Opponents of Measure C, known as the "Save Farmland Initiative," have raised concerns about the possibility of stunting growth in Merced County.
Supporters think it wouldn't stunt growth, but would promote smart development.
Despite the fact that it's more of a county issue, city officials in Atwater and Livingston think there could be an impact on their towns because of it, though many claimed to know little about the measure.
If passed, the initiative would make it so that more than 10 acres of unincorporated agriculturally zoned land couldn't be rezoned to residential without a countywide vote.
Ideally, supporters say it would help restrict irresponsible development of farmland.
Cindy Lashbrook, a member of the Merced County Planning Commission who lives just outside Livingston, thinks the measure would benefit cities. "It will add direct growth," she said. "It does direct growth within the cities."
Not long ago, developers foresaw Merced County and much of the Valley as being similar to a suburb of San Jose, she said.
That hasn't worked out, and the lesson to be learned is the county hadn't planned for responsible development, Lashbrook said. She thinks voters could do a better job.
The measure would also prompt developers to work more closely with people living in the area they want to develop because they'd be dealing with them more directly, she added. A new development would need a lot of local support.
While there's a strong support group for Measure C, a heavy-hitting group opposes it. Companies helping to lead the charge against the measure deal in real estate, title insurance and construction -- all of which benefit from more development.
A "scare tactic" used by the opponents of Measure C is the threat of less expansion, she said. But cities can still annex land and the measure wouldn't have any effect on commercial property.
Land would still be able to go from agricultural to commercial without coming to a vote, Lashbrook said.
However, Supervisor John Pedrozo thinks the measure would take authority away from the officials who are best equipped to make land use decisions -- the Board of Supervisors. "I think we make the best decisions when it comes to land use," he said. "As a board, it's important for us to make those decisions."
Taking authority away from elected officials shouldn't be taken lightly, Pedrozo said.
If passed, the measure would also have people voting on issues that might not directly relate to where they live.
Though there may be benefits, Atwater Mayor Joan Faul thinks the process in place now isn't something that should be hastily changed. "I think the idea is good, but there needs to be more study," she said.
The complex issue could have an impact on future growth, Faul said. Farmland is important, especially for cities based in farming communities, but passing the initiative wouldn't serve as a fix-all.
"Farm preservation is important," she said. "No one wants to preserve farmland more than I do."
In Livingston, Planning Commissioner Kaye Greeley hasn't yet made a choice to support or oppose the measure. She's for protecting California farmland, but doesn't want to take it too far.
"Protecting farmland is good," she said. "We supply the majority of food to the rest of the country."
Greeley also mentioned that saving farmland is good for Livingston's economy, since it's located in a farming community.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.