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Western View: The Right to Not Farm

Taylor HillmanFeatures, Western View

We’re all concerned about a farmer’s right to farm; but what about the right not to farm?

Marin County is located across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco, and is one of the most scenic coastal regions in the world. It’s also one of the most regulated areas in the country, and has a new forced-farming mandate that is designed to keep farmers farming there. However, one Marin County turkey farmer is fighting for the right to retire from farming.

Willie Benedetti, owner and president of Benedetti Farms and Willie Bird Turkeys, doesn’t want to quit anytime soon; he is quite content to continue raising his turkeys and planting his crops. He’s concerned because a new county forced-farming mandate says that, to get a permit to build a house for his son on his land, he must stay in the business of farming. That’s right, the county dictates that he must remain a farmer.

Enacted as part of the county’s new Local Coastal Program, and officially approved by the California Coastal Commission, the mandate requires landowners to remain “actively and directly engaged” in agriculture. The ordnance was enacted to control growth and development in the region.

Mr. Benedetti has obtained the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation or PLF. They take on cases like this around the country, fighting for limited government, property rights, and individual liberty.

Calling it a coercive requirement, a PLF representative explained that the lawsuit challenges the requirement as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, because it unconstitutionally deprives Willie of his liberty to engage in the career of his choosing. The requirement is also challenged under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, because it amounts to an unreasonable dictate with no tie to any public need created by any development project application.

In a news release, PLF attorney Jeremy Talcott said the government can’t use development permits as instruments of raw coercion, forcing applicants to dance to the bureaucracy’s arbitrary whims. He said that this attempt to dictate people’s lives and futures doesn’t just violate constitutionally protected property rights, it violates fundamental human liberty to choose if, when, and how you work.

It’s amazing that Marin County has the audacity to tell permit applicants what line of work they must pursue, just for trying to build a home on their own property. Best of luck to the PLF attorneys.

I’m Len Wilcox, and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.