Zoning Practice — April 2010

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by Nina Mukherji and Alfonso Morales, authors of the March 2010 Zoning Practice article "Zoning for Urban Agriculture."

Question from Flores Bishop, AICP:

I am absolutely thrilled for this topic to be on the table for serious discussion. I can think of no more compatible activities than residential and organic urban agriculture. Decentralization of agricultural activities is not only healthier, but fits with the ideals of sustainability and self-reliance.

I don't know if you are familiar with the San Diego story: In the 1970s, a tiered-approach to development, developed by Robert Freilich, was embraced by the City of San Diego to stave off wide-flung development which would be costly for the city to provide services. In the rural areas, designations of Current Urbanizing (green light) and Future Urbanizing (red light) were given. There was a broad expanse of land east of Del Mar called North City West, nestled between Highways 5 and 15. Designated as Future Urbanizing, this area attracted an organic company, Be Wise Ranch, which was able to farm 500 acres in that temperate coastal plain for a couple of decades.

The city's criterion for designation as agriculture was tied to the presence of rich soil. As a result, the San Pasqual Valley (Escondido) and the flood plain adjacent to the border with Mexico were the only two areas so designated within the city. The Ranch's experience in that area was that what the coastal strip may have lacked in soils was more than made up by the mild micro-climate. When the area's designation was changed to Current Urbanizing, the houses came in, and Be Wise Ranch was evicted.

The Ranch's operations are now confined to a much smaller growing area that has the agricultural soil but a microclimate that is harsher, registering at the temperature extremes of summer and winter. Thus, in order to start the spring/summer crops in that location, the planting beds have had to be covered with protective plastic sheeting, at an added expense.

You might want to contact the Ranch, through its website at www.bewiseranch.com, for more information about how short-sighted agricultural policies short-change the urban landscape.

Answer from authors Nina Mukherji and Alfonso Morales:

Thank you for your detailed response to our article — we're pleased that you shared these thoughts.

It seems as though detailed land inventories could have helped San Diego and other cities in the COG, rather than a simplistic model based on soils alone. Escondido, California, is one of the few cities to have a clear policy on urban agriculture as an interim use, although we are not sure if they have policy about urban agriculture as a permanent use, as some cities do. Here is the urban agriculture interim use summary and policy language and here is an article on the topic.

We would point you to deliberations in Kansas City where the city plan commission will be approving a zoning change to accommodate a 13-acre farm within the city. Mostly this victory for urban agriculture is based on a social movement in its support, but I (Morales) was interviewed last November by the Kansas City Star in support of their efforts, and we provided our research which has helped them develop their changes.

We would be pleased to follow efforts in San Diego and the area. Please feel free to keep us apprised.