We found this editorial was more in the nature of fore-fantasy than forethought.
"If" rather than "when the economy and the housing market finally turn around," might be a firmer economic argument on which the base what follows. The finance, insurance and real estate special interests who control corporate media like McClatchy certainly weren't saying "when the speculative housing bubble bursts" a few years ago. In fact, they publicly doubted "if" the speculative bubble would ever burst.
Tfhe rest of the article deals with two Stanislaus County ordinances, both approved by voters, concerning "saving farmland."
The successful initiative that required a 1:1 mitigation for construction of prime farmland (the developer would have to provide an acre in perpetual conservation easement for every acre of farmland it develops) was upheld in state appellate court last week.
This is the latest version of the old propaganda line that developers create open space. If it had been passed in 1998 instead of 2008 it would have been something; instead it's just hypocrisy.
There is a similar flaw in the "save farmland" measure: the public would vote only on residential developments built on unincorporated, i.e. land under the land-use jurisdiction of Stanislaus County.
You can drive a locomotive through both these laws because they don't cover cities. When cities annex unincorporated (county) land, the laws no longer apply.
Speaking of locomotives, when the "hype" speed railroad comes to the San Joaquin Valley, it could very well stimulate another housing bubble because commute times would be shortened considerably "if" they can ever get it up and running.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Ag land measure serves county well...Editorial
When the economy and the housing market finally turn around, there will be two very strong deterrents to keep developers from building on farmland outside of cities in Stanislaus County.
The first is an initiative, approved by voters in 2008, that requires countywide votes for subdivisions in unincorporated areas. Such votes will be expensive and time-consuming, which means that a developer will have to take many steps to assure that a project offers something special to the whole county.
The second is a farmland mitigation measure that requires developers to permanently set aside the same amount of land for agriculture uses as they are taking out of production for their large housing projects. That measure was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2007 but has been under a legal cloud ever since.
Last week, the state Supreme Court decided it would not consider a challenge by the Building Industry Association of Central California to the county law. That means an appellate court ruling upholding the mitigation measure stands.
And that ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno came down squarely in support of the county's right to protect productive ag land. "Real estate development that requires agricultural land to be converted to residential use has a deleterious impact on this valuable resource," the presiding judge wrote.
Home builders opposed the measure on principle — that it is unfair — but primarily because it will add to their development costs. In addition to buying the land they intend to build on, they will have to pay to set aside other farmland, typically through ag easements, for permanent farmland uses. Usually, these conservation areas are overseen by a third-party trust. The county's ordinance also provides an option to pay fees.
Attorneys for the home building industry also argued that it is unfair that the mitigation requirement applies only to land used for residential uses, not for commercial or industrial uses. We think this provision was one of the appealing elements of the planning ordinance. It wasn't intended to shut down all growth, only to discourage rural subdivisions. We've also maintained that homes should be built within cities, which are better able to provide water, sewer, parks and fire protection.
With the county's measure upheld by the courts, farmland protection advocates likely will be asking each of the nine cities in the county to adopt similar measures. We predict a variety of reactions, leaning heavily toward "no way" — especially with most of the current city councils desperate to do anything possible to create jobs. And because not all of the cities are likely to adopt farmland mitigation measures, other cities will use that as a reason not to. It promises to be a lively and long debate.
In the meantime, we are pleased that the county's farmland mitigation measure stands because it underscores the value of farmland and our community responsibility to protect it for future generations.
There will be ample space for home building on lesser soils and within the boundaries of cities, even on vacant land within the cities.