San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission to revise planned policy changes on open space and agricultural land preservation

Courtesy Photo.

San Diego County’s Local Agency Formation Commission has a policy on preserving open space and agricultural lands, and LAFCO staff had intended for the LAFCO board to send proposed updates to local agencies and other stakeholders for public review at the March 4 LAFCO meeting, but dissatisfaction with portions of the policy led to an alternate course.
LAFCO initially planned to provide a revised proposed update at the April 8 board meeting, but the potential changes have now been postponed indefinitely.

“I think LAFCO is trying to assert itself much too far in this case,” said LAFCO board public member Andy Vanderlaan.
LAFCO is responsible for jurisdictional boundary changes including annexations, city incorporations, consolidations, detachments, and dissolutions.

“I think that this is just an overreach of this agency,” said County Supervisor Jim Desmond. “I just see this as an overreach of LAFCO’s orderly development clause. We shouldn’t be taking on housing issues.”

LAFCO initially adopted a policy on preservation of open space and agricultural lands in November 1978 and most recently amended that policy in November 1998.

The policy discourages proposals which would convert prime agricultural or open space lands to other uses unless that denial would not promote the planned orderly, efficient development of an area or unless the jurisdiction has identified all prime agricultural land within its sphere of influence and has adopted measures to preserve prime agricultural lands for agricultural uses.  For cities the policy requires pre-zoning of territory to identify areas subject to agricultural preservation and planned development.

The policy also references procedures to define agricultural and open space lands and to determine if a proposal may adversely affect such lands.

The state’s Department of Conservation inventories changes in land use within all of the state’s 58 counties and publishes reports every two years. The report covering the 2014-16 period indicated that San Diego County has 212,928 acres of important farmland.  The County of San Diego’s annual crop reports cite total commercial agriculture lan of 268,582 acres in 2014, 251,147 acres in 2015, and 250,720 acres in 2016.  The state report claims that San Diego’s loss of prime farmland has been three times the statewide rate since 1992.

Six amendments were proposed by LAFCO staff for the update: a new policy statement to coordinate with land use authorities to reduce the current average annual loss by one-half by 2040, eliminating the requirement for cities to pre-zone territory to demonstrate specific land uses (the elimination would be due to redundancy since current LAFCO law requires cities to pre-zone territory or show vested entitlements as a precondition to request boundary changes), identifying housing for all incomes as a factor to determine if a proposal which would otherwise be discouraged would promote orderly growth and therefore be appropriate, address inconsistencies with general plans, a new policy statement to determine when extending municipal services to agricultural lands may be appropriate, and eliminating cross-reference to LAFCO’s Procedures Guide in favor of directly adding the applicable procedures as an appendix.

“This is really just checking to make sure we’re on the right path,” said LAFCO executive officer Keene Simonds.

“The county or the Board of Supervisors is the one who should be calling the shots for housing projects,” Desmond said. “To me this is a cause looking for a problem.”