It is concerning as a farmer and resident who has lived in the California Central Valley and experienced the downfall of Sprawl. Why is this so important? Why is this important to our customers who in New York City, Texas, Miami, or other large metropolitan areas? Because we as a nation are losing farmland every minute of every day. Cari Scribner suggest that we are losing 2000 acres every day in the US.
I am one who likes to walk a mile around an issue because I don’t like confrontation. And history shows that without a fight by the people we would or could lose our rights. We moved to Silverton Oregon in 2016. We had a calling when we found this farm. It spoke to us with the space, the birds, the creek, the wonderful small town and the potential to be a part of its history.
We felt a connection. The town was magical and fit our vision to become a part of the life here. We were tired when we moved here, tired from the battle to protect our California farmland and all the politics that came with it. Well, sometimes we have to get political.
Moving from California to Oregon was a welcomed chapter in our lives. We had farmed in Merced County, California, the fifth largest ag county. And we watched more and more prime farmland be converted to houses. Valley Land Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, had formed to educate and build alliances to protect the uniquely productive farmland in California’s Central Valley where we lived and farmed. We wanted to protect the farmland.
When more and more housing was continuing to be built at the edges of towns on prime farmland, several counties had brought awareness and support of an initiative, a ballot measure: the people decide if development should happen. Why not in Merced County?
This initiative was born, that any development converting ag land to housing went to the vote of the people. That would mean the developer would have to wine and dine the public – not 3 of 5 County Commissioners. Approximately $200,000 was spent to oppose this measure. A poll was done which showed the measure would be successful. What followed was a campaign by a group of opposition that said, “Family Farmers Say No” (this was really the developers). The initiative did not pass. It was a blow to the future of farming because housing is a onetime harvest.
Is that the end? No, we still have landowners and developers pushing the cities to expand, sprawl with housing that is not affordable. Some Studies show for every tax dollar generated, sprawl costs two dollars to sustain the growth, with roads, sewers, water, parks, police and fire services. Cities take on bond debt to keep the growth going. Each new subdivision pays for the losses of the subdivision before it. It is a giant Ponzi scheme. There are studies that show as much as $6.00 cost for growth per tax dollar coming in. (Kaid Benfield).
In 2016 we came to Oregon with a similar farm protection law already in effect. You can image our happiness and joy knowing the work others had accomplished before we arrived. Many cities, including Silverton, could not expand growth boundaries without a vote of the people. Until Oregon experienced a housing crisis. With one fell signature, Governor Brown whipped out this law. What this means is that the cities in reality don’t have much control in making decisions on their growth. The state can come in and overrule the wants of each city.
Our town of Silverton, OR population 10,500 is a special town. Our core downtown is vibrant, and the folks of Silverton want to live in Silverton. It is a choice that is consciencely made. We attract many tourists, because, we have been successful in keeping our population and developments to a minimum. I was prompt to share my thoughts as we had a discussion where there is a common belief that we need more growth to pay for our infrastructure. Our sewer system is antiquated and close to failure. Our city doesn’t have the funds to fix this but bringing in more growth just purpurates the problem. It is a misconception about more houses means more tax revenue and there needs to be many conversations about the true cost of growth. GROWTH DOES NOT PAY FOR ITS SELF.
I urge anyone who shares my worry to contact me, Rochelle, and your elected officials. Your voice is critical. We don’t have to keep sprawling out. We can develop in a different way.