A brief history of successful SOAR initiatives in California

A brief history of successful SOAR initiatives in California
Like the other initiatives that preceded it, Oceanside’s SOAR proposition is designed to preserve agricultural land, as well as open spaces such as parks and recreation areas from being developed. Photo by Shana Thompson

OCEANSIDE  — If a majority of Oceanside voters vote “yes” on the Save Open Space & Agricultural Resources (SOAR) initiative on the ballot in November, they’ll be following in the footsteps of residents of the cities of Ventura, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Simi Valley; and Ventura, Alameda, Stanislaus and Napa counties.

The first SOAR initiative, called Measure J, was a general plan amendment that Napa County voters approved in 1990. That initiative, like those that followed, was an attempt to slow the growth of development in the state. Slow-growth initiatives had been introduced as far back as the 1970s, as citizens became more concerned about the rapid pace of building, particularly in Southern California.

But it was the Napa County initiative that changed the way growth could be better controlled—by preventing any change in agricultural land use/re-zoning without the approval of voters. Prior to that time growth had been managed in other ways: through annual growth caps, infrastructure requirements and limits on building permits.

Grapes grow on the vine for a nearby winery in Oceanside. Photo by Shana Thompson

According to David Morrison, Director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services for Napa County, “The measure was very tightly written, essentially saying that any change in agricultural areas required a vote of the people. That’s a high bar to get over, which guarantees that Napa remains open. As a result, we’re one of the few Bay area counties that hasn’t seen urban sprawl.”

Because approval of the initiative would mean that the board of supervisors would no longer be able to change and/or adapt the general plan if they felt it was necessary, Measure J was highly controversial. So controversial and contentious in fact that once voters had approved it, a local landowner and the Building Industry Association of Northern California sued. The suit, Devita v. County of Napa, went all the way to the Supreme Court, who in a 1995 five-to-four decision decided in favor of the defendant (County of Napa) and determined that voters could amend a general plan.

Once the Supreme Court decision was handed down, Ventura County introduced an initiative similar to Measure J and called it SOAR, an acronym for Save Our Agricultural Resources, and in the ensuing years other counties and cities followed suit.

In the November 2008 general election Napa County voters extended the original measure, then called Measure P, through the year 2058.  Voters in Ventura County voted in 2016 to extend their initiative for twenty years.

Like the other initiatives that preceded it, Oceanside’s SOAR proposition is designed to preserve agricultural land, as well as open spaces such as parks and recreation areas from being developed. The initiative is written to allow the voters, not politicians who may be beholden to special interest groups, decide how that land will be used by requiring that citizens vote before the city council can change any of the general plan sections pertaining to agriculture and open space.

Morrison gave a few examples of how this has worked in Napa County. “Four years ago the owners of a piece of land that’s a pumpkin patch at Halloween, where they sell Christmas trees during the holidays, wanted to erect a food stand on the premises. Last year a golf course wanted to add a restaurant. Both measures went on the ballot and both were approved.”

All of the initiatives have common goals of promoting “smart growth”, defined by Smart Growth America, a nationwide advocacy group as: an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement.

Ventura County Board of Supervisors member Steve Bennett (District 1) agrees that smart growth works. “SOAR has worked extremely well here in Ventura County. If it wasn’t for SOAR, I’m confident we would have lost our agricultural industry and the Oxnard plain would look more like the San Fernando Valley than an agricultural area.”

In the communities that have approved a SOAR initiative/measure, property values have risen as urban sprawl as decreased, natural spaces have been maintained including greenbelts between cities, and agri-tourism has introduced and educated both visitors and locals alike to the rich agricultural resources in the state.

Morrison said that the measures have not resulted in a decline in property values. “At $300-500 thousand per acre, Napa vineyard farmland is some of the most expensive agricultural land in the country.”

Bennett noted that the distinction between cities is another advantage: “Our cities are not growing together which has helped our sense of community. People are focused on development within the existing urban areas, leaving open spaces between the cities.”

Read the Oceanside SOAR initiative online at: www.oceanside-soar.org

13 Comments
  1. Candie 4 months ago

    WOW! This article is well researched and factual. Thank you Ms Piepenburg and Coast News. And thank you Napa County.
    Candie

  2. 2 Buck 4 months ago

    Finally a reporter does research and talks to someone who knows the facts about the benefits of a SOAR Initiative!

  3. Rancho del Oro voter 4 months ago

    We can’t keep building subdivisions and pave over the entire state. I’m in O’side and I’ll be voting for this initiative. Let the people decide!

  4. Chuck-eee 4 months ago

    SOAR is a voters rights initiative that lets the voters of Oceanside determine how open space, parks, and agricultural resources will be used . It takes just three City Council members to change the general plan. Let’s keep out of town developers OUT OF TOWN. We all need to work hard these next few months to get SOAR passed. It is a Grassroots movement, but the big developers and a few big farmers basically have unlimited funds. Donate your time, donate your funds, and donate your voice loud and clear, and MOST importantly cast your vote for SOAR. Go to http://www.oceanside-soar.org to volunteer and donate!

  5. Letitia Pepper 4 months ago

    I am going to help get SOAR passed in Oceanside, because I have personally observed, for 40-plus years, the benefits of a SOAR-like initiative in Riverside, CA.

    I have lived in Riverside, CA since 1982, and own a home there. But my family settled in Oceanside in 1968, Oceanside is where I went to junior high and high school, and for the past 10-plus years I have spent more and more time in Oceanside to help my aging mother here.

    In 1978, Riverside voters adopted an ordinance with some land use rules that cannot be changed without a vote of the people. It protected hillsides from over-development, it protected arroyos from being filled in and leveled, it protected the historic and scenic Victoria Avenue and the greenbelt, citrus-growing area around it. Like the Oceanside SOAR, the Riverside initiative did not prevent property owners from selling or leasing their property for the uses for which it was already designated.

    As a result, the City of Riverside is still scenic and a nice place to live. The proof of how well the Riverside SOAR-type initiative works is that in the past 40-plus years it’s been in existent, developers (often with the help of elected officials) have tried four times to get the people to vote to gut this ordinance’s protections, and four times the voters have said no, even when the people were outspent 20 to 1 by developers’ money.

    I would like Oceanside, too, to retain as much of its charm as possible. That is why I am going to work to help Oceanside’s SOAR pass, and why my mother and I will match the first $1,000 donated to SOAR that mentions this article by Claudia Piepenburg!

  6. gail 4 months ago

    Astonishing that so many people have an opinion about other people’s property and want to exercise power over how they use the land they’ve worked by hand for generations. Do any of you ever do your OWN research, or just regurgitate what others have told you? Check Oceanside’s Chamber of Commerce website, google the negative impacts of Ventura’s SOAR initiative . . . land has lost hundreds of thousands in value, businesses leaving. There is NO “open space” in Morro Hills . . .these are privately owned working farms you want to encumber for 20 years. Park land is already designated throughout Oceanside. It is a MYTH that farmers all want to “develop their land.” Yeah. That’s why they’ve been farming out there since the 1920’s, right? just so they could develop now. NO! They want their farms to remain viable, not be required to spend their profits on ballot initiatives city-wide every time they need to put up a warehouse or re-purpose any portion of their land. You want agritourism? Another city-wide vote for every B&B, farm-to-table restaurant, or winery will kill that plan, especially since a vote might have to wait 2 or more years for the next election cycle. Common sense people. Property rights.
    https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/2016/09/09/soar-creates-big-split-land-values/89979728/

  7. Diane 4 months ago

    Thanks to the Coast News for their research showing SOAR works- the people of a community put quality of life before profits. And thanks to Leticia for inspiring us to put our money where our mouths and hearts are- and donate to SOAR. Let’s all help protect what we love about Oceanside!
    .

  8. Q 4 months ago

    While I am not a resident of Oceanside, I would like to point out that the more the voters restrict the ability to create housing the fewer of those very same voters and their families will be able to find affordable housing in Oceanside. Part of the American Dream is to own your home. Initiatives like these will continue to push that dream out of reach for the average Oceanside resident. Think it through before you vote.

  9. Mandy Barre 4 months ago

    Q- SOAR does not affect affordable housing. That may be built by right in Oceanside and throughout CA. Please get your facts straight please and vote for this. It’s good for Oceanside.

  10. Nadine Scott 4 months ago

    Now the truth is out- the “poor farmers”, 2 of them, are taking $10K from the Building Industry Association and $45K from N River Farms developers. THIS IS NOT ABOUT FARMING- IT’S ABOUT DEVELOPING RURAL LAND WITH HIGH DENSITY HOUSING! A TAX DRAIN ON EVERY OCEANSIDER.

  11. E Cefola 4 months ago

    SOAR has to pass. Supporters like myself don’t have tons of $$ to fight the Anti-Soar building developers and city council in Oceanside. Please support and spread the word. Thank you.

  12. JP Theberge 4 months ago

    Let’s be clear here. This is not a “taking” of private property rights. Quite the opposite. When you purchase a property, you purchase it with the understanding and knowledge that the land has been zoned for a particular use. The value of that property is tied to the usage that is encoded in the zoning. And that is the price you pay. That means, if I buy land zoned for 1 house per 2 acres, I’m paying a price that reflects that value. If, 15 years later, I want to sell the property, that zoning and land use is built into the price that people will be willing to pay for 1 house on 2 cares. Now, if you’re clever, you can lobby the City Council through large donations and high priced consultants, to change the zoning of your property, so that its value increases significantly by say, allowing 50 houses per 2 acres. This change in zoning instantly increases the value of your land for very little work on your part (perhaps some well-placed campaign donations). That increase in value comes at a cost, however, to the surrounding private property owners (and the community at large). Their property now loses value. It is in effect a transfer of value from the surrounding community (who will have to pay for the negative effects) to the property owner who will cash out and make out like a bandit. SOAR, like the existing initiatives in Escondido (Prop A), Encinitas and the City of San Diego, requires that whenever a property owner seeks to ask the government to increase the value of their property, that the voters be allowed to weigh in. If there is a reasonable argument to change the zoning, then the people will approve it. If not, it stays as it was when the owner originally purchased the property.

  13. Joe Kraatz 2 months ago

    I get real tired of those that think we’re supposed to make housing available to everyone just
    because they want to live in San Diego county. Zoning is zoning period. No changes. Millionaires do not have the right to make more bucks and then leave and destroy another area. All you have to do is realize what this county will look like if these zoning changers keep up for
    the next 20 years!!

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