LBHA Letter and Attachments : County Land Development
Public Hearing Process and Rural/ Agricultural Issues

Re: County Land Development Public Hearing Process and Rural/ Agricultural Issues 

Dear Supervisor Gaines, 

As you are aware the Loomis Basin Horseman’s Association is concerned that the goals for preserving the rural/ agricultural land uses stated in the Placer Legacy project and local Community Plans are being undermined by the current planning process.  We presented our concerns, illustrated by the Vista Del Lagos project (discussed below), to the Horseshoe Bar MAC. The Planning Departments’ response in a letter dated December 1, 2003[1] seems devoid of any indication that the Agricultural Department was consulted to assist in evaluating methods to resolve these concerns. The lack of integration with the Agricultural Department further exemplifies the basic flaw in the planning process.  As outlined below we are suggesting that a planning staff position or any other available position be transferred to, and under the direction of, the Agricultural Department to function as a land use liaison with planning.  We respectfully request that both the Planning Department and the  Agricultural Department review and respond to this proposal.

Problems seem to occur at the project evaluation/ implementation stage.   The current planning process often fails to properly characterize and thus resolve real world agricultural issues. The limitation on crop production (production plant nurseries), the prohibition of sustainable composting and the unworkable definition of "pasture" are all examples of past and ongoing problems. These problems are due to a lack of expertise within the land use process and resultant project conditions based on unwritten, in-house policies that preclude the opportunity to analyze the issues and discuss mitigation options.   

A good example of these problems occurred recently when staff imposed a condition to prohibit livestock on the revised Vista Del Lagos[2] project without any public notice or discussion. The 14 lot, 50 acre residential/agricultural zoned project is  located near  Folsom Lake and the Pioneer/Tevis trail system.  The original project, of 12 lots,  allowed livestock.  The livestock were limited them to a 10,000 square foot area on each lot because the project is located in the Folsom Lake watershed.  Loomis Basin Horseman’s Association supported  the earlier 12 lot project that reduced the area available for livestock and also reduced the number of livestock that is otherwise allowed under the current zoning ordinance. 

Staff reviewed the project anew when the developer requested the addition of two lots. Staff then prohibited the keeping of livestock throughout the entire project without indicating this change in the revised project description,  addressing it in the staff memo, nor mentioning it in the public hearings. The Placer County Department of Agriculture was not informed of the significant change in the project involving the livestock determination.  The prohibition appeared as a project condition buried in 24 pages of conditions[3]. This condition directly conflicts with the local Community Plan goals for the maintenance of the rural character of the area, which states, “The maintenance of livestock, particularly horses, is an important component of the rural character of the community.”  Nothing in the record supports the Environmental Health Department’s new conclusion, “The generation of livestock waste from this activity poses a significant threat to Folsom Lake water quality.”[4]   Yet staff developed an in-house policy to address this ‘significant threat’ without analyzing the actual impacts, assessing any possible mitigation options nor presenting it for deliberation by our elected officials.  The process is seriously flawed and undermines the authority of the Board, when it results in all the Members of the Board of Supervisors, our elected officials, being denied the opportunity to publicly decide the best way to implement potentially conflicting county goals. 

The lack of public debate is a result of procedural and substantive errors that cannot be dismissed as simple oversight that only affects one project. As noted above, there has been an ongoing pattern of failures in the planning process that has resulted in undermining efforts to preserve agricultural opportunities available in this County.  

Our goal is to assure that agricultural options, including livestock keeping, that are otherwise allowed by zoning and Community Plan policies, be supported through the land use planning process.  Prohibitions need to be by compelling reasons and presented publicly so that mitigation measures may be discussed. 

We request that the Board of Supervisors consider the following changes to the current planning process: 

1) The Agricultural  Department get an additional staff member (possibly from a transferred position), who reports to the Agricultural Commissioner, whose function is to participate in the land use process just as the representatives of environmental health and public works do now.  This technical land use staff person can handle Williamson act requests, agriculture related complaints, and assist planning staff in, among other things, evaluating and dealing with transition zones where the rural / suburban uses often conflict. 

The role of this staff person would be:

  •     To address issues at the earliest possible stage of development when the greatest flexibility exists in project design by regular participation in development review committee meetings and any other project assessment meetings

  •     To relieve individual staff planners from having to deal with issues they are totally untrained to handle by assigning the task of evaluating agricultural issues to one person within the Agriculture department

  •      To direct project applicants to resources to assess agricultural impacts and mitigation options,

  •       To provide factual information regarding agricultural  processes

  •      To analyze agricultural  impacts and compatibility issues  

2) That projects be evaluated with the existing livestock/ agricultural  options in place. Just as staff cannot negotiate away side yard set backs without following a variance and public notice requirements,  staff and the project proponent may not enter into private negotiations that result in prohibition of livestock or any other key component of the zoned district.[5]  Note: Residents, through their homeowner’s association, may then choose to allow or prohibit livestock throughout the project without further public hearings or County involvement. 

3)  That the  hearing notice forms contain a pre-printed statement that the project does or does not allow agricultural/ livestock options that are allowed per the current zoning ordinance. 

It is our intent to reduce the disparity between what is said and what is done by assuring the process incorporates needed technical expertise and insisting sensitive issues be placed squarely in public view for genuine discussion by all interested parties.   

Thank-you for your time, interest and support thus far  in reviewing this matter. 



[2] Vista Del Lagos (SUB 400/CUP 2762) approved 5/02, livestock prohibition discovered 8/03

[3] The fact that the prohibition is stated in the conditions, is sufficient public notice per the Planning Director.  Our contention is that without a corresponding change in the project description it is not sufficient notice and could even be considered misleading.  Further, does Planning expect our elected representatives to sift through 20+ pages of a document to find significant changes to a project?

[5] See attached Environmental Health memo dated 9/21/2000.

 Cc: Horseshoe Bar Area Advisory  Council
Agricultural Commission
Agricultural Commissioner
Granite Bay MAC
Placer County Board of Supervisors


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