Central Valley Land Use Report
[Agricultural Production in an Urban State] [Goals] [Basic Principles]
[Sidebar: Can the Central Valley Learn from the Experience of Los Angeles?] [Task Force Membership] [Acknowledgements]
There is widespread concern that rapid rates of population growth in California's Great Central Valley and the lack of a coordinated strategy to handle such growth is contributing to several serious problems, which include the following:
- An accelerating loss of productive agricultural land.
- Fiscal problems in Central Valley cities and counties due to insufficient planning for growth.
- Increasing conflict between farmers and their urban neighbors
at the urban/agricultural edge.
In this report, we have presented agriculture's point of view. Although not everyone in the agricultural community will fully accept the policies developed by this task force, we have tried to provide a fair representation of the issues and views of this broad-based community. Farmers and ranchers are the major landowners in the Central Valley, yet it is evident that no unified voice speaks on their behalf regarding agricultural land and resource protection issues. In fact, the agricultural community often plays both sides of the issue, wanting protection from the problems associated with farming next to urban areas while also encouraging growth into productive agricultural areas by making land readily available for development (i.e., selling for conversion to non-agricultural land uses when the price is right).
This report focuses on the Central Valley. Although many of the principles presented here could be of interest to other significant agricultural areas experiencing urban encroachment, our concerns address the Central Valley.
We believe that California agriculture - particularly in the Central Valley - is a strategically important industry that makes a staggering contribution to the overall economic vitality of our state. California leads the nation in the value of its crop and commodity production, and no other agricultural region of equivalent size in the world approaches this economic powerhouse.
Farm operations result in other amenities that are not as easy to quantify in economic terms, but are important to the overall welfare of Central Valley citizens. Agricultural land provides open space and a rural way of life, flood control protection, a location for ground water recharge, a quality viewshed, and habitat for a large variety of species.While the Central Valley is renowned for its excellent soils and valuable agricultural production, recent studies show that urbanization is occurring rapidly. From 1980 to 1995, the Central Valley population rose by 1.8 million, which is almost a 50 percent increase in those 15 years. Between 1984 and 1994, 120,000 acres of farmland were converted to non-agricultural uses; over 70% of these acres were irrigated cropland. (1)
Clearly, we are losing our finite supply of fertile agricultural land to urbanization. We know, too, that as the state's population grows, agricultural loses more of its water supply to urbanization. In the Central Valley, population growth and current patterns of urbanization have also resulted in deteriorating air quality and escalating costs to local governments as they try to accommodate this growth.
Members of this task force believe that it is in the best interest of all citizens of this state and country to maintain and enhance the agricultural production capabilities of the Great Central Valley of California.
In preparing this report, we have considered the importance of a landowner's private property rights. The recommendations in this report do not intend to impinge upon these fundamental rights. The task force recognizes, however, that we operate within a land-use framework created by existing local, state, and federal laws as well as state and federal court decisions. Although private property rights that allow us to do whatever we want with our lands do not currently exist, we must defend and protect all rights that remain. We also recognize that as with all rights, including private property rights, there exists a corresponding set of responsibilities.
In California the power of local governments to regulate land use is a legally and historically established legitimate exercise of authority to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. A delicate balance exists between private property rights and the rights of a community. Poor land use planning costs the taxpayers, degrades the quality of a community, and creates additional conflicts - particularly for landowners who are trying to farm.
The more populated our state becomes, the more we need to develop good land use planning tools to manage growth. This requires hard decisions. Sometimes these decisions serve the public good and the overall interests of the agricultural industry but appear to be in conflict with the rights of individual landowners. The task force has tried to balance these competing interests. We believe that individual landowners should not bear the entire costs associated with population growth and good land use planning.
For these reasons, our report primarily advocates an incentive-based approach for good land use planning rather than one that is regulatory and mandatory in nature. We believe that with our approach, California agriculture, collectively, can preserve existing private property rights, continue to farm, and at the same time help manage California's population growth without significant harm to the industry.
Above all, we want agriculture to join in the debate with other interests on such important matters as growth management and land use. We recognize the importance of an open dialogue among all levels of government, farmers, ranchers, builders, developers, and environmental interests so that in the end the challenges facing the Central Valley can be met through cooperative efforts. We view this policy document as the beginning of a process and not the end.
Jack Pandol and Mike Chrisman
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