Pitchforks & Policy: Sonoma County

OCTOBER 6, 2020  |  6:30 – 8:00 PM

Food & Agricultural Policies And Issues of Note for Sonoma County & California

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LOCAL ISSUES

2020 HIGHLIGHTS

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AGRICULTURAL LAND USE ISSUES

Sonoma County put agriculture at the top of its County Seal in 1850. The County has a long history of supporting agriculture and has implemented many policies to do so, including the protection of agricultural lands. Such policies honor our agricultural heritage and also the valuable contribution of agriculture to our local economy. 

Over the years, as land prices have increased and the local agricultural landscape has changed, pressure to develop rural land has increased and become more complicated. Our local CAFF chapter advocated for strengthening protections for ag land during the drafting of the current County General Plan 20 years ago, and since then has voiced opposition to many specific development proposals that would have violated the intent of the General Plan. We have also opposed policy changes that appear to threaten the primacy of agricultural production (on-farm sales and processing of farm-grown products) on these lands. In addition, we continue to request increased protection and opportunities for agriculture in AR and RR zones where many small farms are located, on the urban fringe. 

Demand for events/event centers and housing development on agricultural land have been points of great contention for over a decade. Some events– such as educational farm tours, or festivals directly connected with the sale of farm products– can be beneficial and low-impact. When the operation puts more emphasis and land resources towards the events than the farming, agricultural production is no longer the priority. We want farmers and farm workers to be able to live on the land they work, if desired. But if there is increased housing density with residents who are not working the land, then property values will generally increase, making it less affordable as agricultural land. The land is not producing, or cared for, as it was intended.

We continue to monitor and comment on proposals, and are concerned that lasting policy changes are sometimes made in crisis situations without the benefit of thoughtful public process, which would be entailed in the long-delayed General Plan Update. 

ACTION ITEM: Your voice is welcome as our local Policy committee evaluates and comments on these issues and proposals. Contact your Supervisor and Planning Commissioners as well.

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VINEYARD EROSION & SEDIMENT CONTROL ORDINANCE (VESCO)

CAFF members helped draft the original vineyard ordinance and have continued  advocating for enforceable standards to prevent erosion, conserve soil and soil moisture, protect streams and headwaters, and minimize loss of valuable trees on slopes. The Ag Commissioner has put forth important Best Practices as part of the ordinance but changes are being discussed that could weaken these standards.

The Agricultural Commissioner is scheduled  to present changes to VESCO to the Board of Supervisors in December 2020, and those changes would include clarification of definitions, addressing setbacks, biotic resource assessment requirements, permit extensions, and reporting requirements in the Best Management Practices manual.

ACTION ITEM: Write or call your Supervisor asking for transparency in this process, public notice of proposed changes, and advocate for strong protections.

The Ag Commissioner’s Department is also: 

  • Currently working with County officials on updates to cannabis policy and working to streamline the program by aligning with State regulations where possible, addressing cultivation activity separately from the other supply chain permitting activities for Ag and resource Zoning designations. Cannabis is tentatively scheduled to go before the Board in February, 2021
  • Dealing with fires and other emergencies, including consideration of how to improve upon the ag access verification program, and build a program that pre-”vets” ag businesses and family operations so that they can continue to run their businesses and protect their livelihoods in times of fire and other emergencies.

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GROUNDWATER SUSTAINABILITY AGENCIES (GSA)

Currently, Sonoma County encompasses three groundwater basins designated by the California Dept. of Water Resources (DWR) at “medium” risk for groundwater impacts (depletion and/or water quality): Sonoma Valley, Petaluma Valley, and Santa Rosa Plain. Due to groundwater impacts and connectivity with the Wilson Grove formation, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA has been expanded to include the City of Sebastopol and three Mutual Water Companies that are shared well systems near Sebastopol.

In Sonoma County, GSA governance is controlled by local jurisdictions (the county and cities), with representation by mutual water companies, the Graton Rancheria (in the Santa Rosa Plain), Resource Conservation Districts and interest group representatives – with slightly different configurations in each basin.

Major focuses locally at this time:

  • The GSA for each Basin will be sending a survey to landowners that will provide data used to calculate groundwater (well) water use. Participation will be VOLUNTARY, but we encourage all farmers to complete the survey so accurate data by crop can be collected. The alternative to your input on groundwater use would be estimates from historic scientific sources. Your current information could make a big difference in how the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is written and how calculations for fees may be determined. 
  • The GSAs are drafting criteria for basin sustainability this year. DWR requires six areas to be assessed to avoid “undesirable results”:
  • Lowering Groundwater Levels
  • Land Subsidence
  • Seawater Intrusion
  • Degraded Water Quality
  • Storage Reduction
  • Surface Water Depletion 

The criteria can determine the localized “tipping point” for sustainability, so it’s important that we get it right.

  • In 2021 the GSAs will write a Sustainability Plan that will be implemented to achieve lasting groundwater supplies for all beneficial users. 

ACTION ITEM: Respond to the mailer & complete the Survey and User Registration request.***

For meetings and updated information on the 3 current GSA Basins, visit:

Sonoma Valley Basin: http://sonomavalleygroundwater.org/

Petaluma Valley Basin: http://petalumavalleygroundwater.org/

Santa Rosa Plain Basin: http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/
Additional info:

  • Sustainability Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) Update 2017:

https://www.watereducation.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/springhorn_sgma.pdf

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UPCOMING NORTH COAST WATER BOARD VINEYARD PERMIT

The North Coast Water Quality Control Board (NCWQCB) oversees the northwestern part of Sonoma County, starting in Rohnert Park to the south and continuing up to the Oregon border. The new vineyard water quality regulations will apply to this region and are mandated under the Federal Clean Water Act and State Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. The goals of the Vineyard Permit are to regulate discharges of waste to local waterbodies (“waters of the State”), restore water quality in impaired waterbodies, and maintain existing high-quality waters. 

The permit will apply to vineyards above a certain acreage (likely, above 5 acres), with stricter requirements for vineyards on steep slopes. Permit requirements will likely include (1) the development of water quality Farm Plans, (2) implementation of best management practices (BMPs) to control discharges of waste, (3) stream buffers to protect riparian areas, and 4) water quality monitoring and reporting requirements. There will be an option to work with third-party groups or programs to assist land managers and owners in achieving compliance with permit requirements. Regional Water Board staff are preparing an initial study on the anticipated economic cost of compliance for permit implementation.

ACTION ITEM: The NCWQCB will host two public workshops—one this winter (Winter 2020) to seek input on the draft permit, and another during the 30-day public comment period in Summer 2021. 

NOTE: The San Francisco Water Board has jurisdiction in the eastern and southern portions of Sonoma County, including the Sonoma Valley and Petaluma. The San Francisco Water Board approved a Vineyard Permit for the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds in 2017. Permit information can be found here: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/sanfranciscobay/water_issues/programs/agriculture/vineyard/index.html

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OTHER LOCAL RESOURCES & ISSUES

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COVID RESOURCES FOR FARMS

 

Community Alliance With Family Farmers – CAFF

  • CAFF has compiled an excellent list with many types of resources needed by farmers dealing with impacts of COVID-19: https://www.caff.org/covid19/

Agritourism Urgency Ordinance

  • Sonoma County Urgency Ordinance to Encourage Agritourism During Coronavirus – The County implemented this ordinance a few months ago to help increase income for farms suffering from lost sales during the pandemic. It clarifies and expands “agritourism” uses on ag-zoned land. If complaints are not heard the intent is to make this ordinance permanent at the end of this year. https://ucanr.edu/sites/CESonomaAgOmbuds/Agritourism/Urgency_Ordinance/

 

Farm Trails

  • Our partner organization, Sonoma County Farm Trails, has put together excellent resources for farms in our region. Updated regularly.

https://www.farmtrails.org/shelter-in-place-food-resources/

 

Sonoma County Ag & Open Space Grants

The ASAP Program will support farmers and ranchers who can demonstrate that financial assistance is needed to prevent the lands they farm from going fallow or being devoted to non-agricultural uses as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ACTION ITEM: See guidelines and grant application at https://www.sonomaopenspace.org/asap/

FARM RESILIENCY & FIRE PREPARATION 

PROCESSING & SELLING AG PRODUCTS

CARBON FARMING, SOIL HEALTH, & CONSERVATION PLANNING

Our Chapter has many members who are sequestering more carbon than emitting it now. Here are programs to help do this:

http://goldridgercd.org/htm/soil-health-and-conservation.htm

 

OTHER TOPICS THE SONOMA COUNTY CHAPTER IS INVOLVED WITH

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STATE & FEDERAL ISSUES

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2020 HIGHLIGHTS

REVIEW OF 2020 STATE & FEDERAL ISSUES

 

On the Ballot

The Schools & Communities First ballot initiative (Prop 15) closes a corporate tax loophole that for decades has syphoned billions of dollars desperately needed for our overcrowded schools and local communities. Prop 15 changes the law to require commercial and industrial properties valued at more than $3 million to be reassessed every three years and require property tax payments based on the current assessed value, however it exempts agricultural properties and small businesses like our family farms. Despite what opponents claim, not only will residential property taxes remain untouched, but Prop 15 explicitly exempts “real property used for commercial agricultural production,” which includes ag land, orchards, irrigation, milk barns, etc. In addition, Prop 15 benefits all businesses by creating a new $500,000 tax exemption on personal property, including business equipment and fixtures. Plus, small businesses of less than 50 full-time employees are totally exempt from taxes on personal property. That’s a significant benefit to all small businesses, including our family farms. Learn more at: www.caff.org/familyfarmersforprop15 

 

Key bills that succeeded in passing the legislature and were signed: 

    1. SB 1159 (Hill)–Extends to January 1, 2023 the Governor’s Exec Order providing workers compensation for workers affected by COVID, with the disputable presumption they got it at work and is compensable
    2. AB 685 (Reyes)–Requires businesses to report COVID outbreaks to their workers and to government
    3. AB 3012 (Wood)–Replacing Homes after Fires
    4. AB 2043 (Rivas)–More outreach to farm workers about COVID

 

Bills that died in the State House  

Most bills died due to COVID situation and consequent lack of time and money

    1. Fire insurance (Insurance Market Action Plan)–various bills to try to improve the availability of homeowner insurance in high risk fire areas. Consumer groups oppose what the insurance companies say they need to properly price risk. Many people are forced onto expensive FAIR plan 
    2. Broadband–competing bills in Senate and Assembly died in final minutes due to dysfunction between houses
    3. AB 1071 (Limon) Climate Adaptation–CalCAN bill died for second year in a row despite unanimous support. They will try again
    4. AB 838 (Eggman) UC Small Farm Program 2.0–CAFF bill has not moved out of first committee two years in a row–no money for it
    5. AB 1248 (E. Garcia) California Grown–would have required state institutions and schools to buy California grown commodities if available

State budget situation  

Grim. Due to COViD revenue losses and required emergency expenditures, the state has a $54.3 billion deficit. That includes $14 billion they built into the budget that they were hoping to get from another federal emergency package. If that does not appear in October there will be $14 billion of cuts to the current budget, and furloughs for state workers.

Low Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) Auction Proceeds 

    1.  Spring 2020 auction generated only $25 million instead of the usual $750 million, so the state prioritized what GGRF would be spent on, and the environmental farming programs were moved to the bottom. Only the FARMER program to replace diesel engines was given a higher priority. The August auction generated $475 million so maybe there will be more money, but probably not for a couple years. We need to find funding somewhere else, particularly since GGRF funds can be used for anything starting January 1, 2021
    2. California Air Resources Board, California Climate Investments (CCI) https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/resources/documents/cci-legislative-guidance

Compost victory at State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB):  

CAFF worked with Sonoma Compost and other organizations over five years to convince the SWRCB to revise their Compost General Order to allow farmers a clear exemption from commercial composting requirements and instead substitute simple Best Management Practices (BMP). The revision also allows farmers to bring manure and other feedstocks onto their farms to make compost.

https://www.caff.org/state-water-resources-control-board-limits-regulation-of-on-farm-composting/ 

Keeping farmers markets open during COVID  

CAFF worked hard to keep farmers’ markets open. We prevailed on Karen Ross to have the governor declare farmers markets “essential public services” on par  with grocery stores. And then we worked with Carle Brinkman of Berkeley Ecology Center and Melanie Wong of CA Food Policy Council to create BMP,  and work with farmers market management organizations to convince local governments to allow markets to operate. We have not been 100% successful–e.g. City of Campbell–but most markets have opened.

We should also note that CDFA has finally finalized the regulations for the 2014 farmers market legislation. They go into effect January 1, 2021. You can find them at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/docs/DirectMktg_Adopted_Text.pdf 

Federal COVID assistance status

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) 1.0, 2,0 – Due to the COVID virus, Washington DC created a series of emergency packages. An early package authorized the Paycheck Protection Program, and we encouraged farmers to apply for this assistance if they had employees. A later package authorized payments to farmers for lost markets, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The first version of this program paid at very low rates and was mainly oriented toward commodity producers and large farms. We now have CFAP 2.0, which will pay about 10% of 2019 sales to specialty crop farmers of any size. 

https://www.farmers.gov/cfap

    1. USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program – This program was a brainchild of Sonny Perdue. Contractors assemble boxes of produce and/or meat and/or dairy and deliver them to food banks for distribution. Since only certain food banks participate, this limited the ability of farmers to supply the boxes. We are now on the third round of contracts and some groups of small farms have found it profitable. https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box
    2. Local and Regional Farmer and Market Support Act (HR 8096) – Rep Adams from North Carolina introduced this bill on behalf of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, which found in a survey that not only had many small farmers lost money due to COVID, but that they were threatened with bankruptcy. This bill would create a program at USDA to pay small farmers 40-70% of 2019 sales, rather than the 10% in CFAP 2.0. It would also direct funding to farmers markets and local food systems. CAFF has been talking to various Congressional offices about co-sponsoring the bill. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/8096 

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Elected Officials and Agency Leads

Important People You Might Contact

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Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

General Website: http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Board-of-Supervisors/Supervisorial-Districts/

District 1 – Southeast – Susan Gorin

District 2 – Southwest – David Rabbitt

District 3 – Central – Shirlee Zane (2020)      Chris Coursey (2021)

District 4 – Northeast – James Gore

District 5 – Northwest – Lynda Hopkins

 

Sonoma County City Councils

Santa Rosa City Council: citycouncil@srcity.org

Petaluma Council: cityclerk@ci.petaluma.ca.us

Town of Windsor Council: TownCouncil@Townofwindsor.com

Rohnert Park Council: http://www.rpcity.org/city_hall/city_council 

City of Sebastopol Council: http://ci.sebastopol.ca.us/City-Government/City-Council 

City of Cotati: http://cotaticityca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Board/1000-City-Council 

 

Permit Sonoma Department

General Website: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Permit-Sonoma/

Department Director: Tennis Wick   tennis.wick@sonoma-county.org

 

Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner

Agricultural Commissioner: Andrew Smith   Andrew.Smith@sonoma-county.org

 

Sonoma County Planning Commissioners/Board of Zoning Adjustment and Staff

General Website: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Planning-Agency/Membership-and-Terms/

Dist 1 – Caitlin Cornwall & Greg Carr

Dist 2 – Todd Tamura & Lawrence Reed

Dist 3 – Komron Shahhosseini & Paula Cook  (may change in 2021)

Dist 4 – Cameron Mauritson & Ariel Kelley

Dist 5 – John Lowry & Pamela Davis