Keep urban recreation within the city

On Feb. 11, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will consider a Planning Commission recommendation to deny a rezoning request and conditional-use permit for an illegal conversion of farmland to public recreational uses, which consists of a 1.5-acre paintball field, a half-acre track for remote-control cars, and a 4.5-acre soccer field.

These facilities were developed between 2006-2011 along Highway 246 across the Santa Ynez River from Lompoc. The property is zoned for agriculture. Some of it is prime soil, and is adjacent to highly productive agricultural land. Some of the facilities were developed earlier, but according to the county’s analysis of aerial photographs, active cultivation of the rest of the property ceased in 2009, and the soccer fields were constructed in 2010. Only after a zoning violation complaint did the owner apply for the rezone and conditional-use permit.

In recommending denial, planning commissioners stated this is a good project in that it provides recreational opportunities for area residents, but in the wrong location. Commissioners pointed out there is no buffer between the surrounding active agricultural and recreational fields. Normally, the operator of a non-agricultural use is required to provide a substantial buffer to protect people from dust, fertilizers and pesticides. In this case, an appropriate buffer would leave little or no room for the recreational uses. Commissioners stated urban recreational uses should be located within the urban area.

During a public hearing, there was testimony about the lack of recreational fields in Lompoc, and the need for more. This may be the case, or it may not.

River Bend Park is home to eight soccer fields and there are plans for more. There is even a grant for $1.5 million the city has received for constructing more fields.

The county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee voted to recommend denial of the project. Several farmers and the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties testified that the project posed a real threat to agriculture in the area. So did Santa Barbara County Action Network and the North County Land Use Committee of the Citizens Planning Association.

One very real threat noted was that agricultural operations on adjacent parcels could need to be curtailed due to complaints from people using the recreation facilities.

The Santa Ynez River has served as an effective buffer between the city and the agricultural lands to the east. Putting urban recreational uses east of the river would set a bad precedent. Rewarding a non-permitted use with an after-the-fact rezone and permit would also set a bad precedent. The proposal could have the effect of encouraging owners of farmland to try to make a quick profit by converting land to urban uses, possibly without seeking required approvals.

According to the Lompoc Record, agriculture contributes $2.8 billion to Santa Barbara County’s economy, with $1.8 billion of that coming directly from crop production and agricultural employment, and the remainder coming from purchases made by farmers and workers. One out of 10 jobs in the county is related to agriculture.

We need to resist any proposal that puts this important sector of our economy at risk. The Board of Supervisors should follow the recommendation of its Planning Commission, and deny the Mosby Recreational Fields Consistency Rezone and Conditional Use Permit.

This article was published in the Lompoc Record on Jan. 23, 2014. Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. The Forward View is a progressive look at local issues that is published on Thursdays. For information, call (805) 736-1897 or email [email protected].