Redlands’ Farm Salvaging Effort Involves Deregulation In Agricultural Zone

In the wake of the devastation wrought by the oriental fruit fly, city officials this week took the first steps toward a retrenchment of its land use policy in San Timoteo And Live Oak Canyons in what a cross section of the community hopes will not come too late to preserve Redlands’ position as one of the last of three districts within San Bernardino County with a substantial agricultural component.
The game plan for doing that calls for allowing farmers to augment their fruit and vegetable growing operations with what the city is calling “ancillary and supportive activities” in order “to enhance and diversify revenue sources from existing agricultural land uses.”
This week the planning commission reviewed new ordinance language intended to achieve those goals, followed by public input, including that from several of the city’s farmers, before making a recommendation that the city council adopt the ordinance in the near term.
In practical terms, what is to come about is the owners of the city’s groves, vineyards, farms and rancheros will be permitted to engage in commercial activity expanded beyond the limited roadside fruit stands they heretofore were allowed to operate in order to sell their produce, open or reopen as the case may be wineries on their property, conduct tours of their operations to groups so interested and convert a portion of their property to, or otherwise utilize existing, gardens for ceremonial venues such as weddings. Moreover, the city is to adjust its agricultural zoning, which currently disallows the raising of poultry or composting, to permit those activities.
In the parlance of municipal planners, the farms, to a limited extent intended to complement their primary operations of producing fruit and vegetables are to be allowed to engage in “agritourism.”
According to a staff report that accompanied the agenda item relating to the action that came before the Redlands Planning Commission on Tuesday, “The proposed ordinance includes a definition for ‘agritourism’ as well as a statement of intent. The proposed definition states agritourism “is the act of visiting a working farm/ranch or agricultural operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm/ranch or agricultural operation that adds to the economic viability of the agricultural operation. Agritourism activities are secondary and supplemental to the agricultural uses of the land, and do not create conflicts with agricultural activities on said lands and/or adjacent lands.” The purpose is to allow for enhanced economic viability of working farms while maintaining the rural character of agricultural districts for the continued operation and preservation of farming and ranching land uses.
The issue was brought forward by the Two Canyons Farmers Guild, for which Anna Knight is the spokeswoman.
Nakamura Knight explained the challenges faced by farmers, not the least of which is the limited profitability of farming as a profession.
“100 years ago, when groves were big and the model of business basically was to pick your grove or have a packing house pick your grove, pack it and ship it globally, Nakamura Knight said. “Redlands of 100 years ago looks a lot different from Redlands today. Not a single one of these groves can survive with just produce sales. We can’t reap economies of scale. The last remaining packing houses in this area are severely diminished. We know that Redlands Foothill Packing House is going to become a part of Redlands Unified [School District]. Corona College Heights out in Riverside doesn’t even have tangerines or pick tangerines any more, even though we’re in prime citrus season. We’re not going to be able to keep farming and make money if the mode of business is just sell a couple fruits. 80 percent of farmers in San Bernardino county make less than $50,000 a year in sales. That does not include labor, equipment, seed materials, and you all know how high the living costs are in So Cal.”
For many, Nakamura Knight said, the coup de grace has been the oriental fruit fly infestation and the precautions being taken by the California Department of Farming and Agriculture, which is preventing the farming community from harvesting their fruit and requiring that it be trashed at once, with no potential for selling it.
“Since October of last year, Redlands and its farmers have been under the oriental fruit fly quarantine,” Nakamura Knight said. “The quarantine imposed for the oriental fruit fly is the strictest that the California Department of Farming and Agriculture has. It outlaws the sales and transportation of any kind of affected crop off the farm of origin. It’s not just citrus that this affects. It affects 300 different kinds of fruits and vegetables. What that has meant for me is I’ve lost 100 percent of my Mandarin crop, 100 percent of my navels, and that’s true for every farmer in Redlands, Rialto, Moreno Valley Riverside. In this season alone we are going to lose some of the last 350 acres of citrus grove right here in Redlands.”
It is a misconception that commercial growers are being reimbursed by the state for the loss of their crops as consequence of the quarantine.
“No commercial growers are getting even a dollar,” she said.
Continuing, Nakamura Knight said, “It is so important that farmers have a way of diversifying their income. If we are not going to be able to survive just on produce sales alone, we need to be able to do things like farm field trips, or you-picks or have some of our school district partners come onto our farms. If I were to fill a vintage and classic orange field crate with 50 pounds of oranges and sell that to a commercial packing house, you guys as consumers would pay $70. As a farmer, I’d get one dollar. We’ve managed to survive because we’ve been nimble. We sell our fruits and vegetables exclusively to public schools in this area, and those kids have had the opportunity, as part of a pilot program, to come visit our farm and do an experiential farm field trip. This is the value that farms can provide.”
The city’s agricultural ordinance contains a counterproductive ban on composting that greatly complicates farming in Redlands, Nakamura Knight said.
“With regard to non-permitted uses, compost is what a farmer needs to be able to farm organically,” Nakamura Knight said. “It’s something that’s championed by the state and by our county but is illegal in the City of Redlands without a conditional use permit. You might think conditional uses are okay, but as a farmer making less than $50,000 in sales, paying $3,000, $10,000, $20,000 in for every single permitted use is untenable. We can’t do it and can’t afford it.
Nakamura Knight said that what the city’s farmers needed was for the city to expand what they are “permitted to do by right. Things like having chickens are not allowed right now under this [i.e., the current] ordinance. I am an in an A-1 [agriculturally zoned] property and can’t have a single chicken. But someone in residential rural is allowed to, and I’m the farmer. It is so important to me to be able to produce compost in reasonable amounts without coming into the city and asking permission. That’s what I need to do in order to farm and keep my business.”
Nakamura Knight made the point that the city’s restrictions were such that farmers, in order to be able to perform elements of a farming operation that are crucial to its success had to apply for permission from the city through a conditional use process, which in addition to creating delays is costly. She advocated for the city to liberalize its regulations in such a way that those activities now deemed conditional or “non-permitted” be allowable, subject to reasonable regulations.
“All farmers in Redlands are small farmers,” she said. “As a small farmer, this whole non-permitted piece is really essential and useful for us to do the basic actions and activities required with farming.”
Richard Corneille told the commission that over the last four decades in Redlands there has been “a lot of growing of houses and not oranges.” He said there was a need for a “local sustainable food supply.”
Linda Hamilton, the president of the Accelerate Neighborhood Climate Action coalition said that it was “obvious to those studying climate change a new localized food system is going to be critical.” She said the “bottom line is we need our local farmers. We need to support them in any way that we can. Help our farmers to be viable in a much more difficult time.”
Bert Block said, “A lot of our farms have disappeared but those that are left are diligently maintained by people who don’t make a lot of money, but it is just their thing to do, to improve or make agriculture a part of our city. I think as a city all of us should get behind these farmers and do as much as we can. I think we owe our farmers a great amount of appreciation for what they do.
Lilyanna Montenegro, a nutritionist from the Yuciapa-Calimesa School District, said, “We have a proud history of supporting our local Redlands farmers,” who, she said, allowed the the school district “to serve our 8,500 students the freshest and most nutritious produce available with every meal. We want to support continuing supporting our local farmers for generations to come and continuing having access to organic produce that our students can consume. It is known that Redlands is the greatest in the history of organic groves. Unfortunately, throughout the years, I see substantially less and would hate to see our farmers lose their farming operations Therefore, it is imperative for our farmers to have the ability to diversify their income and see other avenues such as agritourism like on-farm experiences that will allow them to survive situations such as these current future quarantines to come. We believe our farmers are vital for a magnitude of roles, such as our overall environment, aiding the local food economy, providing local jobs, access to local food and providing a resilient supply chain that, as we’ve seen in the past few years especially, is vital to our daily operation.”
Beth Sanders, who was employed in the banking industry, has simultaneously with her husband maintained a grove on their property, by which she qualifies as a “commercial grower with 750 naval orange trees.” She said the preservation of the area’s agricultural uses is a “quality of life” issue.
She referenced her 14 year old grandson, who, loves the trees to a degree that he will not allow his grandparents to take out some century old trees that are only producing small fruit. She said said, “It is our plan that he will inherit that farm. I hope that he can,” she said, but said that was by no means assured since there are forces at play that threaten the viability of local agriculture remaining in place.,
“There are so many other options for the farmers to do with their land,” Sanders said. “I implore you to realize why we are here: It is the quality of life. We need to preserve it.”
Tony Hicks, who has a 43-acre farm on Live Oak Canyon and leases an additional 37 acres for his operation, provided the commission a tutorial on those economic forces that are militating to drive farmers out of the region.
Hicks, as a member of the Yucaipa Planning Commission, is keenly aware of the land use trends locally. He said that adjacent to his property just over the Yucaipa/Redlands border, a developer is purchasing 300 acres to construct two 1-million square foot warehouse buildings, even though at present, the proponents of the project “have no tenants. The farmers in Redlands and almost all areas, because of the size of the properties and locations of them, have a tremendous amount of pressure from developers who are either speculating, as some of the San Timoteo groves have been sold and are currently held by larger companies that are looking long term, whether it’s ten or twenty years down the road, for potentially having potentially an industrial use for those. San Timoteo Canyon in particular – because of the location and the train tracks – if you are just looking at it purely from a planning standpoint, is a great location for warehousing. Not what I personally want to see happen or would like to see happen. We have groves down there that have been there for many generations of farmers. The current value in this area for industrial property is in the neighborhood of $50 to $60 per square foot. It is just a matter of time if we are not able to shore up the farmers and allow them other uses that the land will be picked up. The pressure will be on to the planning commissions and city councils to develop that land.”
Bob Knight, a fourth generation farmer in Redlands and the former general manger of Redlands Foothill Groves Packing House currently farms in Redlands on a 67-acre citrus grove.
He said he wanted to make a “note of urgency. We are literally at a turning point. Our past ordinance has been based on the old days when every farmer in Redlands was an orange grower and everybody sold to Sunkist. Now we’re at the point where that model doesn’t work anymore. If you are a commercial grower, the infrastructure that used to help you to sell to Sunkist and into the global network is disappearing before our eyes. Redlands Foothill Groves has closed. There are three more packing houses in Riverside that hollowed out. Most of their business is related to transshipment of food that comes from Central California. The infrastructure from commercial growing relies on so much is on its last legs. We’re in a new era in terms of invasive species. Before, one would come every once in a while. We’d deal with it. Twelve years ago the Asian Citrus psyllid. Then HLP, Huanglongbing [citrus greening disease or yellow dragon disease, a plant malady aused by a vector-transmitted pathogen, the causative agents of which are motile bacteria] came. Now it’s the oriental fruit fly. This is not going to stop. This is going to continue every six years. Now we have globalized agriculture and these pests are spreading everywhere. We are really operating in a new farming world. We used to be able to count on farm income from selling our oranges and now we have these new unpredictable threats to our basic business model. We need flexibility to deal with that.”
Knight said that in Redlands switching to growing avocados is not a viable alternative to growing citrus because “San Timoteo Canyon is the coldest place in Redlands. You cannot grow avocados there.”
In addition to the natural hazards farmers face, Knight said, there are man-made restrictions that are undoing farmers locally.
“The zoning, these land use [designations] are so narrow that they don’t give us any alternative either,” he said. “You farm or you sell out to a developer or to a speculator. So many of these groves that seem so healthy, we call them ghost groves. They aren’t owned by people who can really farm. They are just people biding their time, waiting for you to enable a different zoning.”
Susan Evans said the city should change its regulations on the uses in the city’s agricultural zone to allow children “to see where their food comes from.”
Doug Reynoldson, a business partner with Santee Farms who was also speaking on behalf of Thermal Farms and Ed Haddad, encouraged the city to allow owners of property in the agricultural zone to restore historical properties and convert them to wedding venues and the like. He said with the agricultural district’s “historical places, there’s an opportunity here to create some kind of event center.”
Evan Sanford, representing the Redlands Chamber of Commerce, said “It’s time we protect our past and embrace our future” and “officially establish Redlands as not only a place for agritourism, but to also give our local farmers more opportunities to continue their legacy of growing citrus. Both can be done.”
Josie Perez, the nutrition specialist for Redlands Unified School District nutrition services, referenced “incredible benefits our school nutrition program derives from partnering with local farms. By decreasing the travel time we are bringing in vegetables that are at the peak of freshness, where kids will want to eat, where the fruit is like candy. If we can sell nature’s candy, we can make a difference in providing healthy food to our students We all know school food gets a bad rap all the time. By supporting local farms we are investing in the sustainability of our local environment.”
Zack Kiss of Santee Farms said, “The fruit fly almost put us under. Agritourism will definitely help bring in extra money.
John Beall said that a century ago there was tremendous agritourism in Redlands. “Agritourism built many of” the city’s iconic landmarks, he pointed out, referencing “tourists that came to see the beauty of the East Valley.” He said the city should embark on a new generation of agritourism.
“The fact is this is a model that has been tested, has been true and is associated with the golden years of Redlands’ initial development, a model that has worked with the community well and suits its beauty.”
He called upon the planning commission to consider “what this does for farmers. When someone comes before this commission and they own some ag[ricultural] land and they are arguing with you about their property right to build whatever they like upon it, how much more affirming could that possibly be than to affirm the property rights of a farmer who owns a piece of farm land who simply wishes to do what they are already doing and be able to ensure the same for their family in future generations?” he asked.
Tammy White, a Redlands resident and the director of nutrition services for San Jacinto Unified School District, called upon the city to allow agritourism in the farming district.
She said 2,000 students from San Jacinto Unified School District visited old orange groves in Redlands and that the degree to which many were impressed by “the calmness of the creek” next to the grove was remarkable.
She said just as young students had to be taught about how food is produced, adults have to be offered an opportunity to learn about the presence of the agricultural zone in Redlands. “Educate them,” White said. “We need to market our selves. We need signs. It is time we update our bylaws and policies to support these farmers. I want to ensure my great grandchildren and your grandchildren have the opportunity to enjoy the farms that are around Redlands.”
Phil Courtney in addressing the planning commission and encouraging it to revamp its agricultural ordinance said “Past decisions were made [which were wrongheaded]. Zoning ordinances were changed. Some are very shortsighted. A shortsighted decision is to have taken one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, this valley, and cover it with warehouses and suburban sprawl.”
Theresa Matura, an agriculture educator who has worked, she said, “on different farms all over the country.” She said, “One major trend that I’ve notices is that the farms that have now transitioned into doing more agriculture tourism and education are thriving. They are able to grow their business, support their workers and engage in their community. The farms that aren’t doing that, and this is unfortunate because they work so hard to grow food for their community, but they’re lucky if they break even that year.”
Kaito Knight told the commissioners that “having working farms around the city makes Redlands a unique community to live in.”
Knight decried “tight ag zoning rules” which he said were working against the city. The proposed amendments to our ordinance will give farmers the opportunity to use their farmland to their fullest potential.”
Rosario Cardenas said, “It is rare when you can connect to nature and to your community.” She called upon city officials “to support our farmers during these trying times.”
Andy Hoder said he was in support of preserving the city’s agricultural uses but said he wanted there to be greater definitude with regard to the enlargement of and traffic control at roadside fruit stands, as well as the items to be sold.
Kathleen Beall pointed out that “less than one percent of available” agricultural land is suitable for growing navel oranges. “We have a very special community here in that we can grow something that others cannot.” The city should act to preserve the opportunity for farmers to operate in Redlands and not allow industrial uses to crowd agriculture out. “There can be a warehouse anywhere,” she said.
The entirety of the planning commission appeared to be in agreement that the city should act to prevent the destruction of the agricultural uses and most were in favor of modifying the overregulation that was referenced in some of the farmers’ comments.
Commissioner Conrad Guzkowski indicated he was supportive of such deregulation insofar as agricultural activity goes, but that he wanted to maintain permitting processes with regard to the non-agricultural aspects of the farmers’ operations within the city’s agricultural zone.
Guzkowski said he understood the message that “farming of the past will not work for the next five generations [and] this is where we introduce agritourism.”
Referencing the litany of activities that farmers will be, under the proposed changes to the city’s agricultural ordinance, be able to engage in, Guzkowski said, “We’ve now come to learn that these things fit under the rubric of agritourism. These are extensions beyond what agriculture used to be. Now we’re trying to fit it into a newer contemporary mold and I absolutely applaud the idea of being able to add value to the property so they have a greater prospect for sustainability. But what I’m sensing from all of the presentations that we had, as valuable indeed they were, is that maybe we have three items in a sense before us. The first one that didn’t get a lot of discussion is that there are problems with our agricultural zone that do not respond to what most of the rest of the world thinks of as agriculture. So, let’s have the item before and fix that and deal with the ag zone from an ag point of view.”
Continuing, Guzkowski said, “Then it strikes me there are two levels of agritourism, one of which is the innocuous – innocuous might be the wrong word – the simpler things, the entertainment trains, the educational part of it, the come touch, feel, pick that don’t really involve a whole lot and to me those are the ones that would fall under an administrative [permitting]. If there are some things that are going in, there is some review over which ag land is being taken out for that, what are the hours of operation, how is parking being handled, is fire protection suitable so that catalytic converters aren’t lighting brush. Those are the normal kind of things that staff would be looking at and it’s a simple process.”
Guzkowski said anything more complicated should and would remain subject to more intensive regulation, which entails applications for approval that would need to come before the planning commission or the city council.
“The third one is what I think is covered quite well and that is the conditional uses,” Guzkowski said.
There followed an inquiry with city staff about the ins and outs of the heavier levels of regulation, what they entail and their costs. At issue was whether the planning commission should recommend to the city council that it adjust the agriculture ordinance to allow farmers to engage in a host of activities both agriculturally related and more oriented toward interaction with the public commercially on a host of levels as a matter of right rather than through a process by which they would need to get clearance from the city to do so ahead of time.
One route to municipal permission would be an administrative process, which, the commission was told, would entail a “couple months” wait while neighboring property owners were noticed and the proponent submitted a site plan to be evaluated by city staff, after which an administrative hearing on the application before the city’s development services director would take place, with the director empowered to make a decision as to whether to grant the permit. That process would cost the applicant $1,625.
A second means of obtaining license from the city to proceed would entail what farmers are already faced with, which is obtaining a conditional use permit. That process would take several months, entailing the submission of plans, an evaluation by staff, getting the matter before the planning commission, which would then make a recommendation to the city council, which would ultimately vote up or down to approve the issuance of the conditional use permit. That process would require the applicant to pay fees exceeding $10,000.
Commission Chairwoman Karah Shaw inquired if whether the city were to make the differentations that Guzkowski was suggesting a reduction or waiving of the administrative or conditional use fees could be made. That brought a response that such a decision would rest, most likely, with the city council.
Commissioner Matt Endsley took issue with Guzkowski’s suggestions, stating that the point was that farmers are being priced out of existence by overregulation.
“We don’t want to create any undue burdens on applicants for permitted uses,” Endsley said. “I am comfortable in reading through what would now be permitted uses [under the redrafted ordinance, which contains requirements that a conditional use permit be sought for elaborate changes to the agricultural properties in question] in that they don’t seem to be too cumbersome of a change for existing operations.”
Saying he did not want to create impediments for farm operators, Endsley said the issue could be revisited if any of those operations end up attracting more than the 150 patrons per day set as a threshold in the new ordinance. At that point, Endsley said, “We can look at a conditional use permit.”
Thereafter, the commission voted unanimously to approve the newly drafted ordinance.
Under the new ordinance, permitted, supplemental and ancillary land uses to primarily agricultural uses in the A-1, Agricultural, zone are expanded. So, too, were expanded uses that might conditionally be approved.
The original request by the Two Canyons Farmers Guild included a provision to allow farmworker housing, however, that component was removed from the application that went before the planning commission Tuesday.
New permitted uses to be allowed by-right with no discretionary review required are roadside stands of up to 1,200 square-feet in size, an increase over the current limit of 500 square-feet, along with compost production and processing, not to exceed a total of 900 tons per year for on-site use. This would also include incidental sale of compost for off-site use, not to exceed 25 percent of the total cubic yards produced, and no piling or storage of compost higher than 15 feet above ground level.
Related ancillary activities including agritourism activities that are secondary and supplemental, not to exceed 25 percent of the land area in active agriculture/ranching, to the primary agricultural uses of the land, including preparation of farm-to-table meals for on-site or off-site consumption; retail sale of ancillary farm grown products, prepackaged food items, gardening tools, and other small food- or farm-related sundry items to individual consumers; retail self-pick or you-pick by customers of produce grown on-site, not to exceed 150 persons daily; temporary holiday sales facilities, subject to other applicable provisions of the Redlands Municipal Code; and walking tours, day classes, farm experience excursions, living history farms, processing demonstrations, not to exceed 150 persons daily.
New conditional uses, those allowable subject to discretionary review and a conditional use permit include wedding venues, indoors or outdoors, on non-prime agricultural land; related ancillary activities to agricultural or ranching operations, including agritourism activities, that are secondary and supplemental to the primary agricultural uses of the land, not to exceed 25 percent of the land area in active agriculture/ranching), extending to bed and breakfast, farm-stay, general camping facilities, glamping facilities, or resort hotel, food processing operations, wholesale or retail (including canning, food packaging, with or without ancillary on-site retail food sales); compost production and processing that exceeds a total of 900 tons per year for on-site use, with or without incidental sale of compost for off-site use; educational farm camp, day camp and/or overnight camp; harvest festivals, seasonal or special events, or other periodic assembly uses; retail self-pick or u-pick by customers of produce grown on-site, with more than 150 persons daily; tours, day classes, and farm experience excursions, with more than 150 persons daily; sales of other food or beverage products, with a portion of the ingredients sourced on-site; wineries, including ancillary wine tasting rooms, retail sale of vintner products, which must include some products that are produced on-site, along with hospitality activities limited to the education of growing vineyards or the production of wine, provided that not more than forty percent of the interior floor area is utilized for such activity.
The ordinance contains development standards for agritourism uses. The standards encourage clustering of structures, improvements, and activities so as to minimize the impact on agricultural operations.
On parcels with a minimum of 10 contiguous acres or more in size, all agritourism elements should be clustered and shall consume no more than one gross acre in aggregate per every ten contiguous acres of site area, excluding hayrides or trains with rubberized wheels. Parking is excluded from the acreage calculation.
On parcels less than 10 contiguous acres in size, all agritourism elements should be clustered and shall consume no more than ten percent in aggregate of the gross site acreage, excluding hayrides or trains with rubberized wheels. Parking is excluded from the acreage calculation.
If non-agricultural development is to occur, it shall minimize its impacts on natural areas and on nearby farming and agricultural operations. Natural landforms shall be preserved as much as practicable, and any grading or cut/fill activity shall be minimized for roads, driveways, and site grading.
The development standards also include separation requirements from any surrounding residential or other sensitive uses on abutting properties, design requirements for any agritourism structures, lighting regulations, noise control regulations, Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, and on-site parking regulations, with a provision that allows waiving the typical requirement for installation of paving.
Sign regulations for agritourism uses allow limited commercial signs for approved nonresidential uses, consistent with the existing sign regulations that apply in the city’s administrative & professional office zoning district, temporary signs or banners (consistent with existing sign regulations for temporary signs), plus one A-frame sign that may be placed adjacent to public right-of-way (subject to standards similar to those provided elsewhere in the city code.
-Mark Gutglueck

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