SOAR (Measure Y on the ballot) stands for Save Open Space & Agricultural Resources.  It’s a ballot-box initiative brought forth in Oceanside, CA catalyzed by the North River Farms project proposed for South Morro Hills. If passed, it would lock in the current agricultural 2.5 zoning minimum, be in place for 20 years, and require a city-wide vote for changes.

And, it could stop the proposed North River Farms development proposed by Integral Communities.

For large-scale farmland owners, SOAR feels restrictive.  It would allow farming and development under current zoning laws, which allow for development on 2.5 minimum acre lots. For changes, voter approval would be required which could be onerous for farmers who might need to make land use changes to adapt to challenging times.

SOAR devalues Ag land while increasing the valuation of urban land along its borders. This is part of SOAR’s strategy designed to incentivize farmers entering the field and de-incentivize developers bidding up their land.  The devaluation could threaten profitability for farmers possibly impacting their ability to secure operating loans because operating loans are based on land values. And, it could inflate land values for adjacent property, possibly contributing to the wealth divide.  Then, there’s a twist. Cannabis cultivation now legalized in Oceanside is predicted to increase land values.   Thereby, cannabis cultivation’s legalization’s impact on the land values could, to some extent, reconcile the land devaluation imposed by SOAR.  Please click here for an article from SOARVC’s website about this and read the excerpt below from the same article:

“SOAR not only protects farmland, but it also protects agriculture by keeping the cost of farmland low.  Before SOAR, developers would buy farmland with the expectation that they would be able to rezone it for building.  This speculative value meant that the cost of farmland was above the viable cost to make it profitable for farming. Once SOAR was voted in, the incentive for developers to bid up the price of land was eliminated.  The price for farmland is now based on what it’s worth for agriculture, which is essential for long-term agricultural production. SOAR is helping protect those who want an agricultural business from having to compete with the inflated land prices that developers would pay. While restricting development of farmland reduces its speculative value and is good for farming, it also creates a higher demand for city land, spurring urban renewal that is good for cities. Both the agricultural industry and the rest of us, lose when developers are encouraged to pave over what’s left of our remaining farmland.”

In our family’s case, land was purchased not with the expectation to rezone for building, but with the intent to farm it as long as possible and profitable.  In fact, over the years many developers have been interested in buying the land. My father has not wanted to sell, even when he was the only one. He’s old-school and believes in holding onto land for as long as possible.

Currently, we are working hard to manage the land to be able to maintain it for as long as possible as farmland.  This is an immense burden, especially as farming becomes increasingly difficult, not because we want to stop farming to sell to builders, but due to numerous factors farmers have no control over though must respond to and need to remain as flexible as possible in doing so… such as policy, climate, international competitors, and the dynamics of transitioning a family business to its 3rd generation…

Also, over time, SOAR could create the very problem it’s trying to solve. Why? Because only the very wealthy and/or large-scale development companies could have the means necessary to pay for what it would take to get zoning regulations changed if it were to come to that.  And, if farming cannot stay profitable, which requires flexibility, farmers could be forced to seek options elsewhere for profitability and sustainability. This pushes farmers directly into relationship with developers.  And, since the land is privately owned, landowners do have the right to sell their land.

This is an extremely complex issue.  Especially, taking into consideration the housing shortage and need in California as well as need for infrastructure upgrades. My father supports this development, because he supports the legal right to propose it, and more importantly to him, believes it will provide much needed affordable housing and infrastructure, which he has been an advocate of for years.

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However, I believe there’s another need and possibly greater good to consider. This greater good is preserving THIS land… and its habitat: fragile and invaluable resources. In this case, we’re not talking about just any land. We’re talking about sacred land, in an ideal location for agriculture and to align with a beautiful potential for Oceanside’s  AgriVision.  And, we’re talking about sacred land along the historic San Luis Rey river valley once occupied by the Native American Luiseno Tribe,  named after the San Luis Rey Mission’s founder, Fermin Fransigno de Lasuen.  The Luiseno Tribe’s original name was Payomkawichum. Their land and water were taken from them and they were major contributors to developing the San Luis Rey Mission, one of the most historic missions in existence. This historic and rich land is a treasure.

Once this land is paved over and developed according to what the North River Farms’ proposal would accomplish, it’s gone – forever… along with its habitat. Paradise paved over. Infrastructure used up.

Wildlife permanently impacted.

An interesting bit of related history to consider: in the 1980’s, the Bonsall Bridge was to be reconstructed. The reconstruction began and soon met with 2 barriers:

  1. protests to the destruction of the historic bridge, being only 1 of 2 of its kind within the 5-county area, and
  2. a tiny songbird named Least Bell’s vireo. img_4693This tiny gray bird requires a riparian zone for survival and protection from extinction. Turns out, Bell’s home would have been destroyed by the destruction of the bridge because its habitat would have been destroyed by this encroachment.  This story has a happy ending with the original bridge being maintained as a horse and human walkway and habitat consciously created to protect this tiny songbird from extinction. And, once this protection was in place, the new bridge was built.

The San Luis Rey River has been designated as critical habitat for many animal and plant species: the endangered Least Bell’s vireo, the southwestern willow flycatcher, the endangered southwestern arroyo toad and the threatened California gnatcatcher.  Coastal sage scrub and live oak woodland habitat support numerous species. Golden eagles soar.

SOAR appears to be bad policy for large-scale landowning farming families which the owners of the land for the location of the proposed development are not.  And, this proposed North River Farms development appears to be worse.  Lots to consider for Measure Y … choose wisely.

Written by Maria C. Mellano, youngest daughter of Mike Mellano, Sr., part owner of Mellano & Company and manager for the land for 1/3 of the ownership. Maria is also trained as a clinical social worker, practicing psychotherapist, coach and psychodramatist. She can be reached here.

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