On November 3 rd, residents of Modesto will have the opportunity to stem the tide of farmland loss in the San Joaquin Valley by voting for Measure I, a ballot initiative that would establish an urban limit. For the first time, the measure would put the future of the area's farmland in the hands of local citizens by requiring that at least 50% of the city's voters support any future conversion of prime farmland adjacent to the city on its northern, western and southern borders. Growth toward the east on less productive land would remain subject to current policies.
American Farmland Trust supports Measure I as an effective way to protect the area's most important farmland. The San Joaquin Valley is America's most bountiful food producing region, but continues to see farmland lost to urban sprawl at an astonishing rate. Since 1984, 325 square miles (208,000 acres) of farmland have been lost in the region. Stanislaus County alone has lost almost 25 square miles of farmland, more than 80 percent of its prime land.
Given the uncertainties of drought and climate change, it would be a tragedy to lose any more Stanislaus County farmland than is truly needed to accommodate growth. Measure I will help assure that growth is compact and minimize the loss of the best farmland. By passing it, Modesto would become the undisputed leader in preserving farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.
In other areas of California, American Farmland Trust has seen urban growth boundaries used as a successful planning tool. A leading example of this is the "Save Open-Space and Agricultural Resources" (SOAR) initiatives passed by voters in most of the cities in Ventura County. Such initiatives not only save prime farmland, they also help promote efficient economic growth within cities that keep public services affordable and taxes down.