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Oceanside is one of the few remaining cities in California that still requires voters to decide on a city clerk and city treasurer. Courtesy photo
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SOAR initiative inches toward ballot

OCEANSIDE — More than 13,000 voter signatures have been collected in support of the SOAR initiative that asks voters to decide on land use changes of open space and farmland.

Signatures were turned in to the city clerk’s office March 12, and are being verified by the San Diego Registrar of Voters. The initiative will then go to City Council to be adopted or put on the November ballot.

Morro Hills agricultural area resident Dennis Martinek, who grows macadamia nut trees but does not call himself a farmer, helped launch the initiative in October 2017. He said SOAR empowers voters to decide what changes are made to the city’s General Plan.

He said he hopes council adopts the initiative, or it goes to the ballot.

Others disagree. Commercial farmers have formed the Keep Farming in Oceanside opposition group.

A rub between the two Morro Hills groups is whether farmland is recognized as private property that supports a farming business, or seen as a community resource.

Neil Nagata is a Morro Hills farmer and core member of the Keep Farming in Oceanside group.

Nagata said there are a lot of variables involved in running a private farming operation. The business of farming necessitates the ability to implement needed changes quickly, like building hydroponic structures and other farming facilities.

“Farming isn’t just putting seeds in the ground,” Nagata said.

Farmers already face challenges as they navigate through the city approval process and city staff’s interpretations of regulations regarding business improvements.

SOAR regulations would also leave some room for interpretation and added uncertainty for farmers. Part of the initiative reads “residential development and agritourism shall be permitted provided such development does not interfere with existing agricultural operations and that the open space character of the area is preserved.”

“Interference” with existing farming and preserving the “open space character” of farmland could be subjective.

Nagata said if farmers have to wait on a vote of residents to build needed facilities, farms would fail. Farmers would also have ballot and campaigning costs to bear under new regulations.

“Farmers would have to spend $100,000 or more (for a ballot initiative) not knowing the outcome, it’s too hard to do business that way,” Nagata said.

Nagata said in addition to limiting farming operations, SOAR would also freeze agritourism progress by locking in existing General Plan and zoning designations until 2030, and not developing infrastructure to support tourism.

Martinek said the initiative’s proposed changes to the city’s General Plan do not prohibit farmers from building agriculture facilities. He said allowed farming and agritourism property improvements would continue.

He added what would not be allowed is agriculture land sales for housing developments without a local vote.

“The main thing that is limited (by SOAR) is high-density housing projects that require significant changes to roads and sewers,” Martinek said.

There are also the hard-hitting arguments between the opposing sides that large land owners oppose SOAR because they wish to sell their land to developers. And gentleman hobby farmers who benefit from supplemental income support SOAR, the farming tax break they receive and rural lifestyle they enjoy.

The Keep Farming in Oceanside group has reached out through social media to inform residents of the negative impacts SOAR would have on farming operations. The group has also collected 500 signatures from voters who rescinded their support of the initiative.

Going forward, the group is considering its options to protect the livelihood of farming.


oceansidevotes March 30, 2018 at 5:10 am

rxstr and symntrnr, It’s pretty obvious you both are spinning the facts to your benefit. Which we all know is typical of greedy, no good politicans! Your tactics and glossy made up mailers that you distributed throughout the mobile home parks trying (once again) to undermine and deceive the community didn’t work. Nor did your attempt to collect signatures from the Oceanside voters to have their signatures rescinded. Please, why not let the Oceanside voters make up their own minds with the facts and not lies. The SOAR Initiative is the best thing Oceanside has seen in a long time. It will protect our farmland and open space and not allow corrupt councilmen to put high density housing in our ONLY agricultural land in Oceanside!

One again, Corrupt Kern and Lying Lowery have disregarded the City Staff, City Planners, the planning commission, and the community! The good news is Oceanside voters will be able to vote to protect our farmland and open space with the SOAR Initiative in November and vote out Corrupt Kern and Lying Lowery!

symtrnr March 29, 2018 at 6:36 pm

The SOAR initiative is sooo good for the farmers that, let’s see, how many Farm organizations have endorsed it? Oh, none. You need look no further than this quote from Dennis Martinek: “The main thing that is limited (by SOAR) is high-density housing projects that require significant changes to roads and sewers,” Martinek said. The Gentleman Farmer doesn’t want you or me to be able to have a piece of his land. Why? He has his. Well, the farmers have theirs and he’s trying to steal it away from them so he can continue to have a buffer from the “common folk” out here. Significant changes to roads and sewers? My gosh. I would think the good doctor of Urban Planning would be happy to see better roads and sewers.

Mandy Barre April 5, 2018 at 12:51 pm

Does it matter to anyone that Neil Nagata is the President of Farm Bureau? Of course they will do his bidding!

Neighbor March 29, 2018 at 6:15 pm

The Nagata Family wants the right to subdivide their property and turn it into subdivisions. They profit. The developers profit. But the community is then left to deal with the ramifications, both fiscally and in terms of quality of life, without accountability.

Mandy Barre March 29, 2018 at 6:02 pm

The comments are ridiculous- the farmers knowingly bought their land with an agricultural designation just as you and I bought our residentially zoned land. Just as we cannot put up a hotel or 7-11, they cannot do high density residential and they knew it when they bought their land. This seems to be nothing more than greed. PS- NOT all farmers are against SOAR- and about 99% of the people I spoke to were in full support of giving people the right to vote to stop rural sprawl projects like some of the farmers seem to want. Right now they are welcome to farm, do farm improvements of all kinds and split their lots into 2 1/2 acre parcels for dwellings if they wish. Anything else is just greed. And no, we don’t trust our council majority any longer to listen to the people or honor the El Corazon Specific Plan. They have proved they are willing to sell out and change zoning.

Fred Lutz April 4, 2018 at 10:33 am

When the Mellano’s bought their land in 1930 they knew that it was zoned for agriculture. They could have also put as many houses on it as they wanted, there was no 2.5 acre zoning overlay. That didn’t come until the Gilligan’s brought forward the original subdivision of 2.5 acres.

rxstr March 29, 2018 at 12:55 pm

The Nagata family has been farming in Oceanside since the 1920’s. As their family members said recently, this has always been their family farm. They have no plan to sell, but in this initiative other Oceanside residents are now referring to the Nagatas’ land as “OUR (Oceanside voters’) farm.” Oceanside voters aren’t paying these farmers’ operating expenses or mortgages. These are privately owned farms, homes and businesses, not green space or open space that would be impacted. SOAR would impair farmers’ ability to obtain bank loans to pay workers, buy seed, make repairs or repurpose even a portion of their land without obtaining an expensive vote of the entire City. Voters may not realize it, but SOAR would apply not just to Morro Hills, but city-wide to all open space, green space to be constitutional. Do you really want expensive elections every time a change is needed on every project? And by encumbering every project with holding an election to make decisions on other people’s properties, you’re inviting the City to look elsewhere for needed future revenue and it could be in your neighborhood.

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