Contra Costa County agricultural preservation, economic update in the works | News | |


Contra Costa County agricultural preservation, economic update in the works

Burgis: 'This (report) isn't perfect, but it's going in a great direction'

Though some specifics are still being debated, a burgeoning plan to update agricultural land use policy in Contra Costa County to make it easier for ag tourism, farm-to-table restaurants and other emerging commercial uses is getting support from farmers and others looking to do more than simply grow crops and graze cattle.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors accepted a report from the county's Department of Conservation and Development with various recommendations for reforming and updating ag land use policies in Contra Costa County to allow more uses to "improve both economic vitality and sustainability."

The report also recommends that the Board of Supervisors update Contra Costa's winery ordinance and other rules to allow large "farm dinner" events, various new types of lodging accommodations, including bed-and-breakfast businesses, farm stays for up to 90 days and camping/yurts/little houses on wheels.

The report also addresses issues like illegal garbage dumping on ag lands, "rural blight" from properties strewn with debris and/or in extreme disrepair, a possible noise ordinance and other situations resulting from encroaching development in the county's more rural reaches.

"This (report) isn't perfect, but it's going in a great direction," said County Supervisor Diane Burgis of Oakley.

Her East County district has most of the county's farmland, though significant acreage also exists west and south of Martinez.

"It's very important that we protect the farmland, and also give our farmers an opportunity ... to take advantage of their unique place," Burgis said.

This plan, said John Kopchik, the county's director of conservation and development, represents another phase of that protection.

While the 1990 establishment of an "urban limit line" was key to keeping at least 65 percent of Contra Costa County as ag, parks or open space, Kopchick told the supervisors further steps are needed to help ensure the ongoing sustainability and economic vitality of those preserved lands beyond the basic corn, cattle and U-pick orchards.

The report has been developed after almost two years of public meetings, a dozen of them, mostly in the rural Knightsen area of East Contra Costa. Those meetings attracted as many as 70 people each, offering suggestions on how to make ag land more economically viable, and how changes in land use rules could help make it happen.

Several public speakers Tuesday, including representatives of the environmental advocacy groups Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance, told the Board of Supervisors they support the basic plan.

Some had a few specific bones to pick; the most-mentioned one Tuesday was a 40-acre minimum parcel size for some of the suggested new uses. Many areas had been subdivided into lots as small as 10 acres over the years, with an eye to development.

Rebecca Courchesne, whose family operates Frog Hollow Farm on 10 acres near Brentwood in East County, said a suggested 40-acre minimum to host a farm-to-table restaurant is impractical, given a preponderance of 10-acre parcels in the area and the high cost of land.

"Having small parcels that are viable ... the farm-to-table restaurant is a vital part of that," Courchesne told the supervisors. "The 10-acre parcels are ideal for beginning young farmers."

Barbara Frantz, of Tess' Community Farm Kitchen near Discovery Bay, told the supervisors she wants to reopen a farm-to-table restaurant she operated years ago. She has a 10-acre parcel and can't afford to expand.

"That section, as written, doesn't meet the needs of the supervisors or of the farmers," said Frantz, who suggested a limit on the number of farm-to-table cafes.

John Viano, president of the Contra Costa County Farm Bureau and an owner of Viano Vineyards in Martinez, said the plan has come a long way in two years, but that issues like parcel size, structure placement on parcels to provide the best possible economics and avoiding actions "that take away the rural effect" still need to be worked out.

"With a little talking, I think we'll have something we can all appreciate," Viano said.

— Bay City News Service

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: *

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Premarital and Couples: Here Be Dragons!
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,410 views

Banning natural gas heating in Dublin?
By Tim Hunt | 36 comments | 1,964 views

The Art of Bill DiMichele: Cross Section of a Moment
By John A. Barry and Bill Carmel | 2 comments | 691 views

The Four Must Dos on College Campus Visits
By Elizabeth LaScala | 0 comments | 628 views