OCEANSIDE — With the SOAR initiative slated to be on the November general election ballot, opponents of the measure are readying a campaign to explain to voters why they’re opposed.
Neil Nagata, owner of Nagata and Sons Farms in South Morro Hills, president of the executive board of the San Diego Farm Bureau and a member of the Keep Farming in Oceanside coalition, says that the initiative will only hurt farmers, not help them.
Nagata, whose family has owned farmland in North County for three generations said: “When all 45 members of the San Diego Farm Bureau are against it, that says something.” He said that the way the initiative is written is confusing. “My understanding is that if the initiative passes any land use changes to what is currently legal will have to go to a vote of the people.”
Agriculture usage laws change all the time and some farmers are concerned that if SOAR is approved, voters would have to approve any agri-tourism construction projects.
“If this passes, we won’t be able to change anything without people voting on it,” Nagata said.
There are hard-hitting arguments between the opposing sides that large land owners oppose SOAR because they wish to sell their land to developers. And gentleman hobby farmers who benefit from supplemental income support SOAR, the farming tax break they receive and rural lifestyle they enjoy.
“We’re regular working-class people, farmers who work hard,” Nagata said, expressing the rancor that’s developed between those who are against SOAR and those who support it. “The people who want this initiative to pass aren’t making a living from farming. They’re what I call ‘gentlemen farmers’, a select few affluent people who want to maintain their lifestyle.”
According to Nagata, North River Farms — the nearly 1,000-home development planned for South Morro Hills — will not adversely affect his farm. “Those homes will be in the southern part of South Morro Hills, we’re more in the middle, so the development won’t impact us at all. We’re not really focused on what’s going on there. We’re the innocent bystanders in all this.” He said it’s his understanding that the developer, Integral Communities, would be improving the roads and perhaps even building a needed bridge.
When asked about traffic congestion should the initiative fail and North River Farms is built, Nagata said: “Oceanside is not a small city, we can’t live in the past,” recalling that when the mirror was installed at Palomar Observatory in the late 1930s, San Diego County constructed what is now county road S6, so that the Hale Telescope could be brought onto the site. He said that all roads leading in and out of Oceanside were once just dirt and there were only a few of them.
“South Morro Hills has been excluded from the city’s master plan all along,” he said. “If roads had been included in the master plan to begin with, this wouldn’t be an issue.”
Nagata also said that he believed that voters who signed the petition to have the initiative go on the November ballot were deceived. “They used paid signature gatherers,” he said. “And in one case, a guy who was getting signatures said he’d been sent by the City Council, but that wasn’t true. I heard the recording. One side doesn’t have any problem misleading the public.”
In response, South Morro Hills small farmer Dennis Martinek, one of the initiative’s drafters said: “Over 90 percent of our signature-gatherers were volunteers. There were a handful who were paid. We were very open with people we spoke to, explaining that we were a grassroots organization. Our training was quite specific in that regard.”
Martinek said that he saw the video that was supposedly a paid volunteer telling voters he’d been sent by the City Council. He explained that the video wasn’t clear and that the voice sounded like someone from the opposition. He said that they were unable to find the person in the video.
Nagata said that opponents would soon launch an “ … official campaign.” He said people would be going door-to-door speaking to voters and “ … speaking at any venues that will have us.”
The Keep Farming in Oceanside group continues to reach out through social media to inform residents of the negative impacts SOAR would have on farming operations.
The Keep Farming in Oceanside website currently says: “Be Back Soon! We’re Making Some Changes.” There is no mention of the SOAR initiative on the home page of the San Diego Farm Bureau. The initiative in its entirety is posted on www.oceanside-soar.org.