San Diego Neighborhood News

SOAR May Spark Major Changes for Oceanside

A citizen’s initiative to preserve farming and other agricultural spaces will be included in the fall general election for Oceanside residents. The initiative would require a public vote on any zoning changes for open spaces, parkland, or agricultural spaces. In June, city council members voted to include the initiative on the local ballot this November, reported The San Diego Union-Tribune

Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) collected 11,000 validated signatures, surpassing the minimum for ballot qualification. Some of Oceanside’s largest commercial farmers oppose the measure, believing it will infringe on their property rights. Once upon a time, Oceanside was predominantly farmland, but as the need for farming decreased (as well as the profits it once generated), farmers were forced to sell to developers.

In 2017, SOAR formed in response to a development proposed for Morro Hills, an agricultural area in the northeastern boundary of Oceanside. The project North River Farms would utilizes 177 acres to build 984 homes, a boutique hotel, restaurants, community gardens, and recreational ammenities. The developer of the North River Farms project is Integral Communities, whose other San Diego County project includes the master-planned community Mission Lane. 

Representatives of Integral Communities insist North River Farms will be a “sustainable, multi-generational, agricultural community” with its own gardens. “These ideas are game changers, catalysts for this region. With planning, one acre can feed 50 families,” said Ninia Hammond, an Integral representative. 

Farm to table

Currently, Morro Hills is comprised of 3,500 acres of pastoral area, with current zoning allowing homes to have a minimum of 2.5 acres per lot. 

In May, SOAR requested a report on the potential effects their initiative could have on the city’s economy. And on June 6, the report results were in, stating it would lower the city’s fiscal surplus initially but that surplus would improve over the course of 20 years. Additionally, this improvement would occur with or without the initiative. Housing and businesses would see little impact, and the initiative would limit the expected traffic increase.

“The findings of the report are clear statements that indicate the SOAR initiative will have positive impacts on the city’s residents,” said SOAR organizer Dennis Martinek to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “and it gives them the right to vote on issues affecting land-use decisions as they are related to parks, open space and farmland.” 

Farmers are not on board with the initiative because they anticipate a hit to their business and a possible decrease in their property value. Though the vote was unanimous to add the initiative to the ballot, a majority of city council members support the farmers who oppose the initiative.

President of the executive board of the San Diego County Farm Bureau Neil Nagata stated in the San Diego Union-Tribune article: “We need flexibility to keep our farms going. If we can’t make ends meet, we’ll end up selling our farms, and [with the current zoning] they’ll become expensive estate homes for the wealthy.” Nagata is a third-generation farmer and a member of the Keep Farming in Oceanside coalition.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez admitted that while agritourism (a hybrid of tourism and agriculture, such as the Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, the Orfila Vineyards in Escondido, or the flower fields in Carlsbad) would be “huge in Oceanside,” there could also be a potential overuse of water and sewer services, as well as the possibility of overburdening police and fire departments.

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