By Sustainable Solano

Nov 28, 2022

When it comes to how land is put to use in your community — whether rural or urban — it is important to remember that each local citizen has a voice and that those voices can influence government decisions around planning and zoning.

Experts on planning and land use discussed how to be informed and take action around such decisions at the Rural & Urban Land Use: Planning, Zoning & the Local Food System event on Nov. 3 hosted by the Solano Local Food System Alliance. The online event started with keynote speaker Dr. Catherine Brinkley with the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis, and a panel that included Solano County Planning Manager Allan Calder, Solano Land Trust’s Tracy Ellison, and Vacaville Senior Planner Tyra Hays. You can watch the video of the event below.

While the topics covered were wide-ranging, several highlights emerged.

During her keynote, Brinkley talked about the importance of looking at where similar zoning and planning decisions have been in effect and also analyzing where the gaps exist. This is difficult because city and county general plans have not been kept in a central location and, when they can be found on government websites, they are not always easy to search for the particular land use that is being researched.

“Not all plans are in the same place,” she said. “You can’t Google ‘I’d like a recipe for food security’ the way you do for pumpkin pie.”

That’s why the Center for Regional Change has been collecting general plans and creating a database that can be searched for keywords that will help to cut through the dense text of general plans. Searches show when the plans were created and can help to see if nearby jurisdictions are doing something similar or if a municipality might be the first to have an innovative policy in place. This can support everything from community advocacy to supporting general plan updates.

In the local food system, this might mean searching agricultural plans that affect policies and purchasing, development rights, or greenbelts in agricultural areas; looking at food equity policies; or exploring urban growth boundaries. You can learn more about the database here.

Another part of influencing the planning process around the food system is making sure you are involved. This is true for citizens of any age — even if you’re not yet old enough to vote, you can make your voice heard to influence planning decisions. Sometimes what it takes is showing up.

Hayes recommends speaking with city council members or bringing forth a proposal around planning issues. It can be involving yourself in general plan update meetings and land use discussions. Having interested residents who support an idea helps greatly, she said.

Calder said there are often technical or citizens advisory committees involved in shaping new plans, and these are opportunities to participate as a citizen in planning and zoning updates.

The panel also touched on hot topics including urban agriculture/community gardens; the use of prime ag land for greenhouse growing; agritourism; and foreign entities buying local farmland.

Interested in learning more about the local food system? The Solano Local Food System Alliance holds public educational events every quarter to address different topics that affect local food. The Alliance includes a wide variety of stakeholders committed to fulfilling the mission of creating an environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just and equitable local food system in Solano County. You can learn more about the Alliance here.