Farmers, grassroots efforts help get SOAR initiative to voters

Farmers, grassroots efforts help get SOAR initiative to voters
Farmer Mike Cobas stands near an orange tree on his Oceanside farm. Cobas primarily grows grapes for a nearby winery and believes that “South Morro Hills could become one of the most productive wine producers in the area.” Photo by Shana Thompson

OCEANSIDE — Thanks to the 11,000 residents who signed a petition to allow it on the ballot, Oceanside voters will be able to vote on the SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) Initiative on Nov. 6. The initiative requires voter approval of proposals to change the land-use designation or zoning of agricultural or open space land to any other use.

Dennis Martinek, one of the initiative’s drafters, has a PhD in urban planning, so he says he understands the concept of smart growth as opposed to development that would negatively impact agricultural and open space land.

Grapes thrive in coastal environments such as Mike Cobas’ Oceanside farm. Photo by Shana Thompson

“We must treat these areas as the precious resources they are,” said Martinek, a 40-year Oceanside resident who grows avocados and macadamia nuts on his property in South Morro Hills. “The city has a general plan that we realize can be amended over time, but it’s important that any changes result in the least amount of impact to the community. The average citizen is pretty positive; people want to see reasonable growth.”

The grassroots group came about when Integral Communities, a real estate developer in Orange County, proposed building nearly 1,000 homes in South Morro Hills. Integral, the 12th largest homebuilder in the country, has built other developments in Oceanside, but not on land that was agriculturally rich.

“We’re in a perfect location,” said Mike Cobas, who for the past two years has planted grapes on his parcel adjacent to Martinek. “We get the breeze from the ocean, we don’t experience freezing and our soil is the richest imaginable. I’ve never had to add any amendments to my soil, no chemicals of any kind.”

Cobas went on to say: “ … given the opportunity, I believe South Morro Hills could become one of the most productive wine producers in the area. That a real estate developer would want to turn this area into concrete isn’t right.”

Integral presented the 177- acre development called North River Farms, which would include apartments, single family homes, a boutique hotel and restaurants as being a win for the city, Martinek, Cobas and other SOAR supporters say otherwise.

“This development will be more costly to citizens in the long run. The infrastructure needed to support it will be expensive: roads, sewers and water service,” Martinek said.

Grapes on the vine in Oceanside. Photo by Shana Thompson

Besides the loss of rich farmland, SOAR proponents are concerned about traffic as well as safe evacuation routes during fire season. Cobas, who spent many hours standing outside grocery stores asking people to sign the petition, said: “A lot of times people would say that they were busy, didn’t have time to talk, but as soon as I mentioned traffic congestion, they’d stop and listen.”

Both Martinek and Cobas were evacuated during the most recent fires and they expressed their concern over limited routes to escape encroaching flames. “There are only two roads leading in and out of here,” said Cobas, who said that the plan to build hundreds of homes in an area with limited access and egress is “… just plain dangerous.”

Although Martinek and Cobas feel confident that the initiative will pass, they’re not resting on their laurels. “Prior to the election we’ll have volunteers out at grocery stores and going door-to-door, explaining to people what SOAR is about and encouraging them to vote for it,” Martinek said. Both made it clear that they understand business and are not discouraging development. “This is not a dollar issue,” Cobas said. “If this land wasn’t conducive to agriculture, it would be an entirely different story.”

For more information on SOAR, visit

  1. Ed 2 weeks ago

    How much of this property is actually growing food versus palm trees and nursery stock? Now that governor Brown has imposed his fifty gallon of water per person down the road will we be subsidizeing the water use to grow flowers and oh yes the cities rush to grow marijuana. I feel there’s a land grab and hobby farmers on there two and half acres are ready to smoke the herb, sorry

  2. gail 2 weeks ago

    There is NO “open space” in Morro Hills! These are people’s PRIVATE working farms! Park land is already protected in Oceanside. This will take away farmers’ private property rights! Don’t be fooled.

  3. symtrnr 2 weeks ago

    This article is anything but objective. Perhaps we need an “editorial” header placed on it? The simple fact of this matter – and you can do the work to trace the timeline between all the elements presented in the story – is Dennis Martinek doesn’t want any development to happen near his Camelot which uses the commercial ag lands as a moat. North River Farms was proposed. Once NRF was put back on the developer and the residents to work together (that was the instruction from the council, not an approval), Martinek and his fellow busy bodies got scared. He, as a former Planning Commissioner, could see there was support and need for a development. Knowing he couldn’t fight the development on its merits, he and the cast of usual suspects who hide behind environmental laws, decided to change the rules so the development wouldn’t qualify. It’s dishonest and despicable, especially because the casualties in this battle are the commercial farmers who need the land value to run their businesses. Martinek can grow his avocados on his 2.5 acres all day, but that doesn’t compare to the commercial operations which buffer him from the unwashed masses who might move closer to him. SOAR is a SCAM which will not be passed.

  4. Dennis Martinek 2 weeks ago

    The SOAR Initiative doesn’t change the land uses in the existing General Plan. It requires Oceanside Voters approval for zoning changes for open space, parks, golf courses, river trails, and land zoned as agricultural. The SOAR Initiative gives voters the right to decide,not politicians or special interests. We should preserve these special resources for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. Once they are built on and paved over, they are gone forever.
    SOAR Initiatives have been in existence for over 20 years in Ventura County. In November 2016, voters there overwhelmingly renewed them for an additional 20 years,because they work.

  5. Oceansidevotes 5 days ago

    Anybody that pays attention to Oceanside politics knows that we have a corrupt council. We consistently have had people like Lowery who make campaign promises (not just to his supporters but to the police and fire) which by the way gave low-ery $180k
    to win his seat and then he flip flopped to the $$$$ developers. Oside Chambers would not allow SOAR to give a presentation to it’s membership! Why? Because people would get behind SOAR. SOAR is a great thing for Oceanside and our quality of life. We must be mindful of developments in terms of traffic congestion and safety issues. South Morro Hills does not have the infrastructure for high density housing nor should it. EVERYBODY who buys a home or land buys with an acknowledgement of what it is zoned. ALL properties in south Morro hills has a 2.5 acre minimum requirement per house.
    EVERYBODY who bought in south morro hills knows that, so to say SOAR is going to hurt the “commercial growers” is a lie. SOAR is protecting the current zoning. The City Staff, City Planners, the planning commission the community all said no to North River Farms, yet Kern, Feller and Lying Low-ery disregarded all and is helping Integral create major safety issues and traffic congestion and now they want to put a tax increase on the ballot to pay for all of their mistakes! Get rid of Lowery- and the good ole boy corruption. Change the tide in Oceanside –
    Vote Sanchez District 1 and Corso for District 2!

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