Loomis' ag regulations under fire

Planning commission says it has no plans to implement EIR
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Placer County agriculture officials have voiced alarm at plans by the Town of Loomis to put restrictions on agriculture. “The talk of an agricultural EIR (environmental impact report) created a huge alarm in the farming community. There is no need for this,” Christine Turner, Placer County agricultural commissioner, told the Loomis planning commission at their Sept. 21 meeting. Janet Thew, commission chairperson, said the commissioners had no intention of requiring an EIR for agriculture, but were following a town council directive to make recommendations on a new policy for environmental review of agricultural open space when combined with a subdivision of more than five homes. Called “the Montserrat clause” by Mayor Gary Liss, a new rule would attempt to prevent a repeat of the Sierra de Montserrat development that was approved in 1999, but not developed at that time. Years later, a new owner added 32 acres of vineyards. The vineyards stretch across multiple properties and required no further review or approval by the town. “I’m not in support of unfettered agriculture,” said Kim Fettke, planning commissioner. Turner said, “There is no such thing as ‘unfettered’ agriculture. It’s regulated.” In a later interview, Turner said the county does not regulate farming “from a planning perspective,” but instead numerous public agencies oversee farm activities. “They (Loomis) are trying to micromanage agriculture,” Turner said. Claudia Smith, of Auburn, is a small farmer and told the commissioners, “Bottom line, this is a lose-lose situation for Loomis, Placer County and for everyone who eats three times a day.” Ramona Brockman, of Loomis, said, “You need to look at the unintended consequences of this review process. What if individuals in a rural subdivision want to exercise their right to farm?” Loomis planning commissioners have spent numerous meetings discussing ways to implement an Open Space Committee 2 recommendation calling for environmental review of agriculture. The Loomis General Plan states, “Loomis shall allow property owners the ‘right to farm’ their parcels through the protection and operation of agricultural uses.” According to the Loomis Municipal Code, the areas zoned residential agricultural, residential estate and rural residential can be farmed. Vicky and Ron Morris, owners of Secret Ravine Vineyard, did not attend the meeting, but each submitted a letter to the commission citing their opposition. “Agriculture is what made this town. We should be encouraging farming in order to sustain the rural life we enjoy,” Vicky Morris wrote. Loomis resident Roger Smith told the commission that Westwood Homes, Inc., the Montserrat developer, scraped all vegetation from the vineyard site, and removed all trees and brush. He said the scraping created topsoil erosion and destroyed wildlife habitat and pathways. Smith also said the mesh fencing installed around the vineyard is improper and dangerous chemicals are sprayed on the vines. Cindy Fake, small farm advisor from the University of California Cooperative Extension, told the commission there are not enough farmers in Placer County. “The reality is the majority of agriculture occurs in residential zones, most on five acres or less,” Fake said.