Lemoore Council likely to respond to proposed feedlot near Lemoore and college

By Ed Martin, Editor
The Lemoore City Council Tuesday night (Jan. 18) will discuss a proposed feedlot and slaughterhouse proposed for the southwest corner of Highway 198 and Highway 41.
The Lemoore City Council Tuesday night (Jan. 18) will discuss a proposed feedlot and slaughterhouse proposed for the southwest corner of Highway 198 and Highway 41.

A California developer, farmer, and water buyer, John Vidovich, is seeking approval to build a beef feedlot and processing plant near Lemoore on what appears to be a 789-acre project located along Highway 41, just south of Highway 198.

In December, Vidovich filed an application with the Kings County Planning Department for a slaughterhouse and a feedlot for up to 12,500 animals.

The proposed project has raised local eyebrows. According to some observers, the facility is expected to hold a 1,000-cow feedlot (which can be developed upwards of 12,500 animals) and a slaughterhouse at the proposed site, within spitting distance of the city of Lemoore and West Hills College Lemoore.

A pair of those eyebrows belonged to former farmer and three-term Kings County Supervisor Tony Oliveira, who served from 1999 through 2010 and didn't find out about the upcoming project until Jan. 11.

"What I was most alarmed about was how I, and most people in the area, knew nothing of this proposal," he told The Leader. "In talking to the planning department, I found out that the initial step is to notify essential agencies in the area for comments. What was so disappointing and alarming was that West Hills College and other educational institutions in the area are not considered agencies of required notification and (that) needs to be amended," said Oliveira.

The City of Lemoore is one such agency obligated to respond. According to Lemoore's city manager, local officials will likely respond to the feedlot proposal at Tuesday's (Jan. 18) council meeting. "The city will be issuing a response to the feedlot proposal," said Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson. He indicated that a proposal was currently being drafted for the council's Tuesday night approval. "The plan is to hold a special meeting on Tuesday, then submit," he explained to The Leader via a text.

Olson did not indicate what the response might say.

However, first-term councilmember Frank Gornick, West Hills College's longtime chancellor and one of the guiding forces behind the expansion of the college in Lemoore, says he isn't opposed to a feedlot and processing plant. Still, he insists that it doesn't belong near the city and college.

"I have sent my opinion to three county supervisors and our city manager. The city manager is in the process of coordinating a response, "said Gornick.

"The issue is the location. We're not trying to stop enterprise, okay," he added, suggesting that Lemoore's citizens, over the years, have invested heavily in Lemoore and might have problems with a feedlot and slaughterhouse within shouting distance of the city's population.  

"We have one of the premier colleges in the country, and they want to put a slaughterhouse right next to it?"

"I don't know why the county can't work with Sandridge (Vidovich's company) and suggest other locations because it's going to cause the county significant issues in terms of air quality – Kings County doesn't have the best," said Gornick

The project is indeed within eyesight of Lemoore and across Highway 198, where West Hills College sits, and, also, where an approved 200-house subdivision is scheduled within walking range of the college. There is also an existing subdivision just southeast of the college near Highway 198 (Cimmaron Park).

Vidovich owns the property in question, and he is well known in Valley circles. According to news reports, he owns Sandridge Partners, LP, a farmland investment firm that has accumulated more than 100,000 acres of Valley farmland in recent years.

However, Vidovich has been somewhat of a welcome presence to some in Kings County. His company has donated items to Stratford Elementary School and recently helped Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson create a pheasant-raising and release program for jail inmates to earn credit.

According to published articles, Vidovich comes from a Silicon Valley family, and he bought his first Kings County property in a foreclosure in 1994. He holds a little more than 100,000 acres in Kings County, 40,000 acres in Kern, and 10,000 acres in Tulare County.

He is also known for his water deals. Vidovich, in 2009, according to media reports, sold the rights to 14,000-acre-feet of state water from a Kings County water district to southern California for $73 million.

According to sources, an application for a proposed feedlot and slaughterhouse was submitted last month. Notices were sent to the oversight agencies, including the City of Lemoore, Caltrans, and other relevant agencies.

Before anything gets built, Kings County planners will study the project, and county officials will likely hire a consultant for an environmental impact study (CEQA). As in most significant projects, there will be public hearings to review the proposed project's impacts.

Kings County Supervisor Joe Neves, whose district would contain the proposed feedlot and slaughterhouse, suggests that the process for approval is just beginning. "We're just in the preliminary parts of planning for this," he said.

"There are a lot of good places for it (feedlot). I'm not sure that it (location) being one of the busiest places in Kings County is the right place for that. There are a lot more rural areas that would be able to support that operation."

Neves also added that there would undoubtedly be an effort to explore more reasonable sites for the facility, away from educational and city populations.

"I want to be as open-minded as I can and get all the facts I can," he insisted. "This is the first step of a long journey. It will be interesting to see what the regulatory boards say. I'm going to let the regulatory agencies go through their process and go from there.

"Would I build there if I had the money? No. Of all the property available in Kings County, I'm not sure why he chose that property. This project may not be fully thought out," said Neves.

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