Commercial farmers speak out against SOAR initiative

OCEANSIDE –— Commercial farmers are speaking out against the SOAR initiative proposed for the June 2018 ballot. The initiative would require a community vote on land use changes to open space, parks and farmland.

As supporters are collecting signatures for the proposed ballot measure, commercial farmers are speaking to community groups to explain how the initiative would hurt farmers.

Third-generation farmer Neil Nagata spoke at the Oct. 18 City Council meeting. He said the initiative limits opportunities for commercial farmers and only benefits small farmers who live off other income. “Gentleman farmers are trying to create exclusive estates,” Nagata said. “We’re trying to deal with the many forces trying to take our land.”

Following the meeting Nagata said the initiative’s added restrictions will decrease land value and jeopardize farmers’ ability to secure needed loans to plant crops.

Nagata owns 160 acres of farmland. He grows strawberries, blueberries, cherimoyas and bell peppers. He said he takes private property rights personally.

“Our family is Japanese American,” Nagata said. “World War II forced us to relocate (to an internment camp). The family lost everything. After the war our parents came back and built us up. Now another group of people is trying to take our land.”

Nagata said he sees no benefits from an initiative that dictates a community vote is needed to add a pool to a public park or a commercial building to a privately owned farm. He said there are sufficient checks and balances in place with city zoning rules and a vote of an elected City Council.

He said the initiative does not provide any additional opportunities for agritourism than the city already allows.

“They’re very limited,” Nagata said.

He also objects to private farmland being included in an initiative to protect open space.

“Ag land is not open space,” Nagata said. “It’s a business. It produces something.”

Nagata added finding time to educate the community on the ill effects of the initiative is difficult while running a farm full-time, but he and fellow commercial farmers will stay at it.

Gentleman farmer Dennis Martinek proposed the initiative. He owns a 3-acre farm and grows macadamia nuts and avocados.

Martinek said the initiative benefits everyone except those who want to sell farmland, parkland or open space for development.

“It benefits the community and keeps farms,” Martinek said.

The proposed ballot measure supports tier I agritourism, which is limited to current farm compatible uses, which include fruit stands and open field production. Martinek said the city is in the process of adding more tier I uses to zoning rules.

The initiative purposely leaves out tier II agritourism ventures that consist of more aggressive development such as housing, and demand roadway and infrastructure expansion.

Martinek said he has more confidence in a vote of residents to decide on land use changes, than he does in a City Council majority that could be influenced by developers.

“People want to protect parks, golf courses and other open space,” Martinek said. “It should be up to voters to decide.”

Martinek said about 1,000 of the 17,000 signatures needed by January 2018 to get the initiative on the ballot have been collected over the past two weeks.

“People are tired of excessive development, most people want smart growth,” Martinek said.

He added the initiative empowers voters to preserve farmland and open space for future generations.


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