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A Victory For Farmland Preservation

Apr 13, 2007
From any perspective, it was a remarkable decision. The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in late March to reject an auto mall proposed on some of the best farmland in the county. Loss of prime farmland is widely recognized as a serious issue in California. But when it comes time for a local government to make hard decisions, farmland almost always loses. The reasons are usually the same: The site can't be farmed profitably anymore. It's only a small percentage of total farmland. It's the only practical location for this project. We need the economic development and tax base. Shasta Regional Auto Park developer Jim Maxwell made all of those arguments. The location in question is 107 acres at an Interstate 5 interchange in an area between the cities of Redding and Anderson known as Churn Creek Bottom. That's bottom as in bottomland, between the Sacramento River and Churn Creek. Back in the 1980s, the county general plan designated this very fertile territory for 5-acre parcels. Five-acre ranchettes are usually a death sentence for ag. But the Bottom hasn't been completed subdivided, and farming is possible in such an area if the county is committed to holding back urban development and to farmers' rights. Specialty crops, organic farms, truck farms, small livestock operations and ag-tourism businesses are all possible on small plots and right up against the city. These practices work in Sonoma County, the San Mateo County coast and elsewhere. Of course, cities and counties consider auto malls to be heaven-sent because of the enormous sales tax revenues that acres of new cars produce. The county sheriff, the deputies union, the county employees union, and local business boosters all urged approval of the project. But three members of the five-member Board of Supervisors said no. They said quality of life for Churn Creek Bottom residents and general plan integrity were more important than $2 million in annual sales tax revenue. I'm not passing judgment on the proposed auto mall. It is what it is (or was). And I'm not suggesting that the Board of Supervisors in ultra-conservative Shasta County has contracted smart growth fever. But on this one day, in this one place, Class One farmland defeated urban sprawl. That's remarkable. - Paul Shigley
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