continued "Because people need to eat, we need to protect our agricultural land," said Jerry Weiss, who owns the Rocky Peak Farms and Store in Fallbrook. "Instead, we're exporting our agriculture to Mexico -- and we won't be able to do that very much longer because their population is growing so rapidly that they're going to need all their farmland to feed their own people."
According to Weiss, the big problem is it's become increasingly difficult for farmers to make a profit from farming. "The price of water is going up, and the price of food isn't," he said. The only way Weiss is able to make money and keep his four-acre farm in business is he also owns a store and sells his produce himself.
Farmers who support Proposition B are concerned that without the drastic rezoning the initiative would impose, even more farmland will be lost because farmers will have more economic incentives to sell their land to developers than to continue farming. According to Rose, even her 74.5-acre spread in Ramona is being surrounded by suburban sprawl. "As farmers, we can't afford to pay the kinds of prices developers can offer for land," Rose said. "If Proposition B doesn't go through, pretty soon there will be no farmland left in San Diego County."
Proposition B supporters also argue that even farmers who hold out against developers' high offers and continue to operate will find it hard to live with residential developments nearby. "When you have houses built close to you, everything you do becomes disturbing," said Brimm. "If you're up really early or really late, moving heavy equipment and making noise, people complain. If you have to spray pesticides, people complain. If you happen to have a cloud of dust come off your land and blow into the homes of residents who aren't farmers, they complain." Brimm added that he's also concerned with whether farmers will be able to hold onto their lands in the face of higher property taxes as developers drive up the market prices of their lands.
Farmers who oppose Proposition B think these fears are exaggerated. "Developers don't want our property," said Stehly. "They call it 'bad dirt.' They already can't build on 20 acre-zoned properties. With or without the initiative, developers are not interested in our properties. Sixty percent of all the farms in San Diego County are 10 acres or less -- and if one house every eight acres is 'suburban sprawl,' I'm not a farmer."
Andrea Peterson, co-owner of Peterson and Pio's Specialty Produce in Fallbrook and a supporter of the initiative, found this argument against it laughable. "Even if they don't want it now, that won't be true for long," Peterson said. "Developers will build on everything in the world if they think there's money in it."
Opponents of Proposition B fear that the restrictive zoning it imposes would actually make it harder for farmers to hold onto their land. "I'm in the nursery business," said initiative opponent Eric Anderson, "and most farming takes place on land that isn't under agricultural zoning because it gives you an asset. There was one parcel, the Rios property, that extended over the borders of Encinitas and Solana Beach. When the Solana Beach portion was zoned as agricultural, and the owners needed a loan to cover themselves during a downturn in the cut-flower market, when they went to the banks to refinance, they were turned down because the land wasn't worth enough as collateral. So they lost their property and it was sold to a developer."
For Anderson, that's the bottom line: you have to be able to borrow on your land in order to stay in business as a farmer, and if restrictive zoning makes your land worth less on the open market, you're less likely to be able to borrow on it and therefore less likely to keep yourself in business. "You devalue the land, and then the only people who can buy farmland are people like Dan Brimm, a recreational farmer who lives in La Jolla. Most of us live on our farms, and so do our workers, and if this passed we'd have to live in La Jolla or Encinitas and commute."
Even some farmers who support Proposition B also understand and sympathize with the concerns of its opponents. "We should be keeping land in open space," said Scott Murray, "but is it really fair to tell them they can't sell to developers?" Murray said he would favor exploring an alternative he claims is already being used on the East Coast, in which the government would buy, not the land itself, but the "development rights" for it, thereby compensating farmers for the money they would lose by not being able to sell their property to private developers.
Brimm disagrees. "You have to look at farmland as an investment," he said. "If you invested in IBM in the 1970s, when it was still 'Big Blue' and it looked like IBM would never lose money, you wouldn't ask the government to bail you out just because your investment in IBM had lost half its value. People who lose money investing in land in the backcountry are really in the same category. Why should they have special protection? No one is 'taking' their land, and it's probably still worth more than they paid for it, so I would say that they're not even losing money. They're only not making as much as they thought they would."