Land Use Committee Report
Submitted By Peter Bauer, Land Use Committee Chair
As the newly appointed chair of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau Land Use Committee, I become a part of extremely important group of people. It is easy for those of us in agriculture to forget that what we think are common sense land use policies, make no sense to some people. Some examples from other areas of the state that I have witnessed include the approved housing tract next to the Templeton Livestock Yard. The new residents complained about the smell, dust and noise and petitioned the board of supervisors to close it. Now that yard is closed and gone and is unlikely to be replaced creating an impact to the beef industry. Another example of what I might call poor land use policy is the amphitheater in Wheatland and newly added Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Those are NOT compatible land uses with the pastures that surround them.
Production agriculture is 1 ½% of the population. This 1 ½% needs to be certain that the other 98 ½% hear us and our insights regarding land use. Much of the 98 ½% does not realize that they are literally biting the hand that feeds them.
So, what are we doing here in Mendocino county to be good stewards to the agricultural land that we have here?? The Land Use Committee’s first project to review was the draft CEQA initial study for a major use permit application for a micro-cabin style RV recreational camping facility on a parcel zoned rangeland off the Old Toll Road in Hopland. A company called Getaway House, Inc. wants to bring in up to 45 micro-cabin style RVs and construct a lodge and other supporting utility infrastructure. People reserve the RVs by the night and the development is considered commercial and residential. On the surface this might look like a harmless project that could benefit the county with transient occupancy tax revenue and some other revenues connected to tourism. However, when you look a little deeper at the project, it is not a compatible land use with the surrounding agricultural land.
The committee had several meetings via telephone, and we discussed the pros and cons of the project proposal. The main concerns were that the proposed Getaway House Project converts existing rangeland, provides for leapfrog development impacts that place development pressure on adjoining agricultural properties and has limited access to water resources. The committee brought these concerns to the Farm Bureau Board in April. A comment letter was drafted and submitted to the Department of Planning and Building Services. MCFB took a position to oppose this project based on the main concerns listed above.
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The California Land Conservation Act, more popularly known as the Williamson Act, was created when the Assembly Agriculture Committee undertook a study in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and others that eventually led to the passage of legislation in 1965.
Under the Williamson Act, an owner of agricultural land may enter into a contract with the county if the landowner agrees to restrict use of the land to the production of commercial crops for a term of not less than 10 years. The term of the contract is automatically extended each year unless notice of cancellation or nonrenewal is given. Certain compatible uses are also allowed on the property. In return, the landowner is taxed on the capitalization of the income from the land, and not on the Proposition 13 value. Additional information on the California Land Conservation Act is available from the California Department of Conservation at http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp/lca.
Mendocino County Williamson Act Information
The Great Redwood Rail Trail Proposal
SB 1029, authored by Senator McGuire, was introduced in February 2018 titled,” The Great Redwood Trail Act” and was amended and approved by the Governor in September 2018. The basic intent of the legislation is twofold: First, SB 1029 would dissolve the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). Second, the bill would then create two separate management entities for the northern and southern halves of the existing rail system to essentially utilize, and perhaps expand, the existing footprint of the railway and construct a multi-use trail. The state Transportation Agency and the Natural Resources Agency are tasked to create a report by July 1, 2020 that would include existing NCRA debts/liabilities, NCRA assets/property easements/right-of-way, a viability assessment for creating the trail, trail governance structure options and more.
The Great Redwood Trail proposal provides public access for a number of recreational purposes (hiking, biking and equestrian uses) which could create impacts to the numerous private properties that the rail line currently crosses in the 300 miles of track plus spur lines (there are 1300 parcels that the RR line crosses/borders in Mendocino County alone). There are numerous private properties, a number of these are involved in farming or ranching, that may be impacted by the placement and/or use of the trail. This may also require the construction of trail crossings, further imperiling adjacent land holders. Since this trail is 300 miles long, issues related to garbage, camping/overnight stays, human waste or possible fire risk should also be considered. The legislation is unclear as to how disputes related to these types of interactions may be dealt with. Moreover, due to deteriorating conditions along the defunct rail line and the associated deferred maintenance issues, the newly established Agency may consider alternative routes beyond the scope of the existing right-of-way which may result in the dissection of private property.
If the existing railroad adjoins or crosses your property in Mendocino County, you should pay attention to this rail trail proposal as it moves forward. Farm Bureau is not against public recreational opportunities, however the potential impacts to farming and ranching operations as well as private properties along the proposed trail route cannot be ignored.