The Farm Bureau: a house divided

According to the recent issue of San Diego County Farm Bureau News, "San Diego County sits uncomfortably on the cutting edge of some very serious land use problems."

by Carolyn Chase
he farming community is having trouble dealing with the fact that it has been divided into two camps. On one side are the farmers who just want to be able to profitably run their farms. On the other are "property rights" farmers whose primary motivation seems to be to preserve their right to sell out to the highest bidder.
The most hotly contested issues at the Farm Bureau's annual state-wide meeting revolved around habitat conservation plans and the inclusion of agricultural elements in local general development plans. After all, if a community decided that a particular habitat should be preserved, any farmland located near there could only be used for, well, farming.
But the San Diego contingent is fully in the property rights camp. They are against local habitat planning and efforts that would create the zoning actually required by many farmers who want to keep farming.
Farm Bureau President Judy Fowler make no bones about it. "When agriculture and private property rights clash, we have to opt for property rights," she told the delegates.
Maybe the Farm Bureau should change its name.... say, to the San Diego Farm Sale Bureau?
San Diego First Vice President Eric Anderson told delegates that "no Habitat Conservation Plans have any benefits to agriculture," despite the fact that existing agricultural operations are allowed under local Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). But it can be credibly argued that adopting HCPs will result in more protection and less pressure on agricultural lands. This is why many other counties - and perhaps even our own - could come to support HCPs. Other delegates felt more education was needed so the Habitat Conservation resolution was tabled until the 1996 annual meeting to be held here in San Diego.

Rural vs. urban

"In simple terms, the debate was divided between rural and urban communities. The more rural counties, many of them Northern California wine areas, want agricultural elements mandated as a way to protect agricultural operations from urban encroachments. The more urbanized counties, where agriculture has already been encroached upon, see agricultural elements as a way for environmentalists to turn their farms into permanent green belts and open space, removing any options when farming becomes economically unfeasible." (Farm Bureau News, Jan '96)
But while there are other pressures on farming, mainly water and labor costs, a closer look shows that the process of becoming "economically unfeasible" is driven by a lack of agricultural zoning which would protect farmlands from the pressures of selling out to developers.
The State Bureau went on record supporting agricultural elements in plans. The local Bureau is only being compelled to participate in the process as a result of the SOFAR lawsuit. [see SDET. Dec .95]. This lack of suitable protection for valuable soils is called a "taking" of property by this County's Farm Bureau. They seem to have less interest in the future of farming than in the transfer of farmlands from farming into housing.
The Farm Bureau is also firmly behind efforts to dismantle the Resource Protection Ordinance. In an editorial entitled "How do you convince a liberal it's not their land?" Fowler states, "Amazingly, members of the environmental community believe the Government has the right to your land. If you regulate my land so I cannot use it, you have effectively taken it without having spent a dime... The time has come to hold their feet to the fire. It is not their land."
It may not be my land, as they observe, but I do think that keeping farms in San Diego is an important legacy. As a conservative taxpaying property owner, I don't believe the Government "has the right to your land." But I do believe that the government has the right, and the duty, to determine the interest of the public good and resolve land use issues for that common good. I also happen to have figured out that this means using accepted and legal general plans and land use regulations to protect farmlands, even if that means protecting them from some of the farmers themselves. This, I think, is what they object to the most.