Farmland Preservation Policy – Slippery Math?

Scrutinizing the process raises numerous policy questions for
city
Gilroy – The Glen Loma Ranch developers narrowly missed having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve farmland as part of the 360-acre development.

A consultant hired by the Filice family, who are responsible for the project that will bring 1,700 new homes to the city’s southwest quadrant, rated the land’s usefulness for farming at the next-to-lowest possible score under the state’s Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) model.

The two-part test uses a 100-point scale to judge if land is a “significant” agricultural resource. The model forms the heart of the city’s agricultural mitigation policy, which requires developers to preserve one acre of farmland for every acre of “significant” farmland they develop.

Local environmental group Save Open Space claims that Glen Loma avoided having to preserve roughly 50 acres based on a faulty assessment of water resources on the project site. Specifically, they claim that land along Uvas Creek could provide adequate groundwater to support farming, despite findings of an environmental consultant hired by the Filice family.

The consultant, David Kelley, determined that rainfall was the only source of water for crops. His assessment was based on soil tests, state and federal maps of soil types, and historic accounts of water availability provided by Filice family members who at different points farmed the site.

As seen in the box to the right, Kelley gave the project a score of 25 in the “water resource” category. That number translated into a site assessment rating of 18.75.

A score of 20 or more is required to qualify as a “significant” resource.

Carolyn Tognetti, a member of SOS, claims the land should have been assessed at a higher score given its capacity for irrigation. For instance, a score of 35 would have tipped the project into the preservation threshold.

Filice family members maintain that the aquifer by Uvas Creek never provided enough water for crops and the family had to pipe water in from other parts of the city.

City council members in recent weeks signed off on the Glen Loma project based on the developer’s LESA analysis.

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