At the Visalia City Council’s meeting on August 2, the council voted to remove some protections for agricultural land from the city’s general plan.
The 2030 General Plan is the city’s blueprint for development. The three backers of removing the program said the Agricultural Mitigation Program was either unworkable or could be offset by other actions.
Councilmember Greg Collins (District 4) was the lone holdout for retaining the program, which applies to the city’s boundaries. It would prevent cities from merging as Fresno and Clovis and many cities in the LA Basin have. The program, he said, “protects land on the fringes in perpetuity.”
Councilmember Brian Poochigian (District 3) said he was persuaded by the Tulare County Farm Bureau which said the program should be ended.
“If the local farmers say ‘this isn’t going to work,’ I trust the local farmers,” he said.
Councilmember Brett Taylor (District 2) said the program is detrimental to housing affordability since home buyers pay a fee to support the program.
Mayor Steve Nelsen (District 5) said there are other tools available instead of the ag mitigation program.
The pressure to drop the ag mitigation is coming from developers and Realtors, said Scott Spear, executive director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust. His argument is that without ag mitigation Visalia will just merge into a neighboring city as Fresno and Clovis have.
Brad Maaske, a real estate agent and city council candidate, supported removing the program. As a substitute, he said, open space acreage could be bought elsewhere or money could be given to nonprofits.
Daniel O’Connell of the Central Valley Partnership, an environmental and social justice group, said the city is moving forward with a major change too quickly and without adequate review. The program is the first conservation easement in Tulare County and the land needs to be conserved, not developed, he said.
The lack of a full environmental review is a legal vulnerability, opponents said.