By Lindsey Mebane, President, Kern County Young Farmers & Ranchers
You’ve probably figured out by now there are a few things I’m passionate about. Those would be agriculture, cattle, and family. There are things happening in California that I feel are threatening what I love.
Let’s start with Proposition 15 on the November ballot. It’s a split roll measure that is deceptively titled “California Schools and Local Community Funding Act of 2020.” Sounds good, but here’s what they aren’t telling you. In a September 2020 article from the California Cattlemen’s Magazine, Kirk Wilbur explains that in 1978 Proposition 13 dictated that property taxes for residential and business property were to be calculated based on one percent of the purchase price, with annual property tax increased capped at 2 percent. If Prop 15 passes, commercial and industrial properties would be removed from Prop 13 protections and be reassessed at current market value every three years. That equates to as much as a $12 billion increase annually. Items like barns, methane digesters, food processing facilities, wineries, fruit and nut trees, small businesses, solar projects, etc. are at risk of higher taxes. This tax increase hurts every aspect to move food from farm to fork.
Proposition 15 gives local governments an incentive to move lands away from agricultural use in favor of more commercial uses in order to increase their tax base. This bill could force some producers to make choices to sell land to developers because they won’t be able to afford to produce food. I work for a farm that grows potatoes. If taxes increase, that means the cost of our potatoes for people to buy in stores increases. The cost of living also increases, and I think it is already pretty pricey to live in California. I am a fifth-generation cattle rancher, and the thought of my family having to ever make the choice to get rid of our ranch makes my stomach turn. We already have the sixth generation for our operations on both my and my husband’s sides of the family, but if there is no ranch to pass on to them, then our family legacies die.
There are some easy ways to help defeat Prop 15. First would be to vote NO on your ballot this November and encourage others to do the same. You can visit www.noonprop15.org for information. California Farm Bureau, California Cattlemen’s Association, and other organizations are working together to defeat this. The website has great tools such as social media posts and guides for writing letters to make sure our voices are heard.
Now to another subject. I’m sure you’re aware of California being on fire right now. Of the twenty largest California wildfires, three of them were in my home county. The Laguna (1970), the Cedar (2003), and the Witch (2007) all affected our ranch. I was in high school during the Cedar fire and our ranch turned into an evacuation site. We had to get to the mountains to open gates in hopes that if the fire came, the cattle could find their way down. It burned 273,246 acres and killed 15 people. The Witch Fire started from power lines and had a starting point behind my grandparents’ home. It totaled 197,990 acres and took out our winter pasture. The ranch had tough decisions to make and had to sell some of the herd because we couldn’t feed them.
The cause of the wildfires ranges from humans, powerlines, lightning, and still under investigation. These fires can be much less destructive if handled differently. Governor Newson has stated that the increase in wildfires in California is due to climate change, and I disagree. There are many environmental rules and regulations that cause our forests to be overgrown. Federal land can be managed, and we have the resources. I worked during college for the Forest Service, Cleveland National Forest, and got to learn about the land and the fuel types. The Forest Service and other agencies work to maintain the land through prescribed burns or even grazing.
A Forbes article from February 2019 titled “Wildfires Caused by Bad Environmental Policy are Causing California Forests to be Net CO2 Emitters” stated that this is California’s big secret: it’s not climate change that’s burning up forests, killing people, and destroying homes; it’s decades of environmental mismanagement that has created a tinderbox of unharvested timber, dead trees, and thick underbrush. These fires have attracted the attention of President Trump who insists that, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.” If policies continue to make it difficult for timber and forest management then wildfires are going to continue and be more deadly. Tuolumne Farm Bureau has a slogan, “Log it, Graze it, or Watch it Burn.” Farmers and Ranchers are stewards of the land, but if regulations keep them from doing so then we are going to continue to see our state burn.
I hope I was able to shed light on some issues and encourage you to help be a part of the solution for California agriculture.