Friday, September 30, 2016

Marin County and the California Coastal Commission overreaching with Ag preservation amendments

The voluntary preservation of agricultural lands is a noble goal. Forcing landowners into government-run conservation efforts against their will, however, is something else entirely. And a desire to conserve pastoral farmland doesn’t excuse government from following the laws and constitutions of California and the United States. For several years, PLF has been closely watching Marin County’s attempts to adopt amendments to their Local Coastal Program. PLF attorneys have submitted several comment letters highlighting provisions of the proposed amendments and the Implementing Program that both substantially interfere with the property rights of Marin County landowners and raise significant constitutional concerns. Last Friday, PLF submitted this letter to the Marin County Planning Commission, and I appeared before the Commission Monday to remind them that property rights can’t be taken at will by government bureaucrats. Current zoning in Marin County allows for the development of additional residential units beyond the primary dwelling, up to one house per 60 acres. The new Implementing Program no longer permits any residential use and restricts development to three “agricultural dwellings” per farm tract. It further limits agricultural dwellings—just 27 will be allowed in the entire county. A farm tract is defined as “all contiguous legal lots under common ownership.” Together, these provisions substantially downzone larger farms and ranches within the agricultural zone. As the California Court of Appeal has recognized, large reductions in development rights through downzoning can constitute a compensable taking. The merger of legally distinct lots into “farm tracts” also injects Marin County directly into the “parcel as a whole” debate that is currently docketed before the United States Supreme Court in PLF’s case Murr v. Wisconsin. A victory in Murr could render the farm tract provisions of Marin County’s Implementing Program unconstitutional before they even take effect...more

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