Monday, May 30, 2016

#151 / Agrihoods

My hometown newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, ran an article on Friday, May 20th, about a new innovation in land use planning, the "Agrihood." The article was titled, "Home grown: Agrihoods take hold - residential developments firmly rooted in agriculture." 

Please color me skeptical (in fact, please color me outraged, especially about that "firmly rooted" part). The "Agrihood" featured in the Sentinel article is located near Davis, California, which is a university community located in Yolo County. Davis, the main city, is almost totally surrounded by extremely productive agricultural land. In other words, Davis is not that different from the City of Santa Cruz, which also hosts a University of California campus, with productive agricultural land located nearby. 

I tracked down the developer's website, which you can review by clicking this link. The development is called "The Cannery." See if you think that the kind of housing depicted is "firmly rooted in agriculture." Note, also, that the development is not actually in Davis, the city, but on the outskirts, and undoubtedly is being built on what was formerly productive agricultural land. The claim that the development is "rooted in agriculture" is apparently based on the fact that instead of converting all of the agricultural land that the developer acquired, the developer is retaining some part of it in agriculture, as an amenity for the developer's sprawl development. This is a lot better than a "golf course," says the article, particularly from the developer's point of view, since golf courses aren't nearly as attractive as an amenity, nowadays, as they used to be. 

In my opinion, having served for twenty years on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, where I learned firsthand about the relentless pressure that developers apply to get local land use approvals for developments that either convert or encroach upon agricultural land, this "agrihood" concept reeks of a developer ploy to get county governments to approve residential developments that would violate basic General Plan and zoning laws. 

In Santa Cruz County (and in Yolo County) land use laws are intended to protect agricultural land, and to reserve such land for agriculture. If the developers can make Boards of Supervisors believe that their proposed housing developments are "rooted" in agriculture, then maybe they can get approval to start converting agricultural land into skip out subdivisions. In the case of "The Cannery," a 547-unit subdivision is planned, with the units priced to appeal to upscale buyers. Again, check out the lovely pictures in the website advertising. These are not homes that are intended to house persons whose lives are "rooted in agriculture." Quite the opposite. 

In case you haven't taken a course in Land Use 101, let me tell you why developers always want to convert agricultural land into residences, if they can get away with it. It all comes down to land cost. The cost of agricultural land is usually something like one-tenth of the cost of urban land, on a per acre basis. Therefore, if the developer can get approval to convert agricultural land into housing, instead of building the housing on the lands already designated for urban development, they can make a lot of money. 

So, if someone proposes an "Agrihood" near you, don't be fooled. It's a ploy by developers, to make a lot of money, not a new way to integrate agriculture into the fabric of our urban lives.

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