Unique farmland within city limits may be paved
Do you think that agricultural land should be protected and preserved within the City of Santa Cruz to encourage and support local food production close to home? Do you think that dense housing development should be encouraged on the borders of the Pogonip Greenbelt lands in the Golf Club Drive Area? Or should it be located instead on major transportation corridors?
If you care about these choices, it is time to pay attention. These questions and many other local planning issues are up for community decisions as the draft 2030 General Plan for the City of Santa Cruz finally moves forward again. An Environmental Impact Report on the proposed General Plan revision of our existing 1990-2005 General Plan is now underway. Public hearings before the City Planning Commission and the City Council are anticipated later in 2009, with no firm dates yet.
The Golf Club Drive area off Highway 9 is a semi-rural sanctuary on the edge of the City and serves as an important gateway to the Pogonip Greenbelt with its many hiking trails. The productive agricultural soils of the gateway lands are designated by the State Department of Conservation as unique farmland, and have, in fact, been commercially farmed until this year by local farmers who lease land from the property owners. Other natural resources in the gateway area include a high water table, riparian lands along adjacent Pogonip Creek, and wildlife habitat connected to the Pogonip Greenbelt.
The risk of these productive agricultural soils being paved and/or surrounded by dense residential development has been increased in the draft 2030 General Plan. The potential number of residential units ultimately allowed in the 17-20 acre Golf Club Drive area has been raised from 100 (maximum) permitted in the current General Plan to 200 plus in the proposed 2030 General Plan. At present, there are four residential units in the area.
In addition, the area to be protected for open space, community gardens, and buffer to the Pogonip Greenbelt has been reduced from seven acres (current General Plan) to five acres (proposed General Plan) in any future plans for increased residential development in the Golf Club Drive area.
The questions facing the Santa Cruz community are
1. whether this increased residential development in a highly sensitive environment is a good idea, and
2. how to reach a solution that accommodates both the needs of the current property owners and the need for a sustainable community.
Many communities in California and elsewhere are now recognizing that protecting suitable lands for local food production, whether in backyards, community gardens, or on agricultural land suitable for small-scale commercial farming, is an essential part of planning for a sustainable future. The City of San Francisco, for example, has had a Sustainability Plan for over 10 years, with detailed provisions on food and agriculture, including a goal of maximizing local food production within the city limits.
Unfortunately, the City of Santa Cruz, 2030 General Plan does not focus on local food production and has dropped (compared with the current General Plan) any detailed policies or programs for encouraging community gardens, and is silent on the question of local food production with no inventory of our local agricultural resources.
To follow these issues as the planning process evolves and become familiar with the draft 2030 City General Plan, visit the City of Santa Cruz website at www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us and click on General Plan Update 2030. Two local groups focusing on food and agriculture issues include Transition Santa Cruz (www.transitionsc.org) and the Open Space Alliance (www.santacruzosa.org).