Policy Consultant for the AG Working Group – SUSTAIN VC Ballot Initiative
CoLAB Ventura County provides policy support to the Agricultural Working Group, a committee of local farmers and ranchers who were concerned about impacts to agriculture from the countywide SOAR Ballot Measure scheduled for renewal in 2016. The group consists of two members each of four Ventura County agricultural membership organizations including VC Agricultural Assoc., VC Cattlemen’s Assoc., VC CoLAB and Farm Bureau VC.
The premise that the AG Working Group communicated to CoLAB was to maintain the public vote for urban sprawl while strengthening policies to sustain agriculture over a reasonable 20 year period. We crafted the language to the group’s specifications and, contrary to the SOAR organization’s claims, there is no additional urban development allowed in our initiative language without a vote of the people.
Most Ventura County farmers are local and have owned their land for generations. They want to keep farming, but the agricultural industry is facing unprecedented challenges. These include: reduced, more expensive and low quality water supply, crop loss from new invasive pests, diminishing options for pest control, increased international competition from countries with lower wages and less pesticide regulation, lack of farmworker housing, an aggressive state and local regulatory environment, high land prices, and urban encroachment.
While SOAR represents their initiatives as “Saving Agriculture”, the primary purpose is not to help agriculture, but to limit development. With their limited expertise, the SOAR proponents should not be speaking for farmers without the consent of the local farming community. The AG Working Group was hoping to participate in a collaborative process with the SOAR board to add strong policies to our County General Plan, regaining their voice in issues related to local farming.
Through extensive research of general plans in similar central California coastal counties, CoLAB found many applicable goals and policies that would provide needed support for the future of Ventura County agriculture. However, after seven months of negotiation, SOAR rejected what the group considered to be small allowances to help farmers.
In the end, the Agricultural Working Group voted unanimously to proceed with the SUSTAIN VC ballot initiative to “Stop Sprawl with Sustainable Agriculture”. Three local farmers filed the initiative with the County of Ventura: Phil McGrath of McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo; Patty Waters of Waters Ranches in Moorpark and John Lamb, a great grandson of Adolfo Camarillo and farmer in the Santa Rosa Valley. Between them, their families have over a 400 year history of farming in Ventura County.
CoLAB is proud to help in this effort to give farmers a voice and help sustain the future of agriculture in Ventura County. For more information about the SUSTAIN VC Ballot Measure please visit www.Sustainvc.org
Grading Ordinance Revision - Ventura County Public Works
CoLAB, Ventura County is assisting the Agricultural TAC (Technical Advisory Committee) which consists of representatives of Ventura County AG Association, Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau and the Resource Conservation District and also the Oil TAC in producing language for the new County Non-Development Grading Ordinance in cooperation with the County Public Works Agency. This ordinance could have huge implications to agriculture as common practices are in jeopardy of being regulated causing potential financial hardship to County farmers, ranchers and the oil industry.
Groundwater Management Regulation – Multiple County and City Agencies and Elected Officials
Regulation of groundwater resources has become a primary concern of local businesses and particularly the agricultural industry due to the prolonged three years of statewide drought. CoLAB is representing our membership with respect to regulatory overreach perpetuated through exploitation of the drought as a means to control water rights without stakeholder representation. Rather than paying attorneys to adopt moratoriums, we believe there needs to be a collaborative effort including agencies and elected officials to clear regulatory hurdles and commit funding to local water supply projects.
We are attending many water meetings throughout the county and are actively promoting supply side solutions through written comment letters, newsletter articles and testimony at City Councils and the Board of Supervisors. This includes active participation in the Ventura County Water Well Ordinance code revision stakeholder process.
Ventura River Watershed Livestock TMDL Assistance – Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board
CoLAB Ventura County has been assisting the Horse and Livestock Watershed Alliance and the Ventura County Cattlemen’s Association with documents required by the LARWQCB per the adopted Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in the Ventura River Watershed. We are collaborating with the Resource Conservation District to lessen the burden on ranchers and stables and focus efforts on best management practices as the solution rather than expensive water monitoring.
Watershed Planning – Ventura and Santa Clara River Watershed Councils
Watershed Councils are taking proactive steps to support the Watershed Coalitions of Ventura County in their Integrated Regional Water Management Plan process which successfully secures funding for important watershed infrastructure projects. CoLAB Ventura County seeks to represent the business community by providing a necessary balance to the dialogue and scientific analysis in the development of watershed goals and plans. We are a voting member of the Ventura River Watershed Council and have been participating in the Santa Clara River Watershed Council meetings.
Regional Santa Paula Branch Line (SPBL) Recreational Trail – Ventura County Transportation Commission and County Public Works Agency
The SPBL Recreational Trail Project includes over 20 miles of planned bike pathway through prime farmland in the Santa Clara Valley. The trail is planned within a 100’ wide railroad right of way purchased by VCTC that extends from Montalvo through Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru, ending at Rancho Camulos. The environmental documents are nearly 15 years old and inadequately protect agriculture from public intrusion. In addition, the County Zoning Ordinance requires county recreational projects to acquire a Conditional Use Permit as would be required for any private recreational project. CoLAB Ventura County members are stakeholders in this process and we will be providing leadership in an effort to insure that this precious farmland will remain economically viable for generations to come. Click to view SPBL Recreational Trail Compatibility Study.
Locally Important Species – Ventura County Planning Division
The Ventura County Planning Division adopted a list of 235 plants in 2014 that are not identified by the State or Federal Governments as Rare, Threatened or Endangered. While they may be abundant in other counties, these species have not been identified in large numbers in this County. Based on studies initiated by CoLab Ventura County, we believe that many of these species do not meet the County’s own criteria to be on the local list. In addition, the process of nominating and adopting these species has not been transparent as was promised when adopted by the Board of Supervisors. We are continuing to make progress on a resolution of these issues.
Support for Oil and Gas Resource Development – County Planning Division, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors
The oil and gas industry is subject to extensive regulations by State and Federal agencies that have jurisdiction over subsurface operations and environmental compliance. Recently, local governmental agencies have been expanding their role in regulating oil activities through more restrictive conditions in conditional use permits. CoLAB Ventura County projects include keeping up to date on the science and technology of oilfield operations to propose regulatory solutions and conduct campaigns to educate and facilitate understanding by the public and decision makers.
Proposed Water In-Lieu Fee and Building Moratorium – Ventura Water and Ventura City Council
CoLAB Ventura County is monitoring the efforts of Ventura Water and the Ventura City Council as they assess their current water resources and plan for future supply in light of the impact this will have on the business community and job creation for economic prosperity.
City of Ventura General Plan and Specific Plan Development – Saticoy and Westside Planning Efforts
The City of Ventura is updating portions of its general plan in several areas of the county including Saticoy and the Westside. Both of these areas have significant industrial zoning that is important to the Ventura’s job base. CoLAB Ventura County seeks to help businesses maintain their zoning, resist the imposition of strict form based codes and promote flexibility in the code to attract entrepreneurial businesses.
County Subdivision Ordinance – County Planning Division and Public Works Agency
The County of Ventura Planning Division has released a 29 page staff report requesting $229,000 to update the Subdivision Ordinance in a 2 year project. While many of the project goals and objectives seem reasonable, we have a concern about changes to the parcel map waiver process and keeping that as a viable option for Ventura County. The Board of Supervisors approved the project on 10-28-14 and CoLAB Ventura County will represent and inform our members as stakeholders in the process.