By James Gore
Sonoma County Supervisor, 4th District
As a County Supervisor here in Sonoma County, now in my ninth year, I pride myself on being someone who doesn’t merely wish for an optimistic future, but who works his tail off to manifest a vibrant future for our people, our businesses, and our natural resources. As the son of a farmer who has worked for decades in agribusiness and ag policy, I also know well the real frustrations and practical challenges Ag producers face in an ever-more-complicated world where compliance oftentimes runs counter to ground truth.
Over these years, as a community, we have traversed our way through a litany of disasters (fires, floods, droughts, and more), and I have been inspired to work with farmers, ranchers, producers, and employees to become more resilient than ever in the face of these tumultuous times.
Together, as a community we are making better use of water than ever before. Together, as a community, we are protecting more working lands and natural resources than ever. And, yet there is so much more to do, especially as the threats to working lands rise.
I want to thank the agriculture community for engaging in so many important issues of late. As I write this article, two recent issues rise to the top: our recent adoption of a new well ordinance and the ongoing review of Sonoma County’s Local Coastal Plan.
Updated Well Ordinance
With respect to the well ordinance, being faced with litigation and the mandate to take action to meet the public trust doctrine, the other Supervisors and I directed County staff to create policy and technical working groups to bring forward recommendations. Members of that group came from all sides of the issue, and agriculture stakeholders brought their ground truth and opinions to the table. That work created a consensus recommendation that came before our Board this past month. During that hearing, one quote from our Planning Director rang true: “This is the best policy we could create that all parties could live with.”
The item passed with a 3-2 split vote, and I voted with the majority to honor the hard-wrought recommendations brought forward from ag, environmental, and operational stakeholders. Not surprisingly, some members of that working group that created the “grand compromise” broke off from the initial recommendations and advocated for us to tighten restrictions further.
Here is a site with more information:
Note that these changes apply primarily to areas in the upper watersheds where water security is most fragile. The alluvial valleys and rangelands, where we have the vast majority of our agriculture, are not heavily impacted, as they are also the primary recharge areas in Sonoma County.
Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Review
I would like to sincerely thank the ranchers and farmers from Sonoma and Marin Counties who have stepped up over the past few months. The advocacy of Dayna Ghirardelli and the team has been exemplary. I was presented with detailed analysis on the impacts of draft language on long standing agriculture operations — predominately ranching — that has epitomized working lands productivity while protecting our coastline from overdevelopment, a true win-win. Those meetings led up to a Board of Supervisors study session where we gave voice to those practical concerns and reframed the narrative and process going forward. Lots of work to come on this, but we were able to honor Sonoma County’s Right to Farm ordinance and acknowledge landowners’ existing rights. Very important work. Lots of progress. More to come as we are set to review an update this summer.
I appreciate the opportunity to submit this article to Farm News and thank you all for your commitment sustaining and enhancing our agricultural heritage on the North Coast. While I have highlighted these two pressing items, I must acknowledge the plethora of other items that are ongoing and demand our attention. It seems that the only thing certain these days is that everything is uncertain. Despite that, my commitment is to continue partnering with landowners to preserve and improve our agricultural heritage and economy. As we confront issues ranging from water, to labor, to land use (to name a few), your voices and collaboration are more relevant and needed than ever.
Almost a decade into my time as a County Supervisor, I still consider it an honor to serve the greater good. If you’ve worked with me, as many of you have, you know that I am practical and serve in this role to Get Stuff Done. I’m not afraid to get into it, to embrace the outrage, and to work my way through the stormy angst that permeates many of the issues we face, and I thank you for doing the same. The future is what we make it.
Yours in service,
Sonoma County Supervisor, 4th District
Vice President, National Association of Counties
Past President, California State Association of Counties