By Michael Raffety
Mountain Democrat 7-16-14
The criteria to qualify for the Small Farm rate remained unchanged Monday, except for the addition of “qualified livestock” and a minor tweak.
The 1:30 p.m. hearing concluded by 4 p.m. with a 3-2 vote of the El Dorado Irrigation District board and applause from an audience of mostly small farmers.
“I find it ironic nothing has changed,” said Board President Alan Day, who, along with Director Greg Prada voted against the motion.
Discussion indicated “marketable livestock” does not include poultry as qualifying for the Small Farm rate.
The minor tweak was to eliminate the reference to IRS Schedule F and replace it with wording about appropriate IRS forms, which could also mean K-1 partnerships forms. The requirement to show an IRS form showing at least $3,500 in annual gross sales of land-based agricultural products remains in effect. Also remaining in effect is the alternative of review by the El Dorado County Department of Agriculture, which submits a certificate of compliance to EID.
The IRS alternative was part of the criteria for “the small number of people who don’t want Ag Department people on their property,” said Director George Osborne.
Some 40 or more applications that had been frozen by the general manager Jan. 9 will be allowed to apply, but further applications will remain frozen until the drought emergency comes to an end.
The action July 14 was precipitated by a motion from Director Bill George and seconded by Director Dale Coco.
“Don’t tell people what crops, don’t tell them they can’t have grass. If you keep changing the criteria there’s no way to plan for anything. That’s what’s wrong with our national economy,” said George.
The current eligibility had gone into effect June 21, 1999. The Small Farm rate was devised as a replacement for the Domestic Irrigation rate, which had been eliminated as a rate class effective Jan. 1, 2013.
In 2012 There were 1,269 Domestic Irrigation customers and 210 Small Farm rate customers. In 2013 the Small Farm rate saw a 45 percent increase in customers to 381 and Domestic Irrigation customers declined 11 percent in the same period to 1,126.
In 2014 there were zero Domestic Irrigation Customers and 720 Small Farm customers. That was less than half of the 1,587 combined total customers for both Domestic Irrigation and Small Farm rates in 2013.
Small Farms, Agricultural Metered and Ditch customers totaled 648 in the 2012 Comprehensive Financial Report out of 39,403 customers. Those three customer classes accounted for 1.6 percent of the total EID customers in 2012.
“People already made their investment. Is this a Proposition 218 violation if you change the rate?” asked small farmer Jenny Bartowski prior to the vote.
Small farmer John Kingsbury said he had invested in orchard, deer fencing, drip irrigation and had added olive trees. “I put in all this investment. Think about what you are doing. If we can’t trust what we’re hearing, we can’t trust that six months later you will change the criteria. We’re paying residential rates on the first tier.” Noting that he also is raising livestock, Kingsbury added, “I don’t like buying hamburger grown by 200 cows.”
“Has farming increased or decreased since you attacked farmers,” asked Sue Taylor.
“Be a supporter of agriculture and be as lenient as you can,” said El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce executive Laurel Brent-Bumb.
“It’s an expensive proposition. It took us years to break even on our grape crop,” said Farm Bureau executive Valerie Zentner about her personal small farm endeavor.
Bob Leigh said he had been farming since 1988 when EID “encouraged us to plant. The water you have today is because of folks like me. My consumption is down 50 percent. I’m trying to preserve what I’ve got. I’m going to drop some crop and now you want us to make more money. My position is clearly these rules (proposed) violate Proposition 218.”
Three El Dorado Hills residents spoke against the Small Farm rate, saying Single-Family Residential rate customers are “subsidizing” the Small Farm rate.
“Mr. Prada and Day have framed this as a business,” said Dr. Robert Shuman. “It’s the music of life. Those who say you don’t get anything, I say BS. It’s a value that needs to be nurtured and sustained,” said the medical doctor-small farmer.