OCEANSIDE — The Chamber of Commerce has added its voice to opposition of the proposed SOAR initiative, which asks that zoning changes of parks, open space and farmland go to a citizen’s vote.
The chamber board of directors voted unanimously to oppose the initiative Feb. 20.
The main reason the chamber stands against SOAR is that it is bad for commercial farmers. The chamber believes its rules would create roadblocks for farmers to finance property improvements and remain viable.
Scott Ashton, chamber chief executive officer, said there are already enough checks and balances in place for zoning changes, which go through city staff, Planning Commission and City Council approval. He added the initiative would require costly citywide elections for even minor property changes.
Ashton said decisions about private farmland should not be grouped with public open space, or put in the hands of residents who may not be familiar with the agriculture area.
“It’s people’s livelihood, not open space like a park, it’s a property rights issue,” Ashton said. “They’re ignoring the needs of farmers who are not just farming as a hobby, but have multi-generational family farms.”
The proposed initiative would also put a moratorium on existing general plan and zoning designations until 2038.
Dennis Martinek, a small farmer and planning commissioner who is leading the initiative drive, said SOAR does not affect the business of farming. He said all city rules will still apply to adding property improvements as long as they comply with current zoning.
He added the initiative focuses on major land use changes, such as the allowance of large scale developments.
Martinek said zoned farmland is a valuable community resource, which he does not entrust City Council to preserve. He said the decision to change farmland zoning should be left up to the common sense of residents.
“We have so little of it left, the city should just not squander it along with parkland and open space,” Martinek said.
Both supporters and those in opposition of SOAR look at the effects a similar initiative has had in Ventura County. Both sides are dug in that results there prove their point.
Ashton said the initiative has had negative economic impacts in Ventura County.
He said Matthew Fienup, California Lutheran University executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, met with the chamber and city officials and said the initiative has been disastrous for the county’s economy and frozen development and business expansion.
Ventura County’s economy has shrunk, and it is seeing the slowest recovery from the recession in the state. The economic downturn is prompting major biotechnology companies to consider leaving the area.
“It’s not correct to say it’s beneficial,” Ashton said. “I don’t think this is the solution, to put zoning for privately owned businesses on the ballot.”
Fienup agrees and said there are more effective alternatives to preserve parks and public open space.
“It’s the most crude policy, and it’s not clear to me at all that it achieves its most basic goals,” Fienup said.
Martinek said according to a Ventura County supervisor the initiative is producing positive slow growth and development along transportation corridors.
Martinek said he wants the same results for Oceanside.
About 10,000 signatures have been collected to put the initiative on Oceanside’s November ballot. Proponents of the initiative will continue to collect signatures up until the March 11 submission deadline.