Candidates Discuss Local Ag
by Gene Herr, April 22, 2010
The four Fifth District Supervisor candidates spoke at a meeting organized by the Anderson Valley Food Shed, the Anderson Valley Grange, and the Mendocino Organic Network which includes the Renegade Certification Program, the folks who worked to keep Mendocino GMO free, and the Redwood Empire Chapter of the National Farmers’ Union.
Candidates were directed to specific questions and prevented from pontificating by moderator Tim Bates of the Apple Farm, and his firm application of the egg timer. The discussion was notable for absence of prolonged diatribes on the marijuana issue.
Norman deVall, Dan Hamburg, Jim Mastin, Wendy Roberts are the candidates, all with pertinent educational and work experience in and out of local government and all well informed about political issues which affect the County. They have differing opinions and make cogent arguments for them. Their websites are posted below. They all stress that they want to answer your questions directly.
My notes were a best effort, I do not take shorthand, and the answers are summaries of what the candidate said. The candidates may correct and/or expand on the answers if they wish. I hope this may be helpful for those who could not attend, especially since it appears likely as of now that there are no Anderson Valley candidates’ meetings scheduled before the primary election.
* * *
Tim Bates: What should we expect from you as supervisor regarding growing a robust local food economy?
Mastin: It is an important issue. Over regulation must not keep local folks from local food production.
Hamburg: The feds are going to require a $500 registration fee for everyone who farms. I would take the lead in pushing back. I oppose requiring USDA organic certification. I am on the Co-Op board, where we allow purchase outside that program with standards particular to Mendocino.
Roberts: It is terribly important for the [Supes’] government committee to work with Sacramento on water regulation. Present regulation is not appropriate; not geared to local needs; not respectful. We cannot grow food without water. Restrictions which kept the town of Mendocino from having a water system were a result of attempts to limit density, you should not restrict infrastructure to achieve an unrelated planning goal.
deVall: The lack of a pro-active board that will protect your way of life is a threat. Mendocino has a record of asserting its goals. Remember the herbicide fight.
Bates: With much of the 5th District land in grapes how will you address land for food?
Hamburg: There are seven watersheds in the Fifth District and they are all compromised. There is no mechanism in place to enforce AB 2121. It is key to make it possible for adjacent land owners [adjacent to violators] to get incentives to do the right thing. It behooves the grape industry to help formulate policies which will work.
Roberts: Planning documents and Zoning Codes play a role. We may not be able to grow all grapes [due to lack of water]. Good practices need to become the norm. We need to be more proactive in bringing people into more acceptable practices. I don’t know the history of that “remarkable lake” [The Big Dig?] but storage is one issue that is huge.
deVall: Need to petition the State Water Board to prevent over-drafting. Not just quantity at issue, also turbidity of the Navarro. Why are there so many grapes? Frost protection is another issue. We have to make a choice.
Mastin: No issue is more basic than water. We need to protect rivers and streams. I am still amazed that people are planting grapes at this point in our economy. We should encourage dry farming or organic produce. Need incentives, tax incentives maybe. We need to oppose more forest to vineyard conversion; encourage European-style “Council plots” and local personal production.
Bates: Would you seek funding for a mobile or stationary abattoir in the 5th (or other) District?
Roberts: Yes. Favors a slaughterhouse such as recommended in the Economic Development Commission study.
deVall: Half of the weight of a 750 pound yearling will not end up on a table. Sonoma County is going to zero waste with recycling of all food waste. Yes, I am in favor of the plan.
Mastin: Also favor, it is more humane, local, less transport, good jobs. Concerned about the compost issue but confident it can be dealt with. Intrigued at the mobile slaughter unit idea but there are regulatory issues. With any facility need to regulate so it is not importing from out of area.
Hamburg: One issue with the EDC proposal was regional supply. The 45 jobs proposed may depend on bringing lots to the county to be processed. There are regulatory issues with meat inspection and offal. Reluctant to look to the Feds but there are USDA community facilities set-asides which might be used. Additional job possibilities are with cut & wrap and refrigeration spin-offs.
Bates: Would you support county funding of the Williamson Act given the State’s failure to fund it?
deVall: Yes, but include smaller parcels and combine with efforts toward “inbuilding.”
Mastin: Yes, I agree if the County can support it, and set our own regulations. Wants the County to develop tax sharing agreements with the cities to avoid leap-frog development.
Hamburg: Yes, I support Ag Preserves — an effective tool for open space. A review of current preserves is good, to provide scrutiny. How will the County fund subventions for new preserves? Not all that realistic.
Roberts: Of course. I support County reviews because we will be fined if we are not in compliance. [However] there is no money. We are in debt. People are jobless. The economy is so wretched that even if there is no Williamson Act, the land won’t be developed overnight.
Bates: What priority, given other problems, would you assign to local food production?
Mastin: Very important particularly as the economy has hit the skids statewide and nationwide. Help is needed to streamline local production.
Hamburg: Huge. Need diversification, can’t be totally dependent on marijuana. We can enhance the total economy from a developed local food system.
Roberts: If you doubt it [the importance] go to Oakland, see Alice Waters’ garden. It has had an astounding impact.
deVall: [County efforts in support of small ag] should include going to PUC to get rate structure changed so we don’t pay highest in the state — costs too much to freeze products. Counties with Economic Development get realistic, get an appellation for local produce. Go after the PUC. Go after AT&T for broadband.
Bates: Would you support amending the General Plan to include a local food element?
Hamburg: I never thought about that. Would consider a Farm Element, organized by CACs, not contracted out.
Roberts: We do have a General Plan but no Codes. It would be a great time to amend it to include a Food Element with good implementation.
deVall: It is in the code. What is missing is an Energy Element. If the County will protect prime Ag land that’s the best we can do, but too often they are willing to sacrifice it in the Coastal Zone. We have Coastal Commissioners appealing Zoning Administrator decisions to protect Ag land. We have to slow down [conversion].
Mastin: Not sure it has to be an element. Just the County getting out of the way for food production. There is lots of success in local school programs.
From the public:
Jack [No last name given, Hayward?] Regarding comments on abattoir, Offal is not a problem with new plants. (No further comments on this issue.)
Terry Nieves: How should supervisors be involved in protecting social economic concerns with MLPA?
deVall: MLPA is not fair, open, has no science. Need to get a fair, understandable, appealable process.
Mastin: MLPA will go through a horrible process, concerned about impact here which will close down the fishing — -horrific. Should allow to continue on a sustainable basis. County is not at the table as many other groups are. It’s Schwartzenneger’s way to burnish his street creds, won’t work up here. Need to make a clear, loud stand with one voice.
Hamburg: Multiple plans are on the table, State Fish and Game makes the decisions. Not in favor — corporate directed, imposition on County.
Roberts: Not a single corporate interest in funding MLPA. Private family foundation, Packard family. Most of Calif. coast not really dependent on ocean. People from MLPA have no idea of the importance of fishing here. It’s a cultural clash. We need partners, a multi-county group to work with us. Need to get away from “Corporate Terror.”
Gene Herr: You all have commented on the burden of regulation on small farmers, what specific things can you do as a supervisor regarding this issue?
deVall: An example is permits required for fishing and fish products, to make cheese etc. Supervisors need to go to the State Agencies and the Media to get restrictions changed.
Mastin: Small farmers are lumped in with big farmers. I trust them more than big corporate operations because they live here. Would feel comfortable with small, certified organic not being regulated by local and state agencies.
Hamburg: Senate bills are onerous, imposed on small organic farmers to protect agri-business from their competition as they become successful. Small vineyards are bought by large interests (Duckhorn). Large vineyards do heavy drafting, ponds, no water rights for some ponds, too much water out of the Navarro.
Roberts: It is an issue of scale. There are reasons to provide allowances for smaller scale operators. They are not always fabulous but we keep inventing more and more regulations to the point that it is impossible to do anything, even need a permit to build a small barn, and a pond permit takes months or even years to get.
Bates asked the group for any final thoughts:
Mastin: I love the 5th District.
Hamburg: I love the County. Building a new paradigm — Feed yourself!
Roberts: Regarding big business and big agriculture I have been criticized for talking to them. Any candidate who is not talking to them is not doing his job. We need to understand the private sector, we need to talk to them.
deVall: Small producers need to be cautious about over supply. Will have to go to wholesale markets and have markets lined up in advance. Good management is essential. The County can help but you need to know the business of farming.
* * *
Norman de Vall, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Hamburg, www.votehamburg5.org
Jim Mastin, www.mastin4supervisor5.com
Wendy Roberts, www.wendyforsupervisor.com