After nearly three hours of deliberation and public testimony, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to protect San Joaquin County farmland from ever-encroaching development by imposing a fee on developers.
When the board makes its final vote Nov. 14, developers will likely have to pay $8,700 an acre for every project spanning fewer than 40 acres.
For projects larger than 40 acres, one acre of agricultural land has to protected through farmland easements for every acre that’s developed.
But Supervisor Victor Mow, who represents Stockton and parts of Manteca — and who cast the one dissenting vote Tuesday — said the ordinance is currently unnecessary.
“Most farmland is lost to city development, not to county development,” he said.
“In the last 10 years, I think there has been about 215 acres of farmland lost to development.”
He figures land in the Delta already has solid protections against development. And with the county growing rapidly, he hopes the board will allow for greater flexibility to accommodate both developers and farmers based on fluctuating values of land.
In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach might not be the best way to protect county agricultural land from development.
Other supervisors agreed and gave county counsel two weeks to figure out the details of the law and bring more compromise ideas to the table.
However, the fundamentals of the ordinance — the ratio and fee concepts — will likely be approved at the Nov. 14 meeting.
“I think the ordinance was good for the San Joaquin County to promote long-term viability of the agricultural industry,” said Supervisor Jack Sieglock, who represents Lodi.
But he agrees some county land in the future likely will be worth more in the future than other land and is willing to compromise on the details, but not on the principle, of the ordinance. He figures the new law, as it stands today, is a good place to start immediately protecting land.
County Farm Bureau Executive Director Bruce Blodgett, however, doesn’t like the deal.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” he said.
His main concern is that the law doesn’t apply to city expansion, a major eater of local farmland. And there is nothing in the law requiring that money collected from the fees be used to buy agricultural easements.
The county counsel’s office will iron out details on four issues by Nov. 14, Sieglock said.
First, County Counsel Terry Dermody will consider if easements outside the county should be allowed. Sieglock said the board is leaning toward a “no” on that. Second, to consider if habitat easements could be swapped in some circumstances for agricultural ones. Third, how Delta land, for example, should be valued differently from prime agricultural land between cities. And fourth, to consider if land should be protected in perpetuity.
“A lot of the meaty stuff, by and large, has been decided, but not everything,” Sieglock said.
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