One more bump in the road for Measure C may have come in the form of a proposal to opt out of a popular state law put in place to protect ag land.
At Tuesday's Merced County Supervisors meeting, outgoing supervisor Mike Nelson said he would support removing the county from the Williamson Act if Measure C, a countywide initiative on the November ballot meant to limit sprawl, were passed.
"I think Measure C will in effect render the Williamson Act obsolete in Merced County," said Nelson.
The Williamson Act was passed in 1965 as a way to preserve local open space and ag land from development by giving landowners who participate incentives through lower property taxes.
In Merced County the act today protects 470,000 acres, or nearly half the county's ag land. But those protected lands mean nearly $1 million in property tax revenue that the county doesn't receive every year, according to the County Assessor's Office.
Nelson pointed out that if Measure C passes, all the land protected under the Williamson Act would basically be protected from development anyway. With that protection in place, the county could use that lost tax revenue on other items, said Nelson.
Measure C, or Save Farmland, would protect ag land from development, proponents argue, by forcing a countywide vote anytime a landowner wanted to rezone 10 acres or more of ag land for urban uses.
The Merced County Farm Bureau's response to Nelson's idea was far from warm.
"Once again Supervisor Nelson shows how out of touch he is with the constituents of Merced County," wrote Amanda Carvajal, the farm bureau's executive director, in an e-mail. "He as well as others elected in Merced continue to turn a blind eye to the ag industry and the $2.5 billion we created in 2009."
Carvajal went on to note the popularity of the Williamson Act, which, as a financial incentive for farmers to continue farming, creates jobs in Merced.
Measure C, she said, was put on the ballot because "the supervisors continue to rubber-stamp out-of-town developers" while locals have to deal with the consequences.
In contrast, the other supervisors weren't so hostile to the idea.
Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said Nelson's sudden realization about the Williamson Act and its possible similarity with Measure C is more a factor of his departure from office than anything else. It was Kelsey's observation that the farm bureau, which played a big role in passing the Williamson Act and backed Measure C, didn't endorse Nelson.
She added, "I think the points Mr. Nelson made certainly warrant discussion."
Nelson said his idea has nothing to do with not getting a farm bureau endorsement.
Supervisor Hub Walsh said the question about whether Measure C would affect the Williamson Act does need to be asked.
Even if Measure C passed, all the county's supervisors wouldn't be able to vote on the issue. Three supervisors -- Kelsey, John Pedrozo and Jerry O'Banion -- own land protected by the act. So any vote would be among Supervisor Nelson, Walsh and one of the other supervisors chosen randomly by drawing straws.
Allowing one of the supervisors with a conflict of interest to participate is warranted under the necessity rule. Without a third vote, there would be no quorum, said James Fincher, county counsel.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.