Ag Facilities: In Town Or County?
Growers and shippers say their ag-processing facilities don't belong in the cities.
Thursday, February 20, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Leader of the Packers: Gary Tanimura of T&A produce says packing plants belong close to the fields and the loading docks, not in town.
Salad czar Gary Tanimura knows a thing or two about turning lettuce into cash. His father and grandfather grew iceberg lettuce in the 1930s on a small farm in Castroville. Twenty years later, the Tanimura family began working with grower Bud Antle, a pioneer in the vacuum-cooling process of packing iceberg lettuce for shipment-a process that would revolutionize the produce industry. A lettuce dynasty was born.
Now the Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle Corporation grows vegetables year round, on more than 40,000 acres in California and Arizona, and is the largest independent lettuce grower and distributor in the U.S.
The Tanimura family''s story is every Salinas Valley farmer''s dream, but many local growers and shippers say the dream will become a nightmare should County Supervisors accept a proposal by five Salinas Valley cities-Salinas, Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield and King City.
Elected officials in these cities want the county to stop or severely limit future development on the Valley floor-including homes, commercial and retail space. What Tanimura and other farmers are concerned about is that the cities also want to limit the development of agricultural facilities such as warehouses and refrigeration and packing houses. Instead, the cities want to see the ag facilities built within city limits. (The Board of Supervisors will hear another report from the cities on Feb. 25.)
Tanimura says the cities'' proposal doesn''t make financial or logistical sense.
"Here in Spreckels, I owned the ground already," he says, listing the vacuuming and packing buildings needed to process and ship T&A lettuce. "It''s all in line. It''s a clean set up.
"Whereas if I had to build in the city, like this proposal is talking about, there''s a much higher land cost. And logistically, too, my plant here in Spreckels is very close to my cooling facility so it''s a very quick, easy transfer to my loading docks."
Any Salinas driver who''s been stuck behind a produce truck in rush hour can appreciate that.
Tanimura-along with most other growers and shippers-says he doesn''t have a problem with city-centered growth when it comes to homes or retail and commercial offices. In fact, there are only a few lines in the Salinas Valley cities'' proposal that growers don''t like.
Those lines say:
"Agricultural Industrial/Winery-These projects, if located in the unincorporated area, shall be built in areas designed as City areas of planning concern. These projects shall be charged all applicable development fees of the city in whose planing area the project is built, with the fees shared 50/50 between the City and the County."
Ag buildings, local growers say, belong in the county, and preferable on farms.
John Culligan, the vice president of finance for Salinas-based D''Arrigo Bros., says there is not enough land in the cities to build, for example, a packing center on a 25-acre city lot.
"You end up having to pay the price for city development land, which ends up being an astronomical figure-anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 per acre.
"And those facilities don''t really belong in the city because of traffic impacts. We''re bringing in a couple hundred-field trucks a day. And that''s only us."
Although the Supervisors have yet to approve or deny the cities'' proposal, recently, both the Grower-Shipper Association and the Monterey County Farm Bureau have asked the Board to omit the language about ag- and wine-related facilities.
If the cities and the county make it more expensive to build food processing plants or other support facilities in Monterey County, many growers will be priced out of the industry, they say.
"The fact is, this industry tends to survive on low prices and thin margins," says Farm Bureau executive director Bob Perkins. "You don''t make a lot of money on commodities here in the long run, whether it''s grapes or lettuce or whatever. The money comes in when you find a way to add value to it. You chop up lettuce and put it in a bag and all of the sudden it''s worth many times what it was as lettuce. With grapes, you squeeze them, you ferment them and all of the sudden they are worth a whole lot more."
In late January, Grower-Shipper Association President James Bogart wrote a letter to the Supervisors asking the Board to "give careful thought" to the cities proposal.
"What we don''t need is a disincentive to build agriculture facilities," he said in an interview at his Salinas office. "We''re the economic engine that drives this county. I don''t think they understand that those facilities are as much as part of agriculture as the little green plants growing in the ground."