Council Passes Right-To-Farm Ordinance, Rejects Energy-Efficiency Studies for Developers

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The Turlock City Council approved a new, right-to-farm ordinance on Tuesday, but rejected a plan which would have required developers of large new buildings to conduct energy-efficiency assessments.

The Council was required to consider both initiatives as part of a settlement with the California Clean Energy Committee, a Davis-based non-profit which filed a lawsuit challenging the city's General Plan did not do enough to protect the environment.

“It's our obligation to bring them forward, to go through the appropriate process, and to make the recommendation that we recommend approval,” said City Attorney Phaedra Norton.

But a settlement cannot compel legislative action, merely require council consider taking that action.

Councilmembers had few problems with the right-to-farm ordinance, which states that no commercial agricultural operation conducted on agriculturally-zoned land can be considered a nuisance. Only Councilmember Amy Bublak voted against the ordinance, as she believes that the California Clean Energy Committee's lawsuit was “frivilous.”

Neighboring residences or businesses must “accept the inconveniences associated with agricultural operations, such as noise, odors, flies, dust or fumes.” The “right-to-farm” will apply only to agricultural operations in existence for more than three years, which were not considered nuisances when they began.

The right-to-farm ordinance will return for a final vote during the May 14 meeting of council.

The energy efficiency review mandate, however, drew a mixed reaction from council.

The mandate would have required developers of buildings 50,000 square feet or greater to submit a cost efficiency analysis of of energy-savings measures which reducing power usage 15 percent more than required in California's green building code. Developers would not have been required to implement the efficiency measures, merely consider their cost-effectiveness.

Such review would likely add some additional costs for builders, depending on how comprehensive their architect's initial review of energy efficiency measures is. The cost could range from a few thousand dollars, to essentially free.

“I have so many levels of discomfort with this,” Bublak said. “… We just reduced fees in an effort to bring the economy around a little bit, and then we're going to add fees on the other side.”

Turlock sees about one 50,000 square foot or larger building constructed each year, staff said. Reviewing the additional plan would take about one hour of staff time per permit, at a cost of roughly $100.

“That's not real significant,” Mayor John Lazar said.

But a 3-2 majority of council felt otherwise, considering the potential costs too great for builders and the city alike.

“Can we make a motion to not approve it?” Councilmember Steven Nascimento asked.

Bublak, Nascimento, and Councilmember Bill DeHart voted to reject the energy-efficiency study requirement. Lazar and Councilmember Forrest White cast votes against rejecting it.

“Yes, I don't want it,” DeHart said, casting his vote.

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