By Craig W. Anderson
The San Joaquin County board of supervisors made it clear at a recent public hearing that development in the county must preserve farmland in rural areas by encouraging infill growth in the county’s urban centers via a new General Plan that will eventually replace the current plan, implemented in 1992.
"The board is very protective of the county’s No. 1 industry, agriculture," said Ken Vogel, chairman of the board of supervisors. "We want to direct development to infill in cities."
He said there are a number of large residential projects awaiting the board’s decision and where they may be allowed to build. But it appears the supervisors are in favor of infill, as Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller said, "We’ve solidified policy for development within cities."
At a recent meeting on the General Plan the supervisors eliminated language from the county Planning Commission’s version allowing development on large areas of undeveloped land, unlimited commercial and industrial developments near major highways, permitted new residential development in rural areas and expanded urban limits.
"The board did not adopt the Planning Commission’s General Plan suggestions for growth," Vogel said. "The preferred alternative for growth is to direct the bulk of future growth into cities" where infrastructure is in place.
After the supervisors made their changes, the new General Plan encourages more development taking place in urban areas instead of on farmland and it strongly supports the preservation of existing farmland.
The supervisors could also alter the previously approved overall direction of the county in the future.
When the ultimate direction and process is approved, board staff and a consultant will create an environmental study and a draft General Plan that will take the place of the current plan.
The General Plan process takes at least two years after its formal beginning and, explained Vogel, "It will be back to the board in six months. The final adoption will take place after the EIR is approved, more outreach to the public is completed, and lawsuits, if any, are resolved."
An upcoming board of supervisors meeting will have people with pet projects presenting their arguments as to why they should be included in the General Plan.
Katie Patterson, SJFB program director, said, "There was no good evaluation of these projects initially in November."
Farmland has been lost to "other uses" over the past 20 years but it amounts to only 300 acres, according to the county’s Community Development Department and doesn’t included farmland annexed by cities.
But with development pressure expected to increase as the residential building industry recovers from the recession, that acreage figure could be surpassed.