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APRIL 20, 2007 California Farm Bureau Friday Review

The Senate Health Committee voted on Senator Florez’s (D-Shafter) package of food safety bills this week, but not before amending them further. SB 200 was amended to delete the allowance of fines imposed by the bill to be used for the detection or eradication of emergency pests or diseases and instead limit these funds only to detection or eradication of food borne illnesses. Despite CFBF’s continued opposition, the bill passed out of the committee on a party line vote of 6-4.

The Senate Health Committee amended SB 201 to delete the provisions that made the bill obsolete in the event the industry adopted a marketing order and placed any leafy green marketing order in statute. Instead, SB 201 will now allow growers to apply for a variance from the Department of Public Health if they want to deviate from the farming practices required by SB 201. The Department may require growers to pay a fee to obtain this variance. CFBF has significant concerns with essentially requiring the Department of Public Health to sign off on farming practices and will continue to oppose SB 201. The committee passed SB 201 on a party line vote of 6-4.

The committee made minor technical amendments to SB 202, which requires growers, handlers, and processors of leafy green vegetables to implement a trace back system and conduct periodic mock recalls. CFBF remains opposed to SB 202 because requiring a trace back system in statute is duplicative of what’s required under the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement. This bill passed out of committee on a vote of 6-3, with Senator Maldonado being the lone Republican voting for the bill.

All three bills will now be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

CFBF’s sponsored bill, AB 844 (Berryhill, R-Modesto), is set to be heard by the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on Tuesday. Farm Team members have received an alert requesting letters of support for the bill, which will help decrease the incidence of metal theft by working with recyclers to reduce the market for stolen goods. AB 844 requires scrap metal recyclers to pay by check after a 10-day waiting period and to have a photograph of the individuals and the metal they are selling.

Assembly Member Rick Keene (R-Chico) has withdrawn his AB 735 from consideration. The bill would have required all non-U,S, citizens employed or seeking employment in California to apply for a "California Work Permit" and impose substantial new civil penalties for employing them without such a permit. Farm Bureau and other groups were opposing the measure on the basis that a state cannot authorize what the federal government prohibits: employing undocumented aliens.

Bad ideas never die in the case of SB 719 (Mike Machado, D-Linden) and SB 240 (Dean Florez, D-Shafter). These two pieces of legislation continue to miss the target completely on finding meaningful solutions to an important and complex issue of improving air quality in the San Joaquin Valley.

SB 719 expands the current San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control Governing Board from 11 to 15 members. While two of the members would be elected representative from valley city councils, SB 719 requires the Governor to appoint two public members, subject to Senate confirmation with medical expertise. It would be nice if it was this simple. Adding two medical representatives on the SJV air board’s governing board will NOT clean the air. It only allows two individuals to make important decisions without any accountability to the voters of the eight SJV counties.

SB 719 passed out of the Senate Local Government Committee on a bipartisan 5-0 vote. The SJVUAPCD has historically opposed previous attempts to add unaccountable, Sacramento appointed members to their board. They are neutral on SB 719 and SB 240 because of the added funding that is included which makes defeat of both of these proposals more difficult. CFBF opposes.

SB 240 only becomes effective if SB 719 passes, the dangling carrot approach, although reversed in this instance. SB 240 is the carrot as is creates a clean air surcharge of up to $300 annually per source on all stationary, indirect and area wide sources which would include much of the agricultural equipment currently under district authority. In addition, it allows for a one-time, emissions fee on any source of pollution that causes or contributes to violations of the SJV state or federal air standards for a total not to exceed $100 million dollars. SB 240 also authorizes the district to increase surcharges on vehicle licensing fees to a maximum of $30 annually per motor vehicle and adopt rules and regulations to reduce vehicle trips and air pollution from vehicular sources that the state only has authority for currently. SB 240 will be heard next Tuesday in Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. CFBF opposes. To take action click here.

AB 541 (Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael) would create a chilling effect on the use of biotechnology in California agriculture. AB 541 creates a strict liability burden on the manufacturers of this technology. Increasing the liability to this extent will ultimately serve as a ban on the technology. Doing so will create significant issues for farmers that have used this technology to reduce pesticide use and for other environmental benefits. In the San Joaquin Valley, farmers can use this technology as part of a conservation management plan (CMP) because reduced tillage results in fewer passes in a field thereby reducing particulate matter emissions.

AB 541 would require farmers that have used this technology for many years to now report their usage to the County Agricultural Commissioner. It is a concern as there is no language in the bill that would keep such information confidential and there is no funding mechanism identified which leads us to believe that growers will ultimately be charged a new fee. AB 541 contradicts the buffer zone requirements for organic crop production required of growers in the National Organic Act and prohibits the open-field cultivation of medicine-producing crops. AB 541 will be heard April 25th in the Assembly Agriculture Committee. CFBF opposes this bill. To take action click here.

SB 311 (Cogdill, R-Fresno) passed out of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on a 4-0 vote and will be heard next in Senate Appropriations. This measure would provide an additional $1,000,000 each year to the state’s existing network of Weed Management Areas (WMAs) administered by the Department of Food and Agriculture. This augmentation would make whole the $2.5 million approved in the 2006-2007 budget, which was reduced to $1.5 million by the Governor. Current funding only addresses one-third of the high-priority control projects. CFBF is in support.
SB 974 (Lowenthal, D-Long Beach) passed out of Senate Transportation Committee on a 6-4 vote and will be heard next in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 23rd. This bill would impose a $30 per twenty-foot equivalent unit on cargo owners to pay for pollution mitigation, and highway infrastructure programs in the state of California. While the fee may appear minimal, the fact is that these fees are not imposed at other North American ports and shippers will have an incentive to move this significant amount of freight through other ports. This is another tax masquerading as a fee that will place California businesses including agriculture at a significant competitive disadvantage. CFBF is opposed.

Farm Bureau supports AB 744 (Parra, D-Hanford) relative to off-highway motor vehicles, the three or four wheeled vehicles better known as all terrain vehicles (ATV). ATVs are widely used on all types of farms, ranches and nurseries. These lightweight, fuel efficient vehicles have become an essential tool used to inspect crops and livestock, repair and inspect irrigation systems, check fence lines, supervise field crews, herd livestock, mark timber, seed, fertilize, apply chemicals, carry lunches and messages, and to get out to machinery in the field. Currently under state law these vehicles cannot be driven on the median or shoulder or to cross a two-lane highway, but must be towed, pushed or loaded on a trailer and carried across. AB 744 addresses this problem by allowing an ATV to be driven a short distance on the shoulder or median or cross a two-lane highway when conditions are considered safe. AB 744 will be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee April 23rd. CFBF is in support.

Assembly Member Bill Maze (R-Visalia) has decided to drop his bill that would have allowed the City of Visalia to keep the Williamson Act cancellation penalty fees from the contracts it cancels within its jurisdiction. Farm Bureau had urged the author to reconsider moving forward with his proposal, AB 653, because it would have set a terrible precedent that other cities and counties would want to pursue, as well. AB 653, sponsored by the city, would have represented a dramatic shift in public policy by actually providing a monetary incentive to the city to cancel contracts. Currently, cancellation penalty fees are transferred to the state’s General Fund with approximately $3.4 M annually being transferred to the Soil Conservation Fund. The latter account provides partial funding for the farmland conservation programs of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resource Protection, including the Farm Mapping and Monitoring Program and crucial Williamson Act enforcement activities.

We also reminded the sponsor, that there is a constitutional requirement that land be enforceably restricted by a contract in order to be eligible for the property tax relief afforded by the program. According to the California Supreme Court, the abrupt cancellation of a contract based primarily on its ripeness for development is not consistent with those constitutional requirements. Assembly Member Maze is a good friend of California’s farmers and ranchers and we greatly appreciate his continued strong commitment to protect this important program.

Another Williamson Act measure is going to be amended at Farm Bureau’s request. As introduced, SB 634 (Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa) would require a public hearing and approval by a county board of supervisors or city council prior to any division of land, construction of any buildings or movement of earth. Needless to say, the bill has garnered quite a bit of attention as introduced and we were asked to suggest amendments to address the growing chorus of opposition. As amended, the bill will only address the division of contracted land and the building of residences.

There is growing statewide concern that the Williamson Act is being subverted by residential subdivisions that have very little or no agricultural activity. The Department of Conservation’s audit of the county enforcement activities continues to turn up numerous problems that need to be addressed through increased state enforcement activities and clarification of the statute. As it will be amended, SB 634 will give county boards of supervisors greater guidance as to when a subdivision of contracted land meets the requirements of the Williamson Act and the Subdivision Map Act. Numerous county Farm Bureaus have also raised these issues locally when real estate speculators buy large ranches and seek to parcel them up and sell them off as “tax advantaged subdivisions.” Farm Bureau policy on this subject is very explicit, “Land uses that result in the cessation of agricultural pursuits on contracted land clearly undermine the program’s integrity and should never be allowed in agricultural preserves.” Clearly, the biggest threat to the Williamson Act is the creation of rural ranchettes. Ranchettes were once considered to be one to five acres in size, but today with suburban real estate values skyrocketing, there appears to be an unlimited market for 40, 80, and 160-acre rural homesites.

It should be noted that SB 634 is sponsored by Humboldt County and is the direct result of the division of the 13,700-acre Tooby Ranch into 160-acre parcels near Garberville. Since its purchase in 2001 by Buck Mountain Ranch, LLP, the county has tried to stop numerous illegal activities such as three large aggregate surface mines, construction of miles of new roads, and dozens of new houses, all without the required county permits. To say that it is like the Wild West up in the backcountry of Emerald Triangle

(Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties) is an understatement and it is going to take more than the Williamson Act to restore law and order.
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