city loosened development restrictions. That approach, according to Scenario D, would mean strong economic growth and a population that would swell from 717,000 currently to 1.25 million in 2030. While housing would be plentiful, air quality and traffic problems would crop up. The county’s farming industry would be hard-hit by all the new growth.

Comment from the public was also gathered from an opinion survey circulated through the audience.



Meetings on Farmland Preservation

The countywide Agriculture Policy Working Group has launched a series of town hall meetings to discuss the issue of farmland preservation. The series began in Oxnard on Monday night, when Port Hueneme, El Rio and Oxnard residents spoke on the issue. Upcoming times and sites:

* Wednesday: Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru residents at the Memorial Building, 521 2nd St., Fillmore

* Jan. 20: Moorpark residents at Moorpark City Hall, 799 Moorpark Ave.

* Jan. 21: Ventura and Saticoy residents at Ventura City Hall, 501 Poli St.

In coming weeks, meetings are also planned for Camarillo, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Oak Park, as well as Ojai, Meiners Oaks and Oak View.