Marin County Farm Bureau submitted these comments on the “Natural Systems” section of the Local Coastal Plan on November 25, 2011:
November 25, 2011
Marin County Planning Commission
c/o Kristin Drumm via email: MarinLCP@co.marin.ca.us
Re: Local Coastal Program Update: Natural Systems
Dear Planning Commissioners:
The Board of Directors of the Marin County Farm Bureau appreciates this opportunity to comment on the Natural Systems section of the Local Coastal Program (LCP). We believe strongly that the LCP needs to balance environmental protection and agricultural viability. Farmers and ranchers have protected the land with all of its various species and habitat, preserved open space and provided food for Bay Area residents and beyond. Because agriculture is such an important part of Marin’s economy, we feel that it needs strong protection in the updated LCP.
Policy, C-AG-1 discusses the importance of preserving important soil and water resources for agriculture, which we appreciate. Unfortunately this policy seems to conflict with policies in the Natural Resources section of the LCP. The fundamental problem is the fact that the most productive soils, capable of sustaining our richest grasslands and row crops are the bottom lands adjacent to creeks and laced with wetlands and ESHAs of every description. County government and the Coastal Commission cannot have it both ways. We cannot allow the elimination of our most productive land in favor of creating arbitrary buffer zones. Even if a simple grandfather status is granted to these valuable lands it then becomes a matter of use it or lose it. If an active farmer dies or a property changes hands and the farm goes fallow, must this land go out of production forever only because a new owner applied for permits and triggered the imposition of ESHA buffers?
3. Prohibit grazing or other agricultural uses in wetlands except in those reclaimed areas used for such activities within five years before the date that a Coastal Permit application is accepted for filing.
This program only allows agriculture production in areas that were used for agriculture in the past five years. We are concerned that there may be ranches that have sat fallow for longer than that but are very productive soils just waiting for the right rancher to use that land. We need to look at the long history and evolution of agriculture in Marin in order to protect it for the future; a five year history is not nearly long enough.
It is also important to recognize that ESHA designations will not just affect the prime soils near creek bottoms. There does not seem to be any real method for determining where an ESHA should be, therefore all agricultural land becomes susceptible to this arbitrary designation. The potential to eliminate agriculture from the Coastal Zone becomes a real concern to the agricultural community. The fear that a permit would trigger these designations on a ranch may prevent any rancher from ever building or adding on to their homes to allow for additional family members to participate in the agricultural business. In addition, just changing the intensity of use on a ranch would trigger these designations because a change in use signifies development, (more on this below).
The Planning and Coastal Commissions could truly demonstrate their commitment to the future of Marin agriculture in the LCP by exempting existing agricultural lands from condemnation for the creation of ESHA buffers. The LCP language must not assert a primacy of ESHA designation over established agricultural land.
It is also important to recognize that ESHA designations will not just affect the prime soils.
C-BIO-19 Wetland Buffers
This policy calls for a minimum buffer of 100 feet. Environmental enhancements on our farms and ranches must not become a matter of rigid policy that imposes arbitrary setbacks and ESHAs on farmland. We urge the Commission to avoid restrictive LCP policies and instead, appreciate the ongoing environmental improvements that are made on Marin ranches without such policies.
The Marin RCD (Resource Conservation District) has a long history of implementing environmental enhancements on our farms to protect environmentally sensitive areas. The RCD has a solid reputation amongst ranchers and environment groups. The implementation of ESHA buffers as determined by permitting authorities on ranch land can be hugely cost prohibitive. The fear of a permit application triggering such a time consuming and expensive process of ESHA establishment may well convince farmers and ranchers not to make important improvements in infrastructure to their operations. The cost of fencing miles of streams and ESHA could well break many small operators financially. The RCD brings years of experience in partnering with farmers on habitat improvements, providing engineering expertise and assisting with funding. By leaving the business of habitat enhancement to the RCD and other appropriate agencies such the USDA Equip Program, the Commission would truly be helping ranchers avoid another layer of regulatory burdens. Rigid buffers are also referenced in C-BIO-24 Coastal Streams and Riparian Vegetation and we ask that these be removed as well.
Program C-BIO-5.a Determine Locations of Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas.
This program mentions “a level of review,” we would like clarification as to who would be doing that review, will this be county staff or will the county be hiring biological experts?
We wish to point out again an issue about the definition of agriculture and development in the Proposed Development Code Amendments. A change in Agricultural Usage Is NOT Development, It is Essential for our survival and is clearly recognized by our history of agriculture in Marin. A view of Marin’s agricultural lands over the last 170 years would reveal constantly changing patterns of crops, animals and production of all kinds. In the decades since the Gold Rush, vineyards, grain fields, row crops, hog pens, and orchards, have often been interspersed with the great cattle pastures of Marin. There was no permit for changing agricultural usage in the 1940s when pasture land in Bolinas and out on Pt. Reyes were instantly converted to pea production for the war effort. The LCP must not freeze Marin agriculture in time.
The ability to shift production within an agricultural operation, adapting to changing market and climate conditions, is key to the survival of our farms. Once we open the door to policy makers, and thus, environment advocates, to review and regulate the business of farming, then only those who can afford the expense and lost time of such processes will be able to farm in Marin. Is it fair to tie the hands of our coastal producers, locking them into losing production systems while farmers and ranchers elsewhere can constantly change (USE) production regimes, experiment and adapt their production to shifting market trends?
In a bad grass year, a few acres of vineyard could produce an exceptional harvest that helps offset the difference in lost income. In a drought, a row crop farmer should have the option to graze his or her land when there is not enough water to irrigate. The year- to-year survival of farming operations depends on the ability to shift agricultural regimes instantly. It must not become a cumbersome process at the mercy of policy makers and environment groups who have scant knowledge of farming. How the land is used is, and must remain, the business of the farmer.
In all the excitement about sustainable agriculture one fundamental practice stands in the face of “change of use” rules. More and more research shows that diversity within a farming operation is essential to maintaining a healthy farm with a diverse nutrient pattern resulting from the rotation of animal and crop regimes. Several farms in Marin have adopted this style of management. Will an updated LCP require us to obtain a permit each time the rotation occurs?
President, Marin County Farm Bureau
Marin County Board of Supervisors BOS@co.marin.ca.us
Stacy Carlsen, Marin Agriculture Commissioner SCarlsen@co.marin.ca.us
Jack Rice, California Farm Bureau Federation JRice@cfbf.com
Chris Scheuring, California Farm Bureau Federation CScheuring@cfbf.com
Paul Beard, Pacific Legal Foundation firstname.lastname@example.org
David Lewis, UCCE email@example.com
Bob Berner, MALT firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruby Pap and Rick Hyman,
California Coastal Commission
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105-2219