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SOAR revisions needed for agribusiness to grow

By   /   Friday, February 12th, 2016  /   Comments Off on SOAR revisions needed for agribusiness to grow

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SOAR, short for Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, has had a big impact on land use in Ventura County.

Up for renewal after two decades, a revised SOAR should go before voters this fall.

Among other things, SOAR needs revisions that carve out exceptions for food processing facilities. It needs to recognize the growing role of agritourism and film production in enhancing the value of farmland.

And it needs a more predictable process for bringing property subject to SOAR into a city’s curb lines.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the question of whether or not SOAR amounts to a taking of property rights that should be accompanied by compensation to property holders.

After a couple of decades, the consequences of SOAR are easy to see. For one thing, Ventura County has become a place where there are plenty of low-wage farm jobs but many fewer jobs in processing and production.

This exacerbates the problem of wage inequality. And it leaves agricultural workers with no choice but to leave agribusiness for semi-skilled machine trades and crafts.

We support efforts by the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County and others to produce new opportunities for food processing and production. These jobs are permanent, they pay better wages and they provide for capital expenditures. And, most important, they take the fruit of farm labor and convert it into higher value-added products, right here in the region.

Agritourism and film production are other areas where Ventura County could benefit from looser rules and easier permitting. Again, these are the sorts of opportunities that are another rung up the economic ladder for farm laborers as well as professionals.

We’ve observed closely during the past decade as Limoneira engaged in an extended and expensive process to annex its Gateway project into the city of Santa Paula and get it through a permitting process. It’s a popular project that faced little or no opposition. Yet it took the better part of a decade and cost millions of dollars.

Property owners deserve a more predictable path to SOAR conversion.

The bottom line on SOAR is that it really overlooks the tremendous value of having farmland so close to Los Angeles, one of the world’s best cities for dining and eating, and so close to markets on the Pacific Rim.

If SOAR is going to continue into the 21st Century, it must help farmers seize the opportunities that are right outside our doorstep.

Steady hand stepping down

After 25 years on the job, Santa Barbara County Auditor-Controller Bob Geis has announced he plans to retire in March. He’s also created a bit of a succession plan, asking the Board of Supervisors to appoint his assistant, Theo Fallati, to serve out his term, which runs through Jan. 7, 2019.

Geis has had a tough assignment. Guiding county finances through the Great Recession has proved a challenging task and the county is in better shape than it might otherwise have been.

Still, there are many challenges, including shoring up the county’s pension plans and preparing for the next recession. While the auditor-controller doesn’t set budgets or policy it has a powerful voice.

We’re pleased to note that Geis, 62, plans to stay in the area. We hope the county continues to take advantage of his knowledge and experience.

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