Measure T would save farmland

County environmentalists, farmers support measure Sarah Rohrs

Sarah Rohr

Suisun Valley’s wineries are probably some of Solano County’s best-kept secrets, but these and other agricultural treasures will become better known through Measure T on Tuesday’s ballot, proponents say.

Measure T enjoys a wide margin of support from county farmers and environmentalists, they say.

“It will help preserve agriculture in Solano County,” said Winters farmer Joe Martinez, president of the Solano County Farm Bureau.

Measure T could result in more agriculture-related tourism, and also allow farmers and vintners to add to their operations for such things as weddings and bed-and-breakfasts, Martinez said.

One key argument used in support of Measure T is that it would focus development around cities, not add to sprawl in agricultural fields.

In particular, the measure would ease red tape by allowing farmers more flexibility, Martinez said. They would be able expand sewage capacity and install grape crushers, and similar activities, without having to get use permits or zoning variances, Martinez said.

The Solano Board of Supervisors placed the measure on the ballot through a 4-1 vote following the board’s August passage of the new county general plan.

Vallejo Supervisor Barbara Kondlyis voted against the ballot measure saying it would result in the loss of 3,000 acres of agriculture.

“That’s too big of a price to pay,” Kondylis said.

Measure T calls for 5,557 acres of residential, commercial and other lands to be converted to agriculture.

However, 3,162 acres of agricultural lands would be turned over for housing or commercial uses, particularly around Vacaville.

But, in the end, agriculture could gain about 2,300 acres, said county planning manager Mike Yankovich. “The net result is an increase of ag lands in the county,” he said.

Measure T supporter Duane Kromm, a former county supervisor, said the measure extends a growth initiative which has been good for Solano.

Measure T would extend the 1994 Orderly Growth Initiative for another 20 years and amend the initiative to reflect agriculture and open space policies and land-use designations found in the new general plan.

Solano farmers are so enamored with the new general plan that they drove their tractors through downtown Fairfield over the summer to show support.

Farmers helped shape the plan, and want assurances their lands will be protected in the future, Kromm said.

Measure T takes up seven pages of the Solano County sample ballot booklet, including the full text of the measure and several colored maps showing current and proposed zoning changes. The new general plan and Measure T are also the subject of a four-page county newsletter sent to all voters this month.

In Vallejo and Benicia, Measure T calls for those cities’ “sphere of influence” lands to remain the same. These are lands within the county, but which can be annexed into the cities.

In Benicia, land outside the city limits on the north side of Lake Herman Road would remain agricultural, said county planner Jim Louie. Development could occur, but not more than one dwelling for every 20 acres.

Louie said Measure T has widespread support from farmers, the Solano County Greenbelt Alliance, the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce and others. Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis signed the ballot measure in favor of it.

No one submitted a ballot argument against Measure T.

In Vacaville, officials expressed concerns about Measure T, and held numerous meetings with county officials to try to hammer out

a new agreement, officials said. The City Council took a neutral position, said public information officer Mark Mazzaferro.

Measure T, according to Vacaville staff reports, does not recognize the city’s own urban growth line which calls for lands immediately outside the city limits to remain undeveloped.

Instead, the measure would allow some of these agricultural properties to be converted to commercial and industrial uses, planners said.

How these new businesses would be served with water and other municipal services has not been determined. Louie said that if voters pass Measure T the county would continue working with the city.

Some residents in Vallejo’s Homeacres, a neighborhood within the county limits, are worried Measure T would allow the city of Vallejo to annex their properties and forever change the area’s rural character.

However, Louie said the ballot measure would not do that. He said the county has no plans to have county land annexed into the city of Vallejo. He added an annexation request would need to be initiated by either Homeacre residents or the city.

“The new general plan does not encourage or force annexations,” he said.

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This article was originally published in the Times Herald.

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