Local farmers are determined for San Joaquin County to retain its rich agricultural heritage, maintain jobs and continue putting food on the table.
But like many other areas of California, the pressure to sell out to developers continues to build.
County leaders are taking a hard look at ways to preserve agricultural lands and to continuing making farming a key part of the county's economy.
The Board of Supervisors are scheduled to consider an ordinance in late October to regulate development on farmland.
Farmers, developers and county leaders are negotiating what Supervisor Jack Sieglock hopes will be a compromise for all sides.
"Our goal is not to shut down development. Our children have to live in homes as well," said Joe Petersen, chairman of the county's agriculture advisory board serves on the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation board of directors.
However, Peterson said farmers are increasingly concerned about the loss of farmland to make room for housing subdivisions and shopping centers, such as the area between Stockton and Lodi, and west of Lodi.
"We provide habitat, we provide jobs, a stable food supply and open space," Petersen said. "Society needs to decide how we're going to preserve ag land in the future."
The compromise was negotiated during a meeting last week involving Sieglock, Supervisor Steve Gutierrez, developers, farmers and officials from the county counsel's and community development department offices.
"We're pretty close on a number of important issues.", Sieglock said. "It doesn't go to one extreme or the other."
Developers welcome the current proposal, but farmers would like to see more stringent requirements when houses take over farmland.
The tentative deal calls for developers to pay a fee of $8,675 per acre. If fewer than 40 acres are being developed.
Preserving farmlandHow developers will compensate for lost farmland if an ordinance is approved by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
• A fee of $8,675 per acre for developments less than 40 acres.
• For subdivisions exceeding 40 acres, developers may preserve a half-acre of prime agricultural land, one acre of non-prime agricultural land or two acres in the Delta.
• If no suitable farmland is available for developers to preserve, the applicant may appeal to the Board of Supervisors for the right to pay the fee.
Source: San Joaquin County
For subdivisions greater than 40 acres, developers would be required to donate either a half-acre of prime agricultural land, one acre of non-prime agricultural land or two acres in what is called the Delta Primary Zone for each acre of farmland that is urbanized, Sieglock said.
The Delta Primary Zone consists of most of the area between Interstate 5 and Highway 160.
Sieglock said it is important that the farm-rich Delta be included in the ordinance.
"It ensures an ag economy that's part of the Delta," he said. "We want to make sure the Delta remains in agriculture, not just as a wildlife area."
John Beckman, governmental affairs director for the Building Industry Association of the Delta, said the compromise the Board of Supervisors will consider next month is better than what the city of Stockton is studying. The Stockton City Council will explore requiring one acre of land preserved for agriculture for every one acre developed, Beckman said.
The city of Lodi doesn't have an ordinance regulating development on agricultural land, although Reynolds Ranch developers, who plan to build almost 1,100 homes, a Blue Shield call center and 40 acres of retail buildings on 236 acres south of Harney Lane between Highway 99 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, have agreed to set aside 200 acres of farmland in perpetuity no more than 15 miles from the project site.
While a majority of subdivisions will be built on land that is annexed into one of San Joaquin County's seven cities, the county ordinance would nevertheless be very significant to the county, Beckman said. One example is the Mountain House development west of Tracy, he said.
Developers would have the right appeal rights to appeal the ordinance and request that the Board of Supervisors allow them to simply pay the fee, Sieglock said.
To protect farmland more, farmers would like to see the future county ordinance to be adopted by each of the seven cities, Petersen said.
"The county ordinance can take the lead," Petersen said. "It's a good ordinance if the goal is to preserve agriculture for generations to come."
Kurt Kautz, co-owner of Bear Creek Winery, said he would rather see developers dedicate land rather than pay a fee.
"That's probably a much better way to do it," Kautz said.
When developers pay fees, which is the case in many other cities and counties in California, the fee isn't high enough for the city or county to buy farmland to compensate for the development, Kautz said.
In addition to the county losing agricultural land, residents in the new subdivisions will object to the smell of nearby dairies and chicken ranches because of the smell, said Joe Valente, vineyard manager for Kautz Farms on Live Oak Road.
Petersen says that talks on the proposed ordinance will continue.
"We're working with them," Petersen. "This proposal is a good starting place."
First published: Wednesday, September 27, 2006