Growth plan prompts study

The filing of a proposed initiative to limit the subdivision of
farm and ranch land to control growth within the county has
prompted officials to begin a study of impacts it could possibly
have on everything from economics to infrastructure to schools.
The filing of a proposed initiative to limit the subdivision of farm and ranch land to control growth within the county has prompted officials to begin a study of impacts it could possibly have on everything from economics to infrastructure to schools.

San Benito County officials have 40 days to complete the study on the initiative that received enough signatures from registered voters to have it placed on the March ballot.

Proponents said the initiative would protect the long-range vitality of county agriculture and the area’s rural character.

They also said the county’s General Plan does not provide for adequate safeguards to protect the agricultural economy and the natural beauty of the county’s rural areas.

However, opponents, including the San Benito County Farm Bureau, said the proposal would be detrimental to businesses and the county.

“Why didn’t they come to the farm bureau. They should have come to us and say, ‘What can we do to help you guys,'” said Farm Bureau President Tom Tobias.

Treasurer Robert Frusetta said, “Instead they shove it down our throats. We have to mount a campaign to oppose this. We have tons of constituencies coming to us asking us to stop this.”

The proposed measure includes amendments to the land-use elements of the county’s General Plan that would increase the minimum parcel size for the agricultural productive of five-acre lots to 20-acre parcels and change agricultural rangeland from 40-acre parcel lots to a minimum 160 acres.

Opponents said this down-zoning would devaluate their land, which would affect farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to borrow against the property.

“If you down-zone a person’s property it will devalue their land, which will restrict the person from being able to borrow on it,” said Ron Roberts, a loan officer with Community Bank.

Roberts also said the county’s tax base would decrease and taxpayers would have to make up the difference.

“The cost of services has to come from somewhere,” he said. “We elect officials, our supervisors, to take care of planning issues like this and this looks like if would take it out of their hands.”

The Board of Supervisors has the next 40 days to decide on the initiative and it could place the proposal on the March ballot or vote it into law.

Insurance business owner Sandy Rose said the initiative would not only hurt people in agricultural, but businesses in San Benito County.

“There are a lot of negative ramifications,” she said. “This initiative could be very harmful to agriculture in general, and farmers have a slim margin to work with to begin with, like the weather, imports coming in. Many are not able to sell their product and have to plow it under. All the way around, this is very harmful …”

Richard Saxe, one of the initiative’s authors, said he is concerned owners would take prime agricultural land and have it developed into housing subdivisions.

“The most serious threat to agricultural is the suburbanization of prime agricultural land,” Saxe said. “Then all the community has lost it (open space).”

Tobias said the initiative will affect many people in a number of ways.

“There are going to be very few people who can afford 160 acres vs. 40 acres,” he said. “What we are going to have here is a community of extremely rich people and extremely poor with no room for middle America.

“For a little orchardist in North County who might have nine, 10 acres and they need to retire, the way it is now, they could sell off five acres and live in the house they have been living in for 40 years. But if this thing goes through, they would have to sell the whole thing.”

Anthony Botelho, a San Juan Bautista farmer, owns 20 acres and lives among his orchards and row crops. The proposal would not allow a property owner with 20 acres in the designated prime agricultural area to divide the property into four parcels.

“I’ve been in the field since I was 5 years old,” he said. “If something ever happened to me, like I’m disable or whatever, under this initiative I would have to sell my home, (and) move out of the county because I couldn’t divided it to sell off what I need to survive.”

“We are against the growth initiative, but we are not for growth,” Frusetta said. “This affects our factory, which is our land that affects us and our ability to finance our loans and our operations. This inhibits the ranchers and family farmers like myself, who have been in the business of production agricultural for generations to pass it on to our children.”

A similar initiative failed in Monterey County in 1996 when the Monterey Farm Bureau and local farmers helped defeat the initiative.

“Tom and I are going to try to beat this thing,” Frusetta said. “Because what you have is an incremental degradation of property rights.”

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