Residents launch signature gathering for SOAR initiative

OCEANSIDE — A grassroots group of about 30, dressed in green T-shirts, gathered outside of City Hall Oct. 4 to publicly launch the Save Open Space and Agriculture Resources, or SOAR, initiative that will empower residents to vote on land use changes.

The group stood with handwritten rally signs and passed out signature gathering petitions to put the initiative on the June 2018 ballot.

Once the City Council meeting began, about a half dozen group members shared their support for the initiative during public comments.

Speakers said the initiative gives residents the decision-making power over a three-person council majority. They spoke of the benefits of smart growth practices that reduce urban sprawl and traffic congestion. The also talked about the value of farming and agritourism.

The proposed initiative would allow agritourism, and require a citizen vote to rezone agricultural land or open space. It also protects parks and golf courses.

“Open space and ag land is part of the fabric of our community,” Diane Nygaard, Oceanside resident and president of Preserve Calavera, said.

Additionally, speakers in support of the initiative criticized council’s encouragement of the proposed North Valley Farms development that plans to build houses on prime farmland. Speakers said they are enraged that the council told the developer to pursue the project despite resident and Planning Commission objections.

The project may bring 1,000 homes to 177 acres of agricultural land, which lacks sufficient roadways and water and utilities infrastructure. Initiative supporters said there is sufficient land elsewhere for needed housing, which already has built-in infrastructure.

“The city will put up the tab for this, that means everyone in the city (will foot the bill),” Lisa Hamilton, an Oceanside resident said.

Hamilton added the SOAR initiative is a means to prevent similar projects from coming before council.

Some speakers called out Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery, Councilman Jerry Kern and Councilman Jack Feller as supporters of out-of-town developers.

Council members did not reply to public speakers during the October meeting. Following the meeting Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said she supports the initiative because it protects quality of life for residents.

Lowery called the proposed ballot measure the “SOAR Land Grab Initiative” in an Oct. 3 Facebook post.

“(It) steals land value from farmers and stops them from making their own decisions,” Lowery said in the post. “The plan will bankrupt farmers and keep ‘open space’ for 30 years because no one can do anything with the land.”

Following the meeting Dennis Martinek, Oceanside small farm owner and proposer of the initiative, said he expects similar ballot measures to be proposed countywide. He said eight comparable initiatives were passed in Ventura County last November.

“The initiative is pretty clear, it gives citizens the right to vote and preserves open space and ag land resources that are valuable to us,” Martinek said.

A summary of the initiative clarifies that development projects that are substantially underway before the initiative is adopted will not be effected.

If passed new rules would be in effect for 20 years.

For it to be included on the June 2018 ballot, supporters need to gather 17,000 signatures by Jan. 15.

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