Land Use Working Paper
From RUCS Wiki
DRAFT: August 18, 2009
Introduction: A Rural Perspective on Land Use
The Rural-Urban Connections Strategy was initiated by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) Board of Directors in January, 2008 to identify ways to help the rural areas of the 6-county SACOG region to have healthy economies. The project is developing knowledge about the economic realities of rural county and city local governments and property owners who are trying to earn a living for the uses of their rural lands. Through the Blueprint and Metropolitan Transportation Plan projects over the last six years, SACOG has developed data, analysis and plans that illustrate that the success of our region’s urban and rural areas are inextricably linked – one can not succeed over the long-term without the other succeeding as well.
This paper discusses policies, programs and issues that affect the use of rural lands in the Sacramento Region. Whether for agriculture, habitat, rural home sites, urban development, recreation or open space, the use of land has implications for the viability of rural communities, agricultural operations, and natural habitats, as well as the provision of public services and the creation and maintenance of physical infrastructure. Taken together, these various uses of land determine the long-term economic viability and environmental sustainability of rural areas and are an important part of achieving similar objectives for the entire region. Part One assesses the current land use policies and issues in the region. Part Two presents innovative land use policies and programs that support economic viability and/or environmental sustainability.
Part One: A Review of the Current State of Rural Land Use In the Sacramento Region
The opportunities and challenges in rural parts of our region are directly affected by the Sacramento region’s strong population growth and commensurate development pressure, particularly over the last ten years. From 1988 to 2005, the region grew by approximately 657,000 people. In that same time, approximately 200,000 acres of farmland were lost to urban and rural development. That is over 5% of the total farmland acres existing in the region, much of which is higher quality farmland and in unincorporated areas. The impact of this trend on the rural economy is illustrated in Figure 1: From 1985 to 2009, the value agricultural commodities in the region declined in near parallel with the decline in agricultural acres. The six counties in the SACOG region, although unique in many ways, face similar challenges when it comes to policy making for their rural lands. Policy makers are often confronted with the competing demands of maintaining agricultural and open space, funding infrastructure and public services, economic development, growth pressures and land rights.
Figure 1:Agricultural Commodities and Acres from 1985 – 2006
This paper is intended to provide a foundation for a regional discussion and inquiry into key questions around the topic of rural land use, including: What are the types of rural land uses in our region? How do these uses benefit and/or impede each other? What are the goals of land use policies and standards in rural areas of the region? Are recent land use trends consistent with the goals? What is unique and what is common about land use goals and trends in the rural areas of our region? In support of this discussion, Part One of this paper is organized into two sections:
Section 1: A Review of Current Land Use Policies
The region’s rural landscapes serve multiple open space purposes, from food production to habitat, recreation to flood control. The general plan policies of the region’s six counties try to capture and support these multiple purposes. The policies reviewed herein address most of the open space uses and benefits of the rural landscape, as well as the issues surrounding those uses. For the reader’s reference, Appendix A includes source information for the general plan elements referenced in this paper.
Rural Land Use Designations
Across the region, rural uses are generally designated as agricultural (intensive and extensive agriculture), open space, recreation, forest (or timber) and rural or agricultural residential. With 55 percent of the region’s acreage designated as agriculture or timber, and another 21 percent designated as other types of open space, rural land uses comprise a majority of the region’s land uses.2 Development standards typically require minimum lot sizes of 10 or 20 acres for agricultural and forested lands and 1 or 5 acres in the case of rural residential lands. Hence, by policy, agriculture generally starts at parcel sizes of 10 acres, with the exception of Placer County where its “Farm” zone has a minimum lot size of 4.6 acres and some parcels are as small as one acre. Current land conditions reflect this policy: a 2008 survey of commodity agriculture crops in the region indicates that over 90 percent of the region’s crops are grown on lands designated for agriculture at 20 acre minimums or greater.3
While this picture probably captures the vast majority of farming activity in the region, it does not fully represent the activities on parcels smaller than 10 acres in size. Parcels of 10 acres and smaller tend to be categorized by rural residential or agricultural-residential general plan designations. Rural or agricultural residential designations are intended primarily for residential use, but also allow for at least limited agricultural use where ample water supply and suitable soils are available. Parcels designated by this land use may have small-scale agriculture in addition to residential uses, but the scale of agriculture is sometimes difficult to capture in a land use survey. Examples of these small-scale agriculture areas include Apple Hill in El Dorado County, where an agritourism industry thrives on average parcel sizes of 8 acres, and in the Newcastle area of Placer County, where small farms operate on average parcel sizes of 5 acres. The emphasis of use is reversed in other rural land use designations (agricultural, timber, and open space); most are intended primarily for agricultural production or resource protection but allow for the development of at least one home site.
Conflicts Between Land Uses
One of the most fundamental policy issues at the rural-urban interface is striking the balance between expansion of urban areas to support a growing population and supporting productive agricultural operations and/or important natural resources. All six counties have general plan policies that direct or limit urban growth to urban areas, community areas, or cities’ spheres of influence. These policies aim to preserve agricultural and natural resource lands and also promote orderly growth. Yolo and Sutter Counties have policies that are somewhat more restrictive than the others, directing urban development to existing cities and/or their spheres of influence and to existing unincorporated communities. In Sutter County, land use planning for the spheres of influences of Yuba City and Live Oak are the responsibility of those cities, subject to county approval (General Plan Policy 1.B-1). Similarly, Yolo County requires urban uses to be placed within incorporated cities or within the urban service areas of unincorporated urban areas (General Plan Policy ADM 15) and as a matter of policy responds negatively to proposals to extend existing service facilities outside of urban areas.
In addition to city and county policies, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) are governed in their review and approval of spheres of influence and city boundary changes by the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000. As a protection for lands under Williamson Act contract, the CKH Act prohibits LAFCos from including such lands in a sphere adjustment or city annexation without first making certain findings and/or the Williamson Act contract meeting certain provisions. Additionally, the Yolo County LAFCO has adopted an agricultural mitigation policy that is required for annexations if a jurisdiction doesn’t have a formal agricultural mitigation policy adopted.
Outside of spheres of influence, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, and Yuba counties direct urban growth into community area boundaries in unincorporated parts of the counties. In El Dorado County, it is Rural Centers and Community Regions, and in Yuba County and Placer County, it is community boundaries. In Sacramento County, land expected to receive urban levels of public infrastructure and services within the planning period of the General Plan is defined by the Urban Policy Area (UPA). The County’s Urban Services Boundary (USB) indicates the ultimate boundary of the urban area in the unincorporated County. These boundaries establish infrastructure extension limitations; therefore these are currently the limitations of urban expansion into rural areas.
In many parts of the rural region, agriculture and other open space uses share roadways with rural housing development. The region has approximately 246,000 acres of existing rural housing (roughly 57,000 units) and another 337,000 acres of potential rural housing according to rural residential general plan designations. The capacity for additional rural housing in the region is anywhere between 28,000 and 67,000 housing units (assuming 1 acre per house and 5 acres per house, respectively). Given the potential new rural housing, traffic impacts on agriculture operations from both rural residential and urban uses may continue to increase, exacerbating one of the key conflicts in rural areas. SACOG’s transportation modeling shows that on average, non-agricultural rural residents (living on 1-10 acres) have an average of 80 vehicle miles traveled per household, compared to an average of 30 vehicle miles traveled per household in urban areas. Rural economic development and agritourism objectives may exacerbate this conflict. As well, a lack of farmworker housing not only challenges labor supply, it may contribute to traffic impacts as workers drive or are transported sometimes long distances. And in some areas, farmworker housing that is available is generally far from retail, medical and other services creating another source of traffic on rural roadways. Collectively, these sources of travel on rural roads can negatively affect agricultural operations.
Another effect of development in or near rural areas is the potential for land use conflict between agriculture and non-agricultural uses in the form of dust, odor and other nuisances from agriculture and theft, pets and other nuisances from encroaching housing or other non-agriculture. Land use conflicts compounded by high land values at the rural-urban edge, make it difficult for farmers to maintain economically viable operations. Where agriculture or open space uses are adjacent to urban uses, jurisdictions maintain some or all of the following policies to manage the potential conflicts and effects of this rural-urban interface, sometimes with mixed results.
The Right-to-Farm Ordinance requires a real estate disclosure be given to all new property owners in the counties explaining the farmer’s right to farm and that sounds, smells, etc. are part of a normal farming practice and shall not be considered a nuisance. However, the agricultural department in each county reported that they still receive complaints on a regular basis at the time this report was written.
Placer and El Dorado Counties also receive complaints related to agricultural tourism, specifically wineries where tastings are allowed or special events are permitted. These complaints are generally targeted towards the traffic and noise associated with events and safety on the rural roads. As a result, Placer and El Dorado Counties have developed Winery Ordinances, which provide wineries with specific regulations regarding uses such as wine tasting and promotional events. Placer County’s Winery Ordinance was adopted at the end of August 2008, while El Dorado County’s was adopted February 2009.
Non-agricultural lands in the region are subject to buffer requirements to help minimize the conflict between agricultural and non-agricultural uses. Sutter and Placer Counties’ agricultural buffers range from 100-800 feet depending on crop type, Yuba and Yolo Counties require a minimum 100-300 foot buffer, Sacramento County ranges from 300-500 feet, and El Dorado County requires a 200 foot buffer that may be administratively reduced if certain Board adopted criteria are met. El Dorado County also has minimum lot size requirement of 10 acres for rural parcels adjacent to urban areas. Buffers have had mixed success as a tool to minimize conflicts between agriculture and other uses as agriculture commissioners still receive complaints from residents despite the presence of buffers. As the region’s population increase and development encroaches on farm operations, the potential for conflicts and complaints from both residents and farmers increases.
Figure 2: Example of a Hard-Edge Transition Zone (City limits of Davis, Yolo County)
Policy makers for a long time have searched for effective means for transitioning between urban and rural uses, contemplating what types of agricultural uses work most harmoniously near urban uses and vice versa. In a few areas of the region, a hard-edge has been delineated between urban and rural uses (Figure 2). Yolo County, for example, supports a “hard line” between urban and agricultural areas by means of an agreement with its cities to direct growth to urban areas in exchange for a “pass through” of redevelopment tax increment revenue to the county. In other parts of the region, rural residential or agricultural residential zoning have been seen as “soft-edge” transition zone from urban to agricultural uses (Figure 3). An example of this is the western edge of the Yuba City Sphere of Influence in Sutter County. These two approaches to demarcating rural and urban uses raise some questions about the effect such policies have on minimizing urban encroachment and the viability of agriculture.
Figure 3:Example of Soft-Edge Transition Zone (City limits of Yuba City, Sutter County)
One consideration is whether rural residential parcelization reduces the likelihood that these areas will eventually convert to urban uses. Given the difficulty of assembling parcels and building urban infrastructure, some planners assert that rural residential areas will remain basically as they are, aside from occasional parcel splits. If this is the case, these areas may in fact reduce the likelihood that urban development will encroach, thereby acting as buffer or transition zone. However, this potentially has implications for the land on either side of a transition area. A rural residential buffer, without strong policies to direct new growth to existing urban lands and infrastructure, could set up a leap-frog development pattern whereby new development occurs on the rural side of a transition zone. On the rural side of this transition zone, rural residential development, can conflict with industrial agricultural practices, with the potential effect of pressuring agriculture at the edge to change practices or cease entirely. On the urban side of a rural residential transition zone, the residential transition area can put demands on city infrastructure and services without fully paying into those services.
To the extent that rural residential parcelization occurs within spheres and community plans, the effectiveness of these areas to manage urban growth may be limited. With parcel sizes ranging from 1-10 acres, rural residential uses within an urban boundary can reduce urban land supply more rapidly than expected. Figure 4, below, shows that within the region’s SOIs and community plan areas 19% of recent new housing permits are for rural residential units on 80% of the developed land. Using assessor data, SACOG estimates that of the 504,000 unincorporated acres in spheres and community areas, approximately 24% is developed parcels of 1-10 acres and of that approximately half, or 59,000 acres, is for rural residential use. At this rate, the value of rural residential areas acting as a transition zone may be limited if the result is more land supply being needed more rapidly for urban development in the future.
Figure 4: Finaled Housing Permits by Housing Type
In the case of hard-edge transition zones, the abrupt change from urban uses, often residential, to agriculture, can also yield conflicts if adequate buffer distances are not enforced. The proximity of urban infrastructure in a hard-edge transition area and the large parcel sizes of the unincorporated land are also ideal ingredients for new development. The combination of land use conflicts and development pressure may lead the farmer to cease farming and sell the land to development interests. In order for the hard-edge transition to work, strong city and county policies regarding the urban-rural interface are important to protecting long-term agricultural use at the urban edge.
Economic Development and Agritourism
Rural economic development and agritourism policies in most counties are one and the same. Current general plan policies support and encourage existing agricultural-based and natural resource-related industries. Sacramento County has general plan policies that encourage the expansion of local agricultural products into international markets and encourages the growth of commercial agricultural businesses (Policies ED-15 and ED-21). Similarly, Sutter County encourages the export of local products into the foreign market (Policy 6.B-4). Sutter County also has policies in place supporting the expansion of agricultural businesses in the county. Yuba County’s General Plan Land Use Policy 140 protects all natural resources upon which the county’s basic economy depends (recreation, agriculture, mining, and tourism). Yolo County has a policy to work with operators of private agritourism and eco-tourism operations to encourage regional marketing programs and to ensure that public and private efforts are complimentary (General Plan Policy RP 24). Yolo County also has several general plan policies promoting various types of tourism and recreation in the County. In its draft general plan, Yolo County is contemplating the use of agricultural districts to support rural economic development (see Part II of this Paper for more discussion of Agricultural Districts). Placer County allows on-farm product handling and selling, including farm stands, in any agricultural land use designation. Additionally Placer County has several general plan policies supporting the development of tourist and recreational facilities (Policies 1.N.1, 1.N.3, 1.N.14).
Agritourism businesses also tend to coincide with or locate in the same areas as small-scale farms. SACOG’s data on agritourism and small scale farms, while not comprehensive for the whole region, shows a high incidence of small farms with an agritourism component. Some counties explicitly promote or encourage agritourism in this context, with policies tailored to the land uses and farming activities of that county. For example, El Dorado County Policy 10.1.6.1 states that “The County shall encourage expansion of the types of local industries that promote tourism including but not limited to Christmas tree farms, wineries, outdoor sports facilities, Apple Hill and other agricultural-related activities, the County Fairground, bed and breakfast inns, and ranch marketing activities.” El Dorado County also has a policy that directs the majority of its transient occupancy tax-generated revenue towards the promotion of general tourism, entertainment, business, and leisure travel in the county (General Plan Policy 10.1.6.4).
Jobs-Housing Ratio Standards
Most counties do not have jobs-housing ratio policies for rural areas. El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yuba Counties address jobs-housing ratios for their urbanized unincorporated areas. Yolo County also promotes a balanced and functional mix of land uses consistent with community values (Policy LU-2 e).
Farm Worker Housing in Rural Areas
The need for farm worker housing in the SACOG region is a greater issue for farming operations in the valley than in the foothills due to the types of crops and amount of production in these areas. Housing Authorities in the region provide some publicly owned and/or managed dedicated farm worker housing. Some of these units provide seasonal housing and others permanent housing. Nonetheless, Sutter County Housing Authority and Yolo County Housing Authority reported having waiting lists for their permanent housing units in 2008, when research was first started for this paper. Farm labor camps are permitted by use permit in all of the region’s counties.
Each county has policies encouraging some farm worker housing on-site (via an accessory unit) and all of the agricultural zoning codes in the region allow for secondary units on-site, either by right or with an additional permit. The number of second units that currently exist in the region and the percentage of these used for farm worker housing is unknown. . To support the goal of a healthy farm economy, the agriculture element of Yolo County's draft general plan contains policies to streamline permitting requirements for farmworker housing, including reducing fees and requiring inclusionary housing within established communities (Policy AG-3.5). The draft element further encourages cities to share in the responsibility for providing adequate sites to accommodate farm labor housing (Policy AG-3.6). Through their housing elements, all of the counties have policies that encourage the use of state and federal housing aid programs to provide farmworker housing.
Four counties, Sutter, Yuba, Yolo, and Sacramento, have large floodplains along the Sacramento, Yuba, Feather, and American Rivers and their tributaries. Flood control projects – dams and levees – have made it possible to develop urban areas in these floodplains. However, recent state legislation imposing a higher level of protection (200-year v. 100-year) for urban areas (defined as 10,000 people or more) and changing Army Corps of Engineers levee standards are making it more difficult and expensive to protect areas already fortified with urban levees, let alone areas that might want to urbanize outside of these urban levees. To date, there are no plans to build new urban levees; jurisdictions are simply focused on improving the urban levees they already have. This may have implications for limiting the spread of development beyond those areas currently planned for urbanization in the floodplain.
Some flood control plans include setting aside farmland to reduce the amount of land needing an urban level of protection in the future and thereby minimizing overall flood risk. In some cases, levee improvements may impact agricultural lands within the basin being protected. In Yuba County, for example, setback levees will be built over as much as 1,500 acres of farmland and will bisect orchards and other farmland in areas with high quality soils. In southern Sutter County and northern Sacramento County, levees improvements in the Natomas basin are estimated to impact more than 1,600 acres of farmland that also serves as habitat for the Giant Garter Snake and Swainson’s Hawk. Additionally, up to 700 acres of farmland will be converted to habitat for required mitigation. Similar impacts may be seen for other levee improvement projects in the region. The Delta Protection Commission is considering the use of “ring levees” around legacy Delta communities. Other small towns, such as Knights Landing in Yolo, are considering the development of new levees to provide100-year flood protection.
Water Quality and Supply
The issues surrounding water quality and supply are more complex than strictly the land uses that ensure reliable and safe water supplies for the region and will be further explored in a separate working paper. In the context of this land use paper, however, the importance of water quality and supply is examined from the perspective of rural land, conservation and open space policies. Local general plan policies typically protect water quality and supply through the land use designations assigned to areas important to or containing sensitive water resources. These are low-intensity uses such as open space, agriculture, or natural resource. For example, Sacramento County’s draft general plan Policy CO-20 directs the county to maintain agricultural zoning and existing agricultural and open space uses in primary aquifer recharge areas with moderate to very high recharge capability.
In addition to their other environmental benefits, rural landscapes provide many benefits under the broad title of “recreation,” from passive recreation uses such as bird-watching to more active uses such as hiking or boating. Appendix B includes a map of accessible (either open or restricted access) protected lands in the SACOG region. Yuba County’s general plan designates an area of ricelands north of the City of Marysville for agriculture in order to promote their retention for multiple uses, including agriculture, waterfowl habitat and waterfowl hunting clubs (Policy 79-OSCP). Yuba County policy 99-OSCP sees the retention of natural areas as important to maintaining adequate supplies of game for not only the habitat preservation of them but also for importance to the local economy. In Sacramento County, the draft general plan Open Space Vision identifies open space corridors, or greenbelts, for multiple purposes including community separators, habitat corridors, and recreation trails. In Placer and El Dorado Counties, tourist recreational uses such as camping and skiing are defined by recreation land use designations. In El Dorado County, the “Tourist Recreational” designations are further defined by their surroundings: recreational activities in Rural Regions, the county's most rural community areas, must be less intensive than recreational activities in Community Regions and Rural Centers, where infrastructure exists or can be extended to support more intensive uses. In Placer County, the “Resorts and Recreation” designation applies to mountain, water-oriented, and other areas of existing and potential public and commercial recreational use.
Viewsheds, or scenic vistas, are protected for their recreation and tourism benefits, but also as visual amenities to residents of an area. Most jurisdictions address the viewshed benefits of rural landscapes by imposing design standards on development to minimize its impact on scenic rural vistas. El Dorado and Placer Counties have policies that specifically regulate development to minimize impacts to rural viewsheds. In El Dorado County, a scenic corridor ordinance regulates uses that might impede views of rural landscapes (Policy 188.8.131.52). Placer County has a policy to protect and enhance scenic corridors through means of development standards as well as open space easements and land conservation contracts (Policy 1.L.3).
Rural Lifestyle, Culture and Heritage
The rural lifestyle, culture and heritage of rural areas that are provided by rural landscapes are not only intangible but difficult to quantify. The policies that protect these assets of rural areas, therefore, are broad in scope. Land use designations, by their development standards, aim to protect or preserve the rural lifestyle attributes of an area. The rural residential designation is most commonly associated with the preservation of rural lifestyle; most descriptions of the designation emphasize the importance of maintaining “rural character and lifestyle.”
Section 2: Review of Land Conservation and Stewardship Programs
While there are many policies in place that support the preservation and protection of the various types of open space uses via general plan open space, conservation and agricultural elements, there are only a small number of tools in place to enforce these policies. These programs include: habitat conservation plans, development mitigation, conservation easements, and the Williamson Act. Several more state and federal programs provide funding to support the implementation of these tools. In the Sacramento region, most of the broad, landscape-scale conservation efforts underway are species-driven, primarily through a habitat conservation plan process. As a dominant open space land use in the region, agriculture not only provides food and fiber, it also provides habitat for many species of wildlife. A Sierra Club inventory of habitat conservation opportunities for agricultural lands identifies habitat value rice, row crops, irrigated pasture, alfalfa, orchards, and grazing land.4 Other objectives such as soil and water resource conservation and flood protection are also drivers for open space protection. Staff surveyed public, private and non-profit entities in the region on their use of these programs to gain some understanding of the types of conservation work in the region.
Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs)
In the context of habitat conservation plans, the term “habitat” is synonyms with natural resources. This can include any combination of wetlands, rare and endangered species, riparian corridors, woodlands, fish, floodplains, streams, rivers, vegetation, plants and other wildlife. There are many state and federal programs and regulations that focus on various types of habitat conservation. To that end, each county in our region is working on a Habitat Conservation Plan or some form of conservation strategy to identify areas that are important for species protection and areas where development may occur. Some of these efforts are building on existing conservation plans such as Placer County’s Placer Legacy
or El Dorado County’s Oak Woodland Management Plan. The only completed HCP in the region covers lands in the Natomas basin.
Although habitat is not the only open space land use affected by development, it is currently the focus of most development mitigation programs in the Sacramento region. Many areas across the rural landscape in this region provide habitat for threatened and endangered species. All of the counties’ general plan policies have development mitigation requirements for impacted habitat land. A number of jurisdictions have Swainson’s hawk mitigation programs, including Elk Grove, Sacramento County, Galt, and the local governments of Yolo County. Most mitigation programs are enacted through ordinances and require either direct dedication of land or payment of in-lieu fees. The fees go into an account for the purchase of agricultural land for habitat mitigation.
In addition to their mitigation requirements for habitat lands, Yolo, El Dorado, and Sacramento Counties have mitigation policies specifically addressing the loss of agricultural land. For example, Sacramento County’s general plan policy AG-5 encourages mitigation of projects on prime, statewide, unique, and locally important farmlands to provide in-kind protection (i.e. the land must be of equal or higher farmland category). Yolo County adopted an agricultural mitigation ordinance which requires all projects that result in a permanent loss of either farmland and/or habitat to mitigate an equal amount of land. Agricultural and habitat easements may not be “stacked” within the same property, and must be mitigated separately. The ordinance requires agricultural conservation easements be located within two miles of the development that is being mitigated. The purpose of this is to give first protection priority to lands close to urban areas which in Yolo County are viewed as higher risk for conversion to urban uses. Within Yolo County, the cities of Woodland and Davis also have agricultural mitigation requirements. The Yolo County LAFCo also requires agricultural mitigation (in lieu of an existing city requirement) when agricultural land is lost as a result of annexation.
There can be conflict between habitat conservation and agricultural land. Parts of the region are experiencing a conversion of agricultural land to habitat preservation for development mitigation purposes, which can have the effect of removing land from agricultural use (and into habitat conservation) and sometimes creates difficulties for adjacent agricultural lands with the invasion of weeds, rodents, birds, and waterfowl. However, there can also be “working” relationships between the two land uses in which both needs can be met: rice fields have become part of the Pacific Flyway, alfalfa is good foraging habitat for Swainson’s Hawk, while grazing helps keep non-native grasses in check and helps vernal pools function. Yolo, Sacramento, and Placer Counties’ are addressing this and planning for these working relationships in their habitat conservation plans (HCPs). Sutter and Yuba counties have begun developing a joint HCP that will also address these issues. Yolo and Sacramento County staffs indicate that some components of their HCPs will be dependent on agricultural land preservation for implementation; in Sacramento County as much as 90% is dependent on agriculture. Yolo County’s draft General Plan includes Policy CO-1.17, which would allow out-of-county mitigation easements in Yolo County provided several criteria are met, including requirements that existing agricultural operations continue to be farmed for commercial gain and mandatory wildlife-friendly strategies and practices. The policy would also require compensation to Yolo County of all lost direct and indirect revenue, which is an unintended consequence of conservation easements.
A conservation easement is a tool used by mitigation programs, habitat conservation plans, and other open space planning efforts, to secure the open status of land. Individual landowners sell easements for various reasons including monetary (income and/or tax relief), family and agricultural preservation. Easements are also used by land trusts, non-profit organizations that partner with local communities and landowners to identify, protect and steward important conservation lands. Easements can be for natural resources conservation and/or agricultural conservation, and they can be purchased or donated. However, all cases involve a willing seller (or donor) and willing buyer (or recipient).
In the Sacramento region, all counties encourage the use of easements to support a variety of conservation goals. Yuba County encourages the voluntary donation of conservation easements by landowners to preserve agricultural or timber use (General Plan Policies 38 and 44-LUP). Similarly Placer County supports conservation easements as a tool for private conservation organizations to preserve agriculture (General Plan Policy 7.A.11), but by policy also acquires public easements for purposes of flood protection, public safety, wildlife preservation, groundwater recharge, and recreation, where appropriate (Natural Resources Policy 6.A.12). Placer County also actively acquires easements through its Placer Legacy program. Placer Legacy was created by the County in 2000 to protect a variety of open space resource including biological resources, agriculture, scenic areas, public safety areas, community edges/buffers, and to provide additional outdoor recreation opportunities.
Currently, most easement acquisition funds, whether from development mitigation programs or state or federal grant programs, are targeted at habitat. Although some habitat easement programs simultaneously preserve both habitat and agriculture (mainly rangeland) there are not many funds available specifically for agricultural preservation, despite the importance of agricultural preservation to most public agencies and conservation groups. In the Sacramento Valley, various open space programs have been used to protect farmland and grazing land in particular. The California Department of Water Resource Flood Protection Corridor Program, which offers grants for nonstructural flood management that enhances wildlife habitat or protects agricultural uses on private lands, has been used in the past to acquire conservation easements on farmland. Table 1 includes a list of state and federal easement programs and their primary conservation focus.
Table 1: Easement Funding Programs and their Conservation Focus
|Grant Program Name||Conservation Focus||Managing Agency|
|California Farmland Conservancy Program||Agricultural land||CA Department of Conservation|
|Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program||Agricultural Land||US Natural Resource Conservation Service|
|Grassland Reserve Program||Grazing land (limited eligibility for other agricultural uses)||US Farm Service Agency|
|Rangeland, Grazing and Grassland Protective Act of 2002||Grazing land (other agricultural uses not eligible)||CA Wildlife Conservation Board|
|Ecosystem Restoration on Agricultural Lands||Habitat on agricultural land||CA Wildlife Conservation Board|
|Inland Wetlands Conservation Program||Wetlands (may or may not coincide with agricultural land)||CA Wildlife Conservation Board|
|North American Wetlands Conservation Act||Wetlands||US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|California River Parkways and Urban Streams Restoration Grant Program||River parkways, recreation, flood management, habitat||CA Resources Agency|
Most funding programs do not fully fund an easement purchase and consequently, most conservation easements are purchased with funds from multiple sources. Because each funding program comes with its own set of requirements, and because each easement may have a unique set of conservation objectives, not all funds can be combined with each other and not all easements can be funded by all programs. For example, a Swainson’s hawk habitat easement over row crop lands might be eligible for funding through a habitat grant program, but not through an exclusive agricultural grant program that prohibits restrictions on types of agriculture. In a survey of local public and private organizations with interest in land conservation and stewardship, SACOG learned that of the respondents that used at least one easement program in their conservation work all had used the California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP) for acquiring agricultural easements. Other programs identified in the survey for easement acquisition include three California Wildlife Conservation Board’s easement programs (ecosystems restoration, wetlands restoration/enhancement, and grazing land), the California Department of Water Resources Flood Protection Corridor Program, and the USDA Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. In Yolo County, two local programs were identified as easement funding programs: the City of Davis’ Measure O and the joint Yolo County, Yolo LAFCo, and City of Davis Agricultural Mitigation Ordinance.
From the farming perspective, a habitat conservation easement may generate revenue from the easement value, but may limit a landowner’s ability to adapt to changing market demands for agricultural products. In the example above, a parcel restricted to row crops as part of a habitat conservation easement may lose out on a market shift favoring tree crops because of the habitat restrictions of the easement.
Williamson Act Program
The California Land Conservation Act, better known as the Williamson Act, was enacted by the California State Legislature in 1965 to encourage the preservation of agricultural lands. The Williamson Act program permits property tax adjustments for landowners who contract with a city or county to keep their land in agricultural production or approved open space uses for at least 10 years. Lands covered by Williamson Act contracts are assessed on the basis of their agricultural value instead of their potential market value under nonagricultural uses. In return for the preferential tax rate, the landowner is required to contractually agree to keep their land in agricultural production or approved open space uses for a period of at least 10 years. Williamson Act subventions – monetary compensation to counties from the state for lost property tax on Williamson Act contracted lands – have been at ongoing risk of elimination with every new state budget. This has made the Williamson Act program less appealing to counties and landowners, who rely on the certainty of either tax revenue compensation or tax relief. For the current fiscal year, the state budget effectively suspended Williamson Act subvention payments in the face of major fiscal constraints. Supporters of the Williamson Act fear that the loss of subvention payments will prompt economically distressed counties to non-renew Williamson Act contracts.
El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, and Yolo Counties all participate in the Williamson Act program and have general plan policies encouraging enrollment and/or discouraging non-renewal. Yolo County also participates in the Farmland Security Zone (Super Williamson Act) program, which extends the contract period to 20 years and reduces the tax burden even further; Sacramento County also supports this program. Approximately 87,000 acres of farmland in the SACOG region reported a non-renewal of their Williamson Act contract between 2004 and 2006 (about 6 percent of the lands in contract).
Stewardship and Conservation Programs
Outside of local land use policies, there are many programs available to landowners for the stewardship of open space lands. These state and federal programs focus on environmental benefits such as water quality, water supply, flood control and habitat. Programs provide grants or low-interest loans to applicants to fund conservation or stewardship practices that protect open land and/or make it economically viable to do so. Stewardship programs are available directly to landowners or to entities that work with landowners, such as local governments, resource conservation districts, and non-profit land trusts. In SACOG’s land conservation and stewardship survey, respondents were asked to indicate which of these programs they had used in the past and for what purpose. Appendix C includes a copy of this survey as well as short description of each stewardship or conservation program. Collectively, respondents used 24 out of 37 listed programs for a wide variety of uses including agricultural easement acquisition, habitat restoration, river parkway and trail projects, wildlife friendly farming practices, water quality improvement, irrigation efficiency, and flood capacity improvements. Several programs identified by respondents are focused on multiple conservation objectives, usually farmland and habitat preservation or farmland and water quality protection. Although respondents, a collection of both public and private entities, do not represent the full breadth of conservation and stewardship activity in the Sacramento region, they do demonstrate that the region is tapping into available programs for a variety of stewardship and conservation objectives.
The Sacramento region’s current rural land use policies demonstrate a desire to preserve agriculture, habitat, and open space within our region. Although there are many challenges to preserving these lands, development, both urban and rural, appears to pose the biggest land use-related challenge. Urban development is intended to be limited to spheres of influence, and other planning boundary designations. Beyond these boundaries rural housing development is generally permitted; however, in both instances, proximity to agriculture can lead to land use conflicts. With enough pressure to change farming practices, farmers faced with encroaching development may opt to stop farming altogether. At the same time, there are a number of existing tools to support and protect agriculture and other open space uses. Recognizing the importance of open lands for multiple environmental benefits, the region has turned to habitat conservation plans, conservation easements, and land stewardship programs as a means of keeping rural lands open. The long-term effectiveness of some of these tools has yet to be tested. Easements, once thought to keep land open in perpetuity, have met challenges in other parts of the state. The Williamson Act subvention program has recently been suspended due to state budget constraints. County-scale HCPs have yet to be adopted and implemented. Still, local governments and private entities interested in agricultural viability and environmental sustainability continue to work with existing tools and create new ones to meet their particular conservation priorities. The next part of this paper considers many of those innovative policies that help maintain economic viability and environmental sustainability on our rural lands.
Part Two Land Use Policy Innovations for Agricultural Viability and Environmental Sustainability
Part II of the Land Use Working Paper describes policy innovations related to agricultural viability and preservation of open space uses. Many of these policy innovations are in practice in the Sacramento Region; some are very successful, others have not yet been tested. Additional innovations from outside of the region and California have also been collected. Some policies may not be relevant to every area of the region, but are presented here so that they may be assessed for their potential applications. Through the Land Use Working Group, these policies will be analyzed for their benefits and drawbacks in preserving and protecting agriculture and open space.
One of the challenges facing agriculture is the potential for conflict between farming and development at the rural-urban “edge.” In the previous section, we discussed both hard transition edges, where urban development patterns abruptly give way to agricultural land uses, and soft edges, where urban development patterns meet ranchette, or exurban-type development, beyond which lies agricultural uses. In either case, the proximity of urban or rural residential to working farms increases potential conflicts. The viability of the agriculture industry is also correlated with the amount of land in production and the type of production.
Other open space uses are also challenged in the face of expanding urban and rural development. For example, habitat land and flood plain land can be strained by encroaching development. Many open space uses require large tracts of contiguous land in order to function, yet scattered rural development or urban leapfrog development can cause fragmentation of such large tracts.
With these issues in mind, consider which of the following policies address current issues and which appear less effective in protecting farm land. What unintended consequences, if any, might occur with the application of certain innovations? Is one innovation more effective when used in conjunction with other innovations?
This section is organized into two parts: innovations at the rural-urban edgeand innovations for agriculture viability andenvironmental sustainability. There are many challenges in preserving agriculture and there is no one-size-fits-all policy prescription. The policy innovations that this paper classifies as “edge” policies have generally been used to protect and/or manage urban encroachment upon agriculture. These challenges can include: rapid and/or inefficient development of farmland, uncertain boundaries between urban and rural areas leading to land speculation, scattered rural residential development, and differing visions for land use between cities and counties. The innovations for agricultural viability and environmental sustainability are not necessarily specifically directed at the challenges facing agricultural at the urban edge, but rather are generally focused on supporting viable agriculture and/or environmental resources in rural areas. While this method of organization is intended to provide focused discussion on each of these two groups of innovations it is recognized that both are inter-related and that all of the listed innovations could potentially be applicable to the rural-urban edge and all other agriculture and open space lands. .
Innovations at the Rural-Urban Edge
Urban Growth Boundaries
An urban growth boundary, or urban limit line, is a policy boundary that designates where urban growth is to occur and where agriculture and other rural uses should remain more certain. In some applications, urban growth boundaries are held constant, representing the ultimate extent of an urban footprint; in other instances, the boundary accommodates growth for a period of time (e.g. 20 years) and is expanded periodically based on population or vacant land performance standards to maintain a land supply for the designated time period.
Urban growth boundaries have been adopted by a number of communities, including Sacramento and Tulare Counties (for their unincorporated communities).
Sacramento County's Urban Services Boundary (USB)
Sacramento County’s USB marks the ultimate boundary of the urban area in the unincorporated county. The County General Plan states that the USB “is intended to be a permanent growth boundary not subject to modification except under extraordinary circumstances.” (General Plan 1993, Land Use Element, pg. 79) A change to the USB under this policy would require a fourth-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors, although in the context of a General Plan update, the policy can be changed with a three-two vote of the Board. The Urban Policy Area is a companion to the USB that defines the area within the USB expected to receive urban levels of public infrastructure and services within the General Plan planning period.
City of Woodland Urban Limit Line
As part of the 2002 General Plan, the city created an urban limit line for planning purposes. This planning boundary defined the areas available for urbanization by the city within the time period of the general plan (Woodland General Plan Policy Document, 2002, p. 1-1). Subsequently, the citizens of Woodland passed Measure A (2006), which established a permanent urban limit line around the city (see the Voter Initiatives on General Plan Amendments of Agricultural Land section of this paper for more information).
Benefits and Drawbacks
Where in place, urban growth boundaries can provide a policy framework for land use and infrastructure planning. Such boundaries create some certainty for developers that growth is encouraged within an area, if policies are upheld by the local government.
In California, most urban growth boundaries are enacted legislatively and therefore, easy to modify. In fact, language in most general plans specifies that urban growth boundaries limit growth for the planning period of the general plan, implying that the boundary will change with a general plan update. In this application, they are perhaps best at directing growth within an urban area, but do not represent a hard, permanent boundary. An additional complication arises when neighboring jurisdictions (e.g. a city and county) have differing land use visions for an overlapping area of interest. Where one government may have an urban growth boundary to preserve undeveloped lands for agriculture, the other may see the area as a potential new growth area. Furthermore, unless strong policies control development (e.g. ranchette development) outside of an urban growth boundary, the boundary does little to relieve exurban development pressure on agricultural and open space lands.
“Rural Reserves” aim to provide greater predictability to land owners, farmers, and communities as to where future growth may and may not occur outside of an urban growth boundary. Areas defined as “Rural Reserves” are located outside of an urban growth boundary to protect valuable farm and forestland for a time period similar to the life of the urban growth boundary.
Example: State of Oregon: Metro and Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties The three counties of the Portland metropolitan area, along with the regional planning agency, Metro, are leading a regional effort to designate urban and rural reserves to accommodate future growth and protect valuable farmland, forest land and natural areas that define the character of the region. Urban and rural reserves are intended to provide greater predictability for landowners, farmers, and communities as to where future growth may take place outside the current urban growth boundary over the next 40 to 50 years, while protecting important farmland and natural areas from urbanization for that same period of time. Designated reserves would also provide greater predictability in the type and extent of infrastructure needed for both urban and rural uses. The process for designating these reserves is intended to offer the region greater flexibility in determining which areas are more suitable for accommodating growth than others. In this process, some factors being considered in the creation of rural reserves include whether or not an area is potentially subject to urbanization, capable of sustaining long-term agriculture or forestry operation, or includes important natural landscape features (e.g. natural hazards, lands to protect water quality, important habitat). Once the rural reserve designation is in effect, lands under the designation cannot be rezoned or re-designated to allow uses that were not allowed, or smaller lots or parcels than were allowed, until the rural reserves classification is removed from those lands.
Since Rural Reserves have yet to be implemented, it is difficult to assess their strengths and weaknesses as conservation tools. The circumstances of the Portland, OR example are unique in that state legislation sanctioned the rural and urban reserves process as an alternative to a state-mandated existing growth management process. Arguably, local zoning and general plan policies can operate in a similar manner as the rural reserve, with the exception that the cross-county collaboration of the rural reserves, and their life span of 40 to 50 years, might signal to the public that such areas have more permanence as rural areas than zoning designation or general plan might imply.
Re-Examine City Spheres of Influence
Representing the probable ultimate physical boundary and service area of a local government agency, spheres of influence are a prominent mechanism for planning and growth management in California. Typically, if a county wants to preserve agriculture and rural character, it will limit new development to existing rural communities and/or within existing cities and city spheres of influence (as noted in “Infill and Revitalization of Existing Communities”). It is however, the extent of these community boundaries and particularly spheres of influence that could be re-examined to determine what role they play in open space and agriculture preservation.
LAFCos (Local Agency Formation Commissions) make the ultimate determination on the spheres of influences of cities. Current state law (Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000) directs LAFCos to consider several factors in determining the sphere of influence of a local jurisdiction, among them, the present and planned uses in the proposed SOI, including agriculture and open space. A LAFCo may not approve a change to a sphere of influence of a local government agency of land that is subject to a Williamson Act contract if that local agency would provide urban facilities or services to the area, unless those facilities or services would benefit the land uses allowed under the contract or would facilitate planned, orderly, and efficient patterns of land use or provision of services.2 Consideration of such factors can lead a LAFCo to impose conditions of approval on spheres of influence.
Kings County LAFCo
In Kings County, the LAFCo, as part of its regular review and update of spheres of influence, recently reduced the spheres of all of the cities to coincide with planned urban uses and areas that could be adequately serviced by municipal service providers, and to avoid lands in Williamson Act or Farmland Security Zone contracts. Cities in Kings County have both a primary SOI, which serves as the legal boundary within which a city may apply to LAFCo for annexation of territory, and a secondary SOI, which serves as an indication of the “Area of Planning Interest” of the local jurisdiction. The secondary SOI has no basis in State Law, but serves to recognize an area of mutual interest between city and county.
The City of Folsom
In this example, the Sacramento LAFCo placed a condition of approval on the Folsom sphere of influence, which required set aside of at least 30% of the land in the SOI as natural open space to preserve oak woodlands and sensitive habitat areas.
In some areas, spheres of influence grossly exceed the amount of land a city will need to accommodate future urbanization. One potential consequence to spheres that are too large is inefficient use of the land within the sphere. In some parts of the Sacramento region, SOIs have become de fact urban-rural transition zones, marked by rural residential land uses. Within the SACOG region, 80% of the acres developed within sphere of influence areas over the last 5 years are new large lot residential development on parcels 1-10 acres in size.
City-County Agreements to “Plan for Agriculture”
Cities and county adopt coordinated/joint policies or agreements to direct urban development to cities and preserve agricultural land in the unincorporated areas. An agreement between a county and city, or multiple cities, is formally recorded, for example, through General Plan policy or a Memorandum of Understanding. In any example, the jurisdictions agree that the county's role is to promote and support agricultural preservation and viability in the area covered by the agreement, and that the city's role is to ensure compact growth that minimizes and mitigates impacts to agriculture. In some cases, city-county agreements including shared tax revenue, from city to county, to support the county's role in promoting agriculture and containing urban development.
Yolo County and the Cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland
Yolo County has a pass through agreement with its cities whereby urban development is directed to incorporated areas and the cities “pass through” a portion of the tax increment from their redevelopment districts on to the county. Pass through agreements between a city and the county must be re-negotiated with each annexation. In a subarea of the county, in recognition of the development pressures on the prime farmland between the cities of Davis and Woodland, Yolo County and the two cities entered into an agreement to preserve the unincorporated lands between the cities of Woodland and Davis for agriculture.
Sutter County and Cities of Yuba City and Live Oak
As a general plan policy, Sutter County does not provide urban services but rather directs all urban growth to cities and their spheres of influence. The General Plan states that the cities are responsible for planning their respective spheres of influence, subject to county approval.
Solano County and Cities of Vallejo, Benicia and Fairfield
Solano Counties and the three cities entered a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) in 1992 to jointly and cooperatively plan for, manage and maintain the open space land between the three cities for open space preservation, conservation and enhancement uses, agricultural production, and regional parkland recreation. The JPA created a Tri-City and County Cooperative Planning Group to develop a plan for open space and agriculture preservation for the unincorporated area between the cities of Vallejo, Benicia, and Fairfield. This group is led by a governing board comprised of one elected official from each of the four member agencies. The Tri-City and County Cooperative Plan, adopted by the group in 1994, lays out objectives, policies and guidelines intended to guide future land use within the Cooperative Planning Area, including measures to preclude urban development, protect the right to farm in the Cooperative Planning Area, and create incentives for land uses that contribute to the permanent protection of open space there. The plan has been adopted by the County and three Cities and coordination between the entities occurs through the Tri-City and County Cooperative Planning Group. While the governing board has decision-making authority, many of its decisions, in particular any that amend the Tri-City and County Cooperative Plan, must be ratified by each of the four local governments in order to take effect.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Agreements between cities and counties can have added effects of bolstering infill development and revitalization policies, and in fact both infill and revitalization policies and city-county agreements to plan for agriculture work as tandem innovations. General Plan updates can and have been used as methods of city-county joint planning, as ways for cities and a county to more closely align their expectations for future growth in an area of mutual interest. The difficulty with this and other forms of city-county agreements is that both parties must be willing to agree to and uphold the plans and policies created by the agreements in order for them to be effective.
In the Yolo county experience of revenue sharing, the pass through agreements and commitment to a “hard edge” between urban and rural areas has put the county in a difficult financial situation. The goal of revenue sharing is to support economic viability of both the city and the county for the commitments each make; but this is a difficult balance to strike.
Voter Initiatives on General Plan Amendments of Agricultural Land
Some jurisdictions have policies that restrict the conversion of agricultural-designated land to non-agricultural use. In most cases, these policies were incorporated into general plans by initiative measure. For agricultural land to be re-designated to a non-agricultural use, the proposal must go to a vote in the local election.
Stanislaus County and Measure E
In 2008, Stanislaus County voters approved a measure that restricts, for a period of 30 years, the Board of Supervisors from approving the redesignation or rezoning of land in the unincorporated County from agriculture or open space to a residential use without the approval of a majority of voters of the County. Some exemptions apply to lands to be redesignated to meet the County's fair share housing obligations.
Solano County Measure T/Orderly Growth Initiative
Solano County has operated under an Orderly Growth Initiative since 1994. This initiative, also know as Measure A, required that redesignations of agriculture to urban designations be approved by a majority of county voters. Measure T, passed in 2008, is an update of the Orderly Growth Initiative, effective for 20 years. It allows some exemptions to the original initiative, including lands to be redesignated to meet the County's fair share of housing and lands in certain areas to be redesignated to a more intensive agriculture designation.
City of Woodland Urban Limit Line
In 2006, the citizens of Woodland passed Measure A, which established a permanent Urban Limit Line around the city. These boundaries are permanent regardless of any planning horizon and can only be modified with voter approval.
Voter initiatives are used to provide the electorate a direct say on growth issues, usually unwanted development, in a jurisdiction. To this end, they are successful tools of public participation. At the same time, such voter initiatives can sometimes hinder the planning process as voters are not always aware of all of the issues related to a particular ballot initiative and most likely receive their information from the better-funded side of the debate. Unintended consequences can result from voter initiatives. Where an initiative is intended to affect an area of overlapping jurisdiction – the edge between a city and county, for example, a ballot initiative can be rendered ineffective if the city and county don’t share the same vision for that edge.
Stricter Policies Regulating Rural Residential Rezones
Demand for rural residential home sites can be managed in areas of active agriculture through policies and procedures that regulate the conversion of agricultural land to rural residential use. Rural residential uses often entail small parcel sizes (typically between 1 and 10 acres) that allow housing as the primary use of the parcel. When adjacent to or intermixed with active agriculture parcels, the combination of uses can lead to conflicts between the residential parcel and agricultural activity. At the same time, many rural residential communities are historic rural towns that have been in existence for as long as the agricultural operations around them. To balance the goals of preserving rural character in these areas, meeting the demand for rural residential parcels, and preserving farm land, check lists or scoring systems have been developed to assess the feasibility of converting existing agricultural land to rural residential.
Tulare County Rural Valley Lands Plan
Tulare County developed a point system as part of its Rural Valley Land Plan, which scores proposed rezones from agriculture to any non-agricultural use (including residential, employment, and rural residential). Factors considered by the point system include agricultural preserve status and proximity to agriculture preserves, land capability (soils), existing parcel size, existing land use (active farming or not), surrounding parcel size and land use, proximity to “inharmonious uses” such as dairies or feed lots, proximity and access to various services and infrastructure, flood status and groundwater recharge potential. If a parcel scores seventeen points or more, the parcel remains agriculturally zoned; if the parcel scores eleven points or less, the parcel may be considered for non-agricultural zoning. If the parcel receives a score between 11 and 17 points, the policy decision goes to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, which make a determination based on the unique circumstances of the particular parcels.
Sutter County Ranchette Evaluation Criteria
The Sutter County Board of Supervisors adopted evaluation criteria for proposed rezones from agriculture to “Ranchette” designations. Applicants for rezones must complete an evaluation criteria form as part of their submittal to the county, which provides the applicant and staff a preliminary assessment of the suitability of the proposed ranchette development. An application must achieve a minimum score of 70 out of a possible 100 points or else it receives a recommendation for denial from planning staff to the Planning Commission. Evaluation criteria include adjacency of parcels 20 acres or greater, adjacency of agricultural parcels under single ownership, proximity to city spheres of influence or the community of Sutter, and travel distance to fire stations and public schools. Since implementation of the ranchette evaluation criteria in 2004, the County has noticed a decline in the number of ranchette applications submitted. The public has learned, based on the criteria questions, which parcels comply with the new system.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Ranchette evaluation criteria and processes are beneficial to both the county and property owners in that they provide objective criteria by which to judge development proposals based on location and purpose. They also allow rural land owners to maximize the utility of their land while preserving agricultural viability in other parts of the county.
While ranchette evaluation criteria have been shown to be effective in areas where rural residential zoning occurs, they have no restrictions on residential development outside of rural residential districts where home sites are allowed uses. Home sites without accompanying agricultural operations can still be built on agriculture parcels outside of rural residential districts. This type of development, viewed as an incompatible use with farming, would need to be addressed by other policy innovations.
Infill and Revitalization of Existing Communities
Infill development accommodates growth without consuming farmland. Policies supportive of infill development might direct population growth to cities and urban communities. Each of the six counties in the SACOG region have general plan policies that direct or limit urban growth to urban areas, community areas, or spheres of influences of cities. Additionally, each county has policies in place to encourage infill and/or revitalization within existing communities. In addition to protecting open space and agricultural lands, infill development generally has other public benefits, such as reducing traffic and improving air quality, and reducing the cost of infrastructure and demand for water.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Infill policies support agriculture preservation by promoting and directing development to areas that already have infrastructure. However, unless such policies are strong enough to encourage the market to invest in infill areas, or are accompanied by strong incentives for infill, development on the urban edge where no infrastructure currently exists is generally cheaper to accomplish.
An Agricultural Park is a combination of working farm and municipal park. Ag Parks can serve as transition or buffer zones between urban and agricultural uses. They are designed for multiple uses that accommodate small farms, public areas and natural habitat. They allow small farm operations access to secure land and local markets. They provide fresh food, and an educational, environmental and aesthetic amenity for nearby communities. Ag Parks can be located on either public or private land, vary in acreage, host single or multiple tenants, and have a variety of both agricultural and park components. According to SAGE: Sustainable Agriculture Education, Ag Parks are suitable for public lands that:
- have existing mandates for agriculture, agricultural education, passive recreation, natural resource protection, curation of cultural and historical artifacts, and community linkages
- can contract with partners to help fulfill this mandate.
Ag Parks are also suitable/adaptable for private lands that:
- are permanently preserved for agriculture or have the potential to be set aside permanently as farmland
- are viable for small scale agriculture
- have potential for home sites affordable by farm families
- are located within a place-based agricultural marketing initiative area
- have regulations that permit farmers to operate value-added types of enterprises.3
Benefits and Drawbacks
Agriculture parks provide one type of transition zone between urban and agricultural uses, which is lacking in many areas. In the instance of a transition zone between two jurisdictions, an ag park would require city-county coordination in order to be successful. Otherwise, as with any transition zone, an ag park could potentially generate conflict between the planning vision of two jurisdictions. Ag parks may potentially have only small-scale applications though the size limit of such uses has not been tested.
One consequence of development in the rural areas is the potential for conflict between agriculture and non-agricultural uses. Buffers can assist in reducing land use conflicts. Buffers are generally imposed on new development, rather than on farming operations. Buffers should be wide enough to protect the farming operation from lawn fertilizers, playing children, and other conflicts. The buffer is generally left as open space though occasionally it is part of the new adjacent development and maintained by the home owners association. Sometimes it is maintained by the county and other times it is not maintained at all.
Sutter and Placer Counties’ agricultural buffers range from 100-800 feet depending on crop type, Yuba and Yolo Counties require a minimum 100-300 foot buffer, Sacramento County ranges from 300-500 feet, and El Dorado County requires 200 foot buffer that may be administratively reduced if certain Board adopted criteria are met. However, El Dorado County requires a 10 acre buffer for development within designated agricultural districts.
Depending on a jurisdiction’s policy language for buffer requirements, buffers can be very effective. Strong buffer policies and consistent application of them can strengthen right-to-farm ordinances by further minimizing use incompatibilities. However, when they can be waived or the buffer distance reduced, buffers are less effective on a county-wide basis.
Innovations for Agricultural Viability and Environmental Sustainability
Agricultural, or farmland, mitigation policies are typically used by local governments to compensate for the conversion of agricultural land to another use by requiring protection of comparable agricultural land. Typically these policies require developers to purchase an agricultural conservation easement (see “Agricultural Conservation Easements”) on farmland in a different part of the county, or pay an in-lieu fee, in order to permanently protect a comparable piece of farmland. Most agricultural mitigation policies require compensation for every acre of farmland converted to urban use at a 1:1 ratio. If the policy allows fee payment instead of the purchase of an agricultural easement, the funds are usually invested in a conservation easement program by the jurisdiction to purchase lands later. Generally, the purchase of an easement is preferred over collecting the fee because it ensures the permanent protection of farmland at the 1:1 ratio. However, as noted by the American Farmland Trust, if the option of a fee is used, “one way to implement development efficiency standards would be to have a sliding scale of fees. For example, the amount that would have to be paid would be greater if housing or commercial facilities use more land per person or job. The justification for this approach is that every acre developed at low intensity represents an opportunity cost to the community in terms of the additional acres of farmland that will have to be converted to satisfy the demand for growth.”4
In our region, El Dorado, Sacramento, and Yolo Counties all have varying degrees of agricultural mitigation policies in their general plans. Additionally, the City of Davis has agricultural mitigation policies in its general plan.
Yolo County - Agricultural Mitigation Ordinance
In addition to its general plan policies requiring agricultural mitigation, Yolo County adopted an Agricultural Mitigation Ordinance. Similar to many agricultural mitigation requirements, the ordinance mandates that all projects that result in a permanent loss of either farmland and/or habitat are required to mitigate an equal amount of land. A unique component to Yolo County’s ordinance is that it also requires agricultural conservation easements be located within two miles of the development that is being mitigated. The purpose of this is to give first priority protection to lands close to urban areas as they are seen as more at risk of conversion. Another potential unique component to Yolo County’s mitigation requirement is in the County’s Draft General Plan, which includes an action to verify that easements used for mitigation require the landowner to maintain adequate water rights to support agricultural productivity on the land.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Agricultural land mitigation is used extensively in the CEQA review process for projects that will convert agricultural land. As such, ag land mitigation manages to preserve existing farmland. It stops short, however, of creating “new” farmland to replace farmland lost to development.
Transfer of Development Rights/Credits
Transfers of development rights programs allow landowners to transfer the right to develop one parcel of land to a different parcel of land. Generally established through local zoning ordinances, TDR programs can protect farmland by shifting development from agricultural areas to areas planned for growth. TDR programs consist of “sending” areas and “receiving areas” with voluntary landowners in each area. When the development rights are transferred from a piece of property in a sending area, the land is typically restricted with a permanent agricultural conservation easement.
TDR programs are very similar to PACE programs (see “Agricultural Conservation Easements”) in that their goal is to prevent non-agricultural development of farmland, reduce the market value of protected farms and provide farmland owners with liquid capital that can be used to enhance farm viability. In the case of TDRs, local governments generally approve transactions and monitor easements.
Sutter County- Agriculture Preserve Zoning
In this example, Sutter County’s “Agricultural Preserve Residential/Agriculture Preserve (APR/AP)” zoning district allows two acres of land to be split off from an agriculture parcel for development of a residential unit and requires the development rights on the remainder of the parent parcel be transferred to the county. Unique from other TDR programs that consist of designated “sending” and “receiving” areas, Sutter County’s use of TDR is for parcel splits within the agricultural preserve zoning district.
Hillsborough County, Florida- TDR Program
A typical example of a TDR program is in Hillsborough, where a transfer of development rights is used in preserving farmland for agricultural purposes, providing public waterfront access or farm worker housing. The program permits the transfer of densities or floor area between two separately owned or commonly held properties, whether or not they are contiguous to each other.
Benefits and Drawbacks
TDR helps identify areas that should be preserved and gives incentives to preserve those areas. As a market-driven program, however, it may also encourage growth if not crafted properly. In order to work, the market value of the “sending” and “receiving” area must be comparable, and there must be sufficient market demand for development in the “receiving” areas. In many cases of TDR, the development potential in receiving areas is in the low density ranges, which, depending on the location of the receiving area, doesn’t necessarily support the goals of land conservation. In fact, while sending areas are typically easy to identify, receiving areas are usually difficult to find because of community resistance to increased density. TDR programs are very complex to develop and administer, which may be part of the reason so few TDR programs have actually been used across the county. A year 2000 survey by the American Farmland Trust found 50 jurisdictions with TDR ordinances, only fifteen of which had protected more than 100 acres of farmland, and 22 of which had protected no farmland.5
Williamson Act and Super Williamson Act
The Williamson Act, or California Land Conservation Act, enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use. In return, landowners receive property tax assessments which are much lower than normal because they are based upon farming and open space uses as opposed to full market value. Local governments receive an annual subvention of forgone property tax revenues from the state via the Open Space Subvention Act of 1971.
The California Department of Conservation reports that the Williamson Act program saves agricultural landowners between 20 and 75 percent in property tax liability each year. One in three Williamson Act farmers and ranchers said in a survey that without the Act they would no longer own their parcel.6 As of 2005, all but five California counties participate in the Williamson Act program.
Yolo County- Super Williamson Act
The minimum term for a Williamson Act contract is ten years. However, some jurisdictions, including Yolo County, exercise the option of making the term longer, up to twenty years. This is referred as the “Super Williamson Act”. Yolo County has property owners participating in both the Williamson Act and the Super Williamson Act.
The Williamson Act makes it economically feasible for a farmer-owner to keep large parcels in production. The short-term conservation provided by a Williamson Act contract provides land owners more choices regarding the fate of their land, though this flexibility can be contradictory to open space, habitat, or other long-term agricultural preservation objectives. Funding for the Williamson Act, from the State, is always under threat, which undermines the commitment of a county and or/or participants. Different interests see Williamson Act contracts as either too easy to exit from or too restrictive when in place.
Agricultural zoning and farm home sites
Most agricultural zoning allows for one dwelling unit and in some cases additional accessory dwelling units. However, some jurisdictions have used zoning designations to limit the proliferation of housing as a primary use on agricultural parcels while still allowing for farm home sites for farmer-owners.
Tulare County- Agriculture Exclusive (AE) Zoning- 80 acre minimum
Tulare County’s AE zone requires a minimum lot size of 80 acres and allows one additional residence for each 20 acres in the property. This zoning designation is unique because it further specifies that any residences must be occupied by the farmer-owner, relatives, or employees who work on the property.
DeKalb County, Illinois - Agricultural Zoning (A-1) - 40 acre minimum
For the A-1 zoning district, DeKalb County’s zoning code states that in order to obtain a building permit for a new home, the landowner must have the land engaged in active farming.
Sutter County- Agricultural Zoning
Another local example of this can be found in Sutter County. Sutter County’s agricultural zoning code specifies that agricultural districts (20 and 80 acre minimum lot sizes), allow 2-acre home sites for one-family residences for the farmer-owner and agricultural employees.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Farm home regulations further restrict a property owner’s use of their property. As such, they are an effective means of limiting rural residential development on agricultural land, though they pertain only to the construction of new homes. In order to support construction of homes for the intended use of farm family members and workers, other local regulations need to reflect the priority of the farm home policy, which is not always the case.
Less restrictive zoning for onsite processing and sales
Although restrictive zoning requirement such as minimum lot size and lot splitting restrictions help to preserve farmland, zoning that restricts the processing and sale of products grown on site can be problematic for the economic viability of the farm. Most agricultural zoning codes do not restrict the land in terms of what type of agricultural activity is allowed on the land; however, many do have restrictions when it comes to sales and the processing and distribution of value-added products onsite. For example, most zoning codes will allow for an apple orchard and the sale of those apples onsite; however, many would not allow, by right, the production and sale of apple pie or apple butter made onsite. Depending on the zoning code, a farming operation might be able to apply for a conditional use permit to allow this. One way to allow farmers to expand their businesses would be to have less restrictive zoning relating to the onsite sale and processing of value added products.
El Dorado County- Agricultural Zoning Districts
Agricultural Districts in El Dorado County have zoning that allows, by right, packing, processing and sale of agricultural products and edible byproducts grown on-site. Zoning also allows the packing, processing and sale of agricultural products grown off-site in conjunction with the processing or sale of products produced on site.
Yolo County- Agriculture General and Agriculture Exclusive Zoning Codes
The Yolo County zoning code allows service, storage and processing facilities as an accessory use to “normal” agricultural activities.
Benefits and Drawbacks
On-site processing and sales can support improved farm-to-market efficiency. Supportive zoning can help bolster agritourism, encouraging landowners to continue farming in the face of development pressures. By the same token, zoning that allows for significant infrastructure investment may also set up land to be converted to development. It also may result in some conflicting uses, particularly in areas of increased rural residential growth and increases in traffic and noise during business hours. Related to this, the question of minimum parcel size for zones that allow agritourism or ag-industry can make rezoning of prospective lands a politically difficult task.
Agricultural Districts are special geographic areas where agriculture is encouraged and protected. They are intended to be a comprehensive response to the challenges facing farmers in developing communities. To maintain the land base for agriculture, some agricultural district programs protect farmland from annexation and eminent domain. Some increase restrictions on minimum lot sizes, buffer requirements, and non-agricultural development. Many also require that state agencies limit construction of infrastructure, such as roads and sewers, in agricultural districts.
Agricultural Districts are typically based on a number of criteria including soils, topographical features, location, lands currently in agricultural easements or preserve contracts, and development densities.
The term “agriculture” can include grazing lands or not, depending on the context. In this paper, references to “agriculture” include grazing lands. If grazing exists in an area, it could be considered in the formation of agricultural districts, or distinct grazing districts could even be formed.
El Dorado County- Agricultural Districts
A typical example of agriculture districts being used to protect and encourage agriculture is in El Dorado County. The El Dorado County General Plan established agricultural districts to conserve, protect, and maintain agricultural use. Within these districts, there are stronger policies on buffer requirements and non-agricultural development, intended to protect agriculture as the preeminent use in the districts.
Yolo County- Agricultural Districts
In its Draft General Plan, Yolo County defines for the first time an agricultural district in the Clarksburg area and has a policy to create additional agricultural districts in other parts of the county. In this example, the agricultural district is used to explore ways to encourage agricultural business development and expansion. The County is considering a number of tools which could be applied within the district to achieve this goal, including but not limited to designating specific economic focal points, subsidizing marketing efforts, and some regulatory relief.
Benefits and Drawbacks
At a minimum, agricultural districting provides policy-level acknowledgement in a geographic context of where agriculture is important, though such a purpose in and of itself can be of limited value to agricultural protection. Most agricultural districts provide preferential treatment to agricultural uses within district boundaries, for example, through more stringent buffer policies or preferential ranking for agricultural easements. Agricultural operations within the boundaries of such districts usually win in any conflict of use disputes. Perhaps an unintended consequence and drawback of agricultural districts occurs when districting draws certain agricultural lands out of district boundaries. Lands left out of districts are effectively told that they are not as important and the pressure to convert to other uses is perceived to be greater.
In a county where agricultural preservation is not a coordinated effort between city and county, agricultural districts at the edge of jurisdictions are challenged by landowners looking to convert agricultural land to another use.
Conservation easements are designed to keep land in one or more open space uses. Two easement programs at the state and federal levels fund easements specifically for farm and ranchland; however, most state and federally funded easement programs are geared toward conservation of habitat or another open space resource. Easements geared toward habitat or other open space uses can have the effect of protection agriculture as well. For example, an easement purchased for flood control might be placed on farmland. Agricultural and other open space easements are discussed below.
Agricultural Conservation Easements
Agricultural conservation easements are designed to keep land available for agriculture. They can be placed on the land voluntarily by the property owner to protect farmland and provide several tax benefits, or, where programs exist, they can be purchased by government agencies or private conservation organizations as a way to protect farmland and provide farmers a financially competitive alternative to development. Agricultural easements can also provide farmers with tax benefits such as income and/or property tax reductions.
- Non-Purchased Agricultural Conservation Easements
- Agricultural easements are deed restrictions that are voluntarily placed on land by the property owner. Because they are voluntary, conservation easements are typically flexible documents that can be tailored to individual property owners. They can cover the entire parcel, or a portion of it. In general, agricultural easements are used to limit non-farm development and do not limit other private property rights. After a conservation easement is established, the land use restrictions on the property are usually monitored and enforced by the local jurisdiction or conservation organization. The landowner retains the right to sell the property; however, most agricultural conservation easements are permanent and legally binding for future landowners.
- An example of a typical agricultural conservation easement deed can be found at http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp/cfcp/overview/Pages/cfcp_model_easement.aspx (California Farmland Conservancy Program Model Easement 2006).
- Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Programs (PACE)
- Similar to other agricultural conservation easement programs, the easement contracts are voluntarily agreed to by the landowner; however, in this case the easements are purchased. Typically they are applied in response to development mitigation (see “Agricultural Mitigation”), but they can also be unrelated to development impacts. With purchased agricultural conservation easements, the landowner sells his development rights to a government agency or private conservation agency, who pays the landowner the difference between the value of the land for agriculture and the value of the land for its “highest and best use”, which is generally residential or commercial development. Selling an easement allows farmers to cash in a percentage of the equity in their land, thus creating a financially competitive alternative to development.
- Similar to other conservation easements, purchased agricultural conservation easements restrict only the development potential of the land, not other property rights, and the easements are binding for future landowners.
- PACE programs can be implemented through state governments, local governments, and/or private conservation organizations. However, PACE programs are expensive and usually benefit from cooperative programs.
- Land trusts, which are typically private, non-profit corporations, are active in the Sacramento region in the purchase of agriculture conservation easements. A land trust exists within each of the six counties and at times work directly with the counties on joint preservation efforts.
- Williamson Act Easement Exchange Program
- Generally, when a landowner files for cancellation of a Williamson Act contract, the cancellation fees are paid into the State General Fund. Under the Easement Exchange Program, the local government and landowner(s) to put those cancellation fees toward an agricultural conservation easement elsewhere in the local area. The appraised value of the proposed easement land must be equal to or greater than the value of the cancellation fee required to cancel the existing contract, the proposed easement land must be of equal size or larger than the contract land, and the board or council of the local jurisdiction must make specific findings in order to cancel a contract. The easement exchange must furthermore meet the criteria established under the California Farmland Conservancy Program.
Equity Trust is a national non-profit organization that finds equitable solutions to economic problems relating to farming and affordable housing. Most agricultural conservation easements limit development to protect agricultural viability on the land, but do not require the land to be in active agricultural use; however, Equity Trust has a new easement model which requires that the property is actively used for agricultural purposes.
State of California Wildlife Conservation Board- California Rangeland, Grazing Land, and Grassland Protection Program
This agricultural conservation easement program is unique to protecting rangeland and grazing land.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
A typical example of a PACE program is in Lancaster County. Its PACE program is managed by a nine-member Agricultural Preserve Board, which is appointed by the County Commissioners. Established in the early 1980s, the Preserve Board is a county department with its own staff that administers the County’s PACE program. The board receives funding from both the County and the State of Pennsylvania and participates in a statewide PACE program.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Purchased conservation easements provide win-wins for agricultural land by conserving important lands while keeping them in production. However, it can be difficult to find willing sellers in areas under development pressure and funding is often insufficient. A constant deficiency in funding also makes it difficult to preserve enough land to make an appreciable change in the rural landscape. Other concerns include decreased tax base and the perception that conservation easements form a de facto subsidy for agriculture. Where land speculation is rampant, land owners are disinclined to easements because they restrict development potential for long periods of time.
Conservation easements have the potential to work in concert with urban growth boundaries, forming a second, natural buffer beyond the edge of urban growth boundaries to help contain urban development.
Habitat Conservation Plans and Agriculture-Friendly Easements
Much of the rural landscape in this region provides habitat for threatened and endangered species. All of the counties’ general plan policies have mitigation requirements for habitat land loss due to development impacts. To that end, each county is also working on a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) or some form of conservation strategy to identify areas that are important for species protection and areas where development may occur. However, there can be conflict between habitat conservation and agricultural land. Parts of the region are experiencing a conversion of agricultural land to habitat preservation for development mitigation purposes, which has the effect of removing land from agricultural use (and into habitat conservation). This type of farmland conversion can sometimes creates difficulties for adjacent agricultural lands with the invasion of weeds, rodents, birds, and waterfowl.
Nonetheless, there can also be “working” relationships between the two land uses in which both needs can be met: rice fields have become part of the Pacific Flyway, alfalfa is great foraging habitat for Swainson’s Hawk, grazing helps keep non-native grasses in check and helps vernal pools function. Identifying and planning for these working relationships can benefit the farmer and help preserve farmland. Yolo, Sacramento, and Placer County are all currently working on habitat conservation plans that will incorporate, if not depend on, agriculture. Agriculture easement programs will likely be a key mechanism to implement these HCPs.
Although not a Habitat Conservation Plan, this is an example of a jurisdiction trying to balance the interests of habitat conservation and farmland preservation. Solano County zoning code requires a conditional use permit for conservation banks within the County’s agricultural zoning district. This regulation arose out of a concern that habitat conservation banks, which could previously be established without County knowledge or approval, were being sited in the County without consideration of impacts on farmland (loss of farmland and conflict with adjacent farms). The conditional use permit will allow local officials to evaluate the potential impacts on adjacent farms before deciding whether or not to allow the habitat conservation project.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Habitat conservation plans relying on agricultural use can provide a funding source for landscape-level ag land conservation that might not otherwise be available. There is, however, a delicate balance between meeting the habitat needs of species and maintaining farm viability. A side effect of HCP easements is that they can devalue neighboring parcels by restricting uses on them. They can also limit the types of crops or farming practices of a piece of land in the interest of preserving habitat. For example, and HCP easement for a hawk might restrict the underlying land to a limited selection of crops that support hawk foraging. This type of restriction limits the ability of a farmer to adapt to changing market forces.
Agritourism and Ag-Industry
Agritourism and other revenue generating opportunities within agricultural areas are one way to improve economic vitality of agriculture in the region. Landowners are likely to remain in the business of farming if it’s more profitable. Agritourism spans a wide spectrum. In this region it can mean having an onsite farm stand that sells onsite produce or a multi-million dollar operation such as Apple Hill in El Dorado County.
Ag-Industry, in this report, refers to the revenue generating operations not directly related to the commodity produced on site, for example, carbon trading or energy production.
In the SACOG region, all six counties have general plan policies that support and encourage agritourism opportunities.
Yolo County- Draft General Plan Agricultural Economic Development Element
Beyond encouraging the expansion of agritourism in the county, Yolo County, in its Draft General Plan includes policies specifically promoting agricultural innovation, including biotechnology, carbon sequestration and methane recovery.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Agritourism and ag-industry can bring in jobs, sales tax, property tax, and support family farm operations. But at the same time, success can mean traffic and noise nuisances for adjacent uses.
While promotion of agritourism and ag-industry can revitalize farming activities, it does not on its own resolve the basic conflicts between the pressures to convert and conserve agricultural land. In fact, without other supporting programs to encourage and sustain these industries, lands can convert to non-ag use and the existing infrastructure used to support higher intensities of development.
Regional Open Space Collaborative
A cooperative effort of multiple land conservation organizations to create a regional priority for land conservation that considers all of the open space land uses that benefit the region from environmental, economic, and quality of life perspectives. The goal of such a collaborative is to elevate the importance of open space in the general public, thus broadening regional appreciation for the need for a healthy open space system in rural areas. Multi-party collaboration at a regional scale can elevate the conservation profile of a region and in doing so, can also attract larger conservation funding sources than any individual group might be able to attract.
Bay Area Open Space Council
This partnership of public and non-profit open space groups covers the nine-county San Francisco bay area. The Council has built a regional funding, education and coordination strategy to support its mission of fostering an interconnected system of healthy communities with parks, trails, agricultural lands and natural areas throughout the region. A mapping effort identified existing open lands and helped Council members to develop a vision for open space needs and opportunities in the Bay Area. This mapping and collaboration enabled the region to receive over $125 million in funding for open space protection in the nine-county region through a special conservancy established by the state Legislature for the San Francisco Bay Area.
Northern Sierra Partnership
The Northern Sierra Partnership is a collaboration of local, national and international land trusts (Feather River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and Truckee Donner Land Trust) and private businesses (Sierra Business Council) in the northern Sierra region of California. The partnership was created to stimulate conservation action and private fundraising and to complement the goals of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, a relatively new state agency that will guide public spending on conservation in the Sierra Nevada. The partnership’s strategic objectives include the protection of at least 100,000 acres of high priority lands over the next five to ten years, proactive climate change solutions, and enhancing local economies through sustainable land use programs.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Regional collaboration for open space conservation can elevate the importance of open space in the public eye, and in the eyes of potential funders. These effects can provide more momentum to conservation activities and were part of the motivation for forming the above examples of regional collaboratives. The difficulty with regional collaborations is ensuring that all participants maintain a shared vision of the priorities and strategies for the region over time.
Agricultural Resources and Training Center
A facility located conveniently to a region’s farming sub-regions government and non-profit organizations that provide assistance to farmers. While such a center would serve a broader array of needs, part of its role would be to provide grant writing assistance and grant administrating assistance to farmers pursuing land conservation and stewardship funding.
Sutter County Agricultural Resources and Training Center
A proposal by the Sutter County Resource Conservation District to construct a building in Yuba City, that provides conveniently located support services to the county’s farming and farming-related businesses. The center would house local, state and federal entities that regulate or provide support to local growers, including the local community college, University of California Cooperative Extension, the Sutter County Agricultural Commissioner, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the local Resource Conservation District. Conference rooms, business incubator spaces, and a resource center will also be available. The goal of the Resource center is to provide a “one-stop-shop” for local growers strengthening working relationships between the various entities involved in regulating the agricultural industry.
Benefits and Drawbacks
The Agricultural Resource Center is still a fairly new concept. In the case of the Sutter County Agricultural Resource Center, the Sutter RCD hopes the center will provide growers an efficient, direct connection to regulators and training and business development opportunities.
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