Plan aims to ease farm, neighbor ire

An proposal aiming to increase understanding between longtime farmers and new residents of San Mateo County’s agricultural areas was introduced by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The agricultural proposal, introduced by Supervisor Rich Gordon, also seeks to ease tensions between those who work the land and their neighbors by establishing a mediation process for complaints.

As the county has grown, developments have sprung up in traditionally agricultural areas and it is critical homeowners understand the importance of farming to the Peninsula’s economy, Gordon said. In 2004, the gross value of agricultural production in San Mateo County was $181.5 million and its economic impact on the county was $635.3 million, according to county officials.

Jack Olsen, executive administrator of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau, said the proposal is based on the state’s “right to farm” law, as well as a similar ordinance in Napa County.

A recent conflict between a farmer in Montara and his neighbors is one of many that illustrate the need for the proposal, Olsen said.

The trouble in Montara started when the farmer set off explosions from his propane tanks in order to scare birds from his seedbeds — a common solution to the problem, Olsen said.

“The farmer was trying to do the right thing and not kill the birds, but the noise bothered his neighbors,” Olsen said. Similar complaints about early morning tractor noise, late-night sprinklers and chemicals on fields have also become more common as people have moved to the countryside.

Though farmers’ rights are well-protected through state law, the local ordinance would reach out to residents to help them understand the needs of agriculture, Gordon said.

The proposal will come before supervisors for approval at their Oct. 30 board meeting. If passed, residents would receive a message on their 2008 property tax bill describing agriculture as part of the cultural heritage and history of San Mateo County and explaining that farming is a right in areas zoned for agriculture.

The proposal would also create the formation of a mediation board made up of county officials, neighborhood residents and farmers who would resolve complaints.

“This would ensure that issues that exist between urban areas and farming areas are resolved in a positive way,” Gordon said.

Supervisors came up with the idea for the local ordinance after hosting the San Mateo County Agricultural Summit in 2003. An proposal was prepared later that year and has been circulated to various community groups over the past four years.

An agricultural understanding

If the county’s “right to farm” proposal is passed:

» Local residentswould receive a message in their annual property tax bill raising awareness about the importance of agriculture to the local economy and affirming the right to farm in agriculturally zoned areas.

» A mediation board made up of homeowners, farmers and local officials would resolve complaints homeowners have about farms.

Farming by the numbers:

» $181.5 million: Gross value of agriculture production in 2004

» $636.3 million: Overall economic impact on the county in 2004.

» 3,078: Number of people employed in agriculture as of 2002.

» 3: Percentage of land within the county dedicated to agriculture

– Source: San Mateo County Board of Supervisors

tbarak@examiner.com

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