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Fairview Gardens Wary of Proposed Goleta Farmland Protection Ballot Measure

Farm official notes property is already protected by Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, says it's not at risk for conversion

A planned Goleta ballot initiative that seeks to preserve agricultural land has one farm concerned about being included in the effort.

Supporters of the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative last month announced plans to gather signatures to put the measure before voters in the fall. If passed, the initiative would require voter approval of any redesignation or change in the intensity of Goleta ag land use. The measure would only apply to properties that are 10 acres or more in size and it would be in effect for the next 20 years.

But at least one representative of a property included in the measure is concerned that it sends a false message. Fairview Gardens, 598 N. Fairview Ave., is one of six affected parcels named in the farmlands initiative.

Mark Tollefson, executive director of Fairview Gardens, said it would be “functionally impossible” to convert the 12½-acre property to any other use because it’s protected by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.

“To say that this whole measure is going to help Fairview or prevent a land conversion is totally wrong,” he told Noozhawk.

Proponents say the idea for the initiative came out of last year’s community discussion about whether to convert the 240-acre Bishop Ranch to residential use from its agricultural zoning. Although community opposition was loud and the Goleta City Council voted unanimously against considering it, Bob Wignot said the exercise got his group, the Goodland Coalition, thinking.

Wignot, who helped craft the proposed ballot measure, said that while the council’s rejection of the Bishop Ranch plan was encouraging, a future council could vote to proceed.

He added that the community should sign off on any changes.

“Then, truly, the community is in line with what the council and developer want to do,” he said.

Wignot said Buellton voters approved a similar measure in 2008 to protect ag land conversion as the city limits expanded. The Goodland Coalition is partnering on the Goleta initiative with the Environmental Defense Center, which also helped craft Buellton’s ballot language.

When Noozhawk spoke with Tollefson last week he had not yet been able to pore over the details of the measure. But having Fairview Gardens listed as a property that could be in danger if the measure isn’t approved “puts me in a light I’m not interested in being in,” he said.

“I don’t want my donors to start calling me to say ‘Is there something you’re not telling us?’” Tollefson said. “That kind of PR is not helpful.”

Tollefson said Fairview Gardens has gone through “a dark night of the soul” and the nonprofit farm operation has been laboring for the last two years to ensure a brighter future.

He repeatedly said he appreciated the work done by the Goodland Coalition, but acknowledged that he didn’t understand why Fairview Gardens was included in the measure.

“I have no idea what their thinking was,” he said.

Tollefson said he has a greater concern about the lack of younger farmers willing to replace the older generation — a trend that is playing out across the country.

The 12½-acre Fairview Gardens is protected from development by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County.
The 12½-acre Fairview Gardens is protected from development by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“If I were to line up the top 15 farmers from across the country, most of them are going to be over the age of 60,” he said. “The message (of the Goleta ballot measure) is ‘preserve this farmland,’ but for who?”

Fairview Gardens is working on changing that perception, and creating a new workforce. Tollefson, who comes from five generations of farmers on both sides of his family, said his goal over the next two years is to launch a formal farmer training program.

In the meantime, the ballot measure’s language is being approved by the city attorney. Wignot said proponents hope they can begin gathering signatures in support of the initative by mid-March.

Over at City Hall, Mayor Ed Easton said he could not comment on the measure since ballot wording had not yet been approved.

Wignot said Fairview Gardens is included in the measure because of its size — greater than 10 acres — regardless of whether there are protections in place.

Parcels smaller than 10 acres exist in Ellwood Canyon but “we felt that the cutoff should be 10 acres,” he said.

Of the perception that Fairview Gardens could be at risk should the measure be rejected, “that’s certainly not something we intended to have happened,” said Wignot, adding that he has calls in to several Fairview Gardens board members.

“I don’t know if he really knows what we’re trying to do,” Wignot said of Tollefson. “We want to see Fairview Gardens flourishing. It’s a great asset.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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