Ventura County 2040 General Plan Update
CoLAB Ventura County has been at the forefront in helping to shape Ventura County’s 2040 General Plan Update. We have provided expert testimony to County Planning Division staff on a wide range of topics, including: water, natural resources, transportation, land use, agriculture and housing. In addition, CoLAB and our members have engaged in numerous stakeholder meetings designed to gather the experts from each area of interest, giving us a seat at the table to help craft the county’s future.
California State law requires that each city and county adopt a general plan. A general plan represents the community’s view of its future and expresses the community’ development goals. Ventura County’s General Plan will have a planning horizon of 20 years. The County’s current General Plan expires in 2020 and it has not been comprehensively updated since 1988.
At the outset, CoLAB vocally supported adding new sections of the General Plan to address Agriculture and Economic Development. These new elements will be added to the plan.
CoLAB is encouraging our members to engage in the stakeholder process whenever possible so that we can provide the County with the guidance they need to ensure that the 2040 General Plan meets the needs of our diverse residential and business communities. We have numerous members, board members and staff on the focus groups and participating in workshops and meetings at the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. We had significant success in shaping the Guiding Principles and are ready to move on to the alternatives analysis. To learn more about the County General Plan Update process click here.
Ventura County Wildlife Corridors / Habitat Connectivity Overlay Zone Project
The County of Ventura is proposing to add additional regulations to 164,000 acres of unincorporated county lands by turning regional wildlife corridors into an overlay zone that would be subject to a myriad of new regulations. In August of 2017 the County Planning Division presented their regulatory objectives including proposals for restrictions on fencing, lighting, invasive plants, noise, vegetation removal, and requiring preservation of chokepoints and clustering structures on properties. Many of these proposed requirements will force projects that are currently ministerial (projects that are allowed under planning standards like houses, barns, lights and fences) into discretionary actions (projects that require full environmental analysis), making them uneconomic and essentially creating a regulatory taking.
CoLAB has been very proactive in the process. Our staff, board and members had a presence at all County stakeholder meetings where they were invited to make comments. In addition, CoLAB conducted two joint stakeholder meetings with County Supervisors Peter Foy and Kelly Long to notify landowners that this project was being considered by the County and provide relevant information. We constructed a set of GIS maps to show the regional wildlife corridors with parcel boundaries, fire hazard zones, irrigated agriculture and state grazing lands.
The regional map shows a high correlation between the corridors, very high fire hazard zones and state grazing lands along with thousands of acres of agricultural lands in the Santa Clara Valley within the boundaries. For more information here are links to three Newsletter articles: Thomas Fire Highlights Risk Wildlife Corridor Restrictions; Despite Progress, Wildlife Corridors Could Threaten Farmers, Ranchers and Public ; and Wildlife Corridors are Already Wild.
The potential for unmanaged brush to place populated areas of the county in danger is highlighted dramatically by the pace of the Thomas Fire burning through the county. Structures in the City of Ventura that burned were nestled against the hills north of the city and closest to unmanaged brush-covered slopes. The fire also surrounded the Ojai Valley and nearly cut it off from the rest of the City of Ojai.
CoLAB believes the fact that wildfire plans including controlled burns and proper brush management were not implemented prior to the Thomas Fire is a reflection of a misunderstanding by California leaders. Particularly Ventura County politicians have led the community to believe that pristine wilderness adjacent to developed communities is necessary to maintain wildlife habitat. But the opposite was shown to be true in the wake of the destruction of the Thomas Fire to both wildlife habitat and urban communities.
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 local 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. We are collaborating in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process, regularly attending groundwater stakeholder meetings and participating in the important dialogue. In addition, our efforts include supporting United Water Conservation District’s campaign to continue to operate their Freeman Diversion water facility and staunch support for the California Water Fix.
We attend 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 in support of our members.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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