OCEANSIDE — The Sierra Club North County Coastal Group recently issued an endorsement for the Oceanside SOAR initiative, which calls for a citizens vote on zoning changes to open space, parks, golf courses and farmland.
In its endorsement statement the club said the decision to support the initiative is based on the club’s policy to preserve agricultural land and open space, and eliminate urban sprawl and “improperly sited” development.
The initiative was launched by city residents after a couple of requests were brought to City Council to change agriculture zoning to low-density housing zoning.
The club stresses the initiative would not change land uses, but simply switch the decision making power from elected council members to voters.
The group also points out Oceanside is one of the few cities that has zoning to protect land use, and preserve agriculture and community character.
The club supports the city’s smart growth plan, which calls for high-density development in the downtown area and along public transportation corridors.
Club members emphasize costly infrastructure is already in place within target smart growth areas, but absent in undeveloped farmland or open space areas.
Fellow Sierra Club chapters support the initiative. Richard Miller, Sierra Club San Diego Chapter development associate, said the initiative preserves quality of life for residents, and helps ensure there is no other feasible location for development before zoning changes take place.
“Areas cannot be developed or changed without a vote of the people,” Miller said. “It helps people to focus on what they really want for their cities and own communities.”
Several Oceanside commercial farmers have spoken against the initiative during City Council meeting open comments. Among their objections are that the initiative diminishes private property rights and reduces land value, which impacts loans farmers depend on to plant their next season crops.
Miller said he does not see the initiative having a negative impact on farmers. He said it simply switches the vote on zoning changes from the City Council to the public.
“Any decision to develop land has to be made by the individual owner,” Miller said. “It doesn’t change anything.”
Eric Larson, San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director, said it would be a tall order to ask farmers to rally voters to approve a land use change.
“The effect, as is the intent of the initiative, is to essentially lock in their zoning in perpetuity,” Larson said. “From a practical perspective I don’t see farmers having the will or capacity to go to the voters for a change in land use.”
Larson said the initiative would impact both small and commercial farmers.
“All farmers would be impacted equally by having no access to changing their land use,” Larson said.
Larson did not comment on whether the initiative might affect land value.
Miller said he is not a relator or banker, but he sees holes in the argument that the initiative would decrease land value, and make it more difficult for farmers to get loans.
The San Diego County Farm Bureau has not yet taken a position on the initiative. It will be considering a member’s request to oppose the initiative at its December board meeting.