The debate on open space in Ventura County

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On Tuesday, Ventura County voters will decide on two competing measure that have to do with preserving open space.

At first glance, Measure C and Measure F read almost the same. Both measures extend the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) initiative, which requires a public vote before developing any protected farmland or open space. SOAR measures are known as some of the most stringent land use laws in the country.

Measure C would renew SOAR until 2050.

Measure F, billed as the “farmer-friendly alternative,” would extend SOAR until 2035, but exempt the need for a public vote for certain school sites and up to 225 acres for food-processing plants.

Phil McGrath of McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo (right) helped write and file Measure F. (CoLAB) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

If both measures get approved, the measure with the most votes will win.

KCRW’s Larry Perel moderated a debate between Measure C supporter Stephen Bennett, first district supervisor of Ventura county and Measure F supporter Lynn Jensen, the executive director of the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business.

What Stephen Bennett thinks:

“Twenty years ago, Ventura was on the verge of losing the critical mass of agriculture that you need to keep agriculture profitable. So, we came up with this voter protection that gives people the right to vote before that land is developed.

Measure F is a stealth initiative. It’s cleverly written to sound like it’s focused to help farmers, but it really has loopholes that allow thousands of acres to be developed without a vote of the people.”

What Lynn Jensen thinks:

“If you want to stop sprawl and protect agricultural land and open space in Ventura, then agriculture must be economically viable. Measure F was written by a group of farmers, and every part of it was written as a solution to the unprecedented challenges for agriculture: the drought, labor shortages, new pests attacking lemons and avocados, pesticide buffers around schools, increased regulatory costs, international competition, etc.

Most farmers were for SOAR 20 years ago, and they lived under it for 20 years, and now they’re saying they’re going out of business. Farmers are in distress, and Measure C will be the final nail in the coffin for farmers.”

Syndicated columnist Joe Mathews finds faults in both measures, and the SOAR initiative altogether.

What Joe Mathews thinks:

“The problem is not what’s in SOAR. It’s what SOAR hasn’t done. There was a promise of denser development in certain areas, and that largely hasn’t happened. We’re seeing it all over the state. It’s a no to the new. If you’re going to extend SOAR, those extensions should be tied to guarantees of dense development.

“Ventura is essentially going to make its problems (the number of people who have to commute into the county, the shortage of housing) even worse. The point of entry for young folks is getting higher and higher in these coastal communities, and that’s a real problem. What kind of long term future are you going to have without young people coming in?”

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