Gerri Martin Comments to the Merced County Board of Supervisors

(Note: These comments were from November 2007)

I am a County of Merced resident. My husband & I own 3 separate parcels totaling approximately 80 acres. We farm walnuts. All of our land is in the Williamson Act, all of it on Vinewood Ave. in Livingston. The first week in August of this year, we discovered the City of Livingston was targeting our land for expansion of its Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant. We learned of this by chance when the City sent an appraiser to a neighboring farm, attempting to buy his land. This land is outside the city’s sphere of influence, and outside it’s fifty year planning area. This land is in production, and was not for sale.

In June of 2006 the City of Livingston bought the parcel next to us, 54.6 acres also outside its sphere of influence. The staff report prepared for the purchase of this property said it was needed for expansion of the Livingston domestic wastewater treatment plant. The funds for this purchase came from the domestic wastewater treatment fund.

At the August 7th, 2007 City Council Meeting I asked how the city could target land outside its sphere of influence. I asked how the city planned to get my land since we don’t want to sell. I was told by the City Manager that there were procedures the city could use to get my land.

I and other Vinewood Ave. farmers have asked in public meetings for the City of Livingston to consider alternative sites for their percolation ponds. In the August 21st edition of the Merced Sun Star, City Manager Warne said westward expansion of the sewer plant is needed because the city wants the discharge ponds to be farther away from densely populated areas. At the present time, there is no densely populated area anywhere near the sewer.

The City has now approved a new Park Master Plan. The land they bought with their sewer funds has now morphed into a community park. A community park with lighted athletic fields and a thirteen million dollar development price tag. I asked at a public meeting how property bought from sewer funds could be used for a park, and was told dual usage. Cities do it all the time.

At the last Livingston City Council Meeting, they discussed the possibility of putting four soccer fields on this land immediately. A Livingston resident asked, how can you do this, it is County land. A City official said, oh we just have to have a meeting with Merced County planning. After raising very real concerns about having soccer fields next to an agricultural operation, one City Councilman went so far as to state that our objections are not valid because we are not part of the Livingston community since (we) are county residents.

At the last Livingston Planning Commission hearing discussing the General Plan Comments, the City is now asserting that they don’t need this land for their sewer plant after all. Oops! They don’t need the land they already bought, but are still actively pursuing purchasing more land outside their sphere of influence? They don’t need the land they paid almost one and one half million dollars for?

The land the City purchased, and the land they are trying to purchase, is not in the city of Livingston’s sphere of influence. It is not in their fifty-year planning area. This land is not included in their EIR. This land is under the jurisdiction of Merced County. This land is designated agricultural in the County of Merced’s general plan. The City of Livingston is planning uses for this land without any consultation with or approval by Merced County. No environmental documents have been filed on this land. In fact, the Livingston City Manager told me that none were necessary.

I am here today, imploring the County of Merced to protect my farmland.

The relationship between the county farmers and city officials has become strained and adversarial. People may blame me for this, but when my land was threatened with eminent domain in a public forum, I had no other recourse but to begin speaking out.

Development of a park on this property would be growth inducing.

Soccer tournaments and walnut harvesting are not compatible.

How can a City go outside its sphere of influence to dictate land use?

Where are the Environmental Documents?

Where is the City of Livingston going to stop?

The land west of Washington Blvd. must be preserved as agricultural. I don’t consider sewer percolation ponds as ag usage.

If the county does not exercise its authority over this land, then the rest of the ag property along Vinewood Ave. will fall like dominoes.

I know developers have a strong influence in this county. But along Vinewood Ave. and Vinewood Circle in Livingston, there are more than a few farmers who do not want to develop their land. We want to farm. I am asking the Board of Supervisors of Merced County to help us to keep farming.

Thank you,

Gerri Martin

16181 Vinewood Ave.

Livingston, Ca. 95334

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