WatchSonoma Watch

Ag zoning changes draw sharp criticism


New rules and zoning changes for agricultural land in Sonoma County drew a packed audience Tuesday at the county Board of Supervisors, which put off a vote on most of the changes after hearing nearly two hours of public comment.

One group of rules would more strictly define the types of properties and activities qualifying for enrollment in the Williamson Act, which offers landowners tax breaks in exchange for maintaining agriculture and open space land.

Other zoning changes would limit some commercial uses and restrict building sizes on lands zoned for agriculture in the county while allowing other activities through an extensive permitting process.

Almost two-dozen speakers provided input on both sets of proposals. The comments included sharp criticism at times, echoing previous feedback given to the county Planning Commission, which approved the proposals in September on a 5-0 vote.

“You’re legislating failure,” said Joe Alioto Veronese, a Sonoma Valley winemaker and one of several small-farm operators to voice concerns with new limits on commercial farm activities on smaller parcels zoned Agricultural and Residential.

Real estate interests took aim at a proposed phase-out of vacation rentals on properties zoned Land Intensive Agriculture, or LIA. Less than 30 existing rentals operating outside the current rules would be allowed, but new operations would not be permitted under most of the suggested changes, a move that could affect 2,149 LIA-zoned properties countywide.

Real estate representatives said new rentals should be allowed on those properties. Supervisor Mike McGuire backed that request on smaller parcels, provided the operations were subject to tighter permit requirements and the county’s existing vacation rentals ordinance.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said that move would contradict the county’s general plan and open a “Pandora’s box,” saying tourism and agriculture were not compatible in many cases.

Supervisors agreed the issue needed further study.

A group of property rights activists in attendance continued their campaign to paint all of the rule changes as part of a worldwide, United Nations-driven conspiracy threatening landowners.

Other speakers praised changes that would allow a greater range of farm properties to conform to county rules.

For example, properties with at least half of their acreage dedicated to an expanded list of qualifying uses — officials added timberland and horse breeding in recent months — would be eligible for the state ag preserve program going forward.

For ag preserves, minimum farm-income standards and the presence of schools, churches and non-farm airstrips would still exclude other properties.

The changes are driven by state policy updates and a need to eliminate inconsistencies in county zoning, planning officials said.

At the end of an 11-hour day, supervisors agreed to return to the proposals on Dec. 13, when they are expected to cast a formal vote on the ag preserve rules and endorse further study of the zoning changes, which would come back to the board at a later date. Written comments will be accepted through Dec. 2.

4 Responses to “Ag zoning changes draw sharp criticism”

  1. Steve Klausner says:

    I find it outrageous to grant Williamson Act tax breaks to timber and horse breeding facilities. Sure timber lands are open space and after they cut it down it will still be open space.

    The Williamson Act along with Redevelopment Districts have become part of the little bag of goodies local governments hand out to their special friends. It is money taken out of the local tax base with the expectation that the State will replace it.


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  2. Jason Valez says:

    The PD paints a picture of property rights activists that ignores the facts that these people presented. United Nations Agenda 21 is not a conspiracy theory, it’s an actual 300 page plan that was signed onto in 1992 by 179 nations including the United States. ICLEI, International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives is not only a real NGO group but the County of Sonoma is a member of the group. Is that some conspiracy theory? No, it’s a fact.

    Supervisor Valerie Brown is on the National board of ICLEI USA and has special security clearance from the United Nations as was pointed out in the PD when she attended the UN conference in Copenhagen recently. Is this a conspiracy theory? No, it’s a fact.

    The property rights activists (people) are not going away on this issue and will press forward with calls for the open discussion about ICLEI memberships and adherence to the UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development plan. Did you get that, Sustainable Development? The PD and ICLEI members paint everything green to legitimize the wholesale implementation of UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development to cover up the real goal of the plan which is to create a single centralized one world government that does not respect the US Constitution or the individual rights it guarantees the citizens of the United States. My favorite color is red, white, and blue.

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  3. Social Dis-Ease says:

    We are all adversely effected by Agenda 21. Unfortuneatly rural, and especially ag. people are really in the cross hairs.
    I feel for you, I’ve had my property rights raped by my local government too,
    many of us have.
    Agriculture and Agenda 21, you’ll see what we’re up against.
    You’ll also see we’re not alone.

    I have an idea…


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  4. John Bly says:

    More efforts to erode landowner rights. This is a bad move for anybody that owns property.

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