EL CENTRO – The California Farm Bureau Federation presented the current status of the Williamson Act to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors during the Feb. 9 board meeting in hopes to adopt the program once again in the county.
The California Land Conservation Act, better known as the Williamson Act, has been the state’s premier agricultural land protection program since its enactment in 1965. More than 16 million of the state’s 30 million acres of farm and ranch land are currently protected under the Williamson Act.
The Williamson Act provides relief of property tax to owners of farmland and open-space land in exchange for a ten-year agreement that the land will not be developed or otherwise converted to another use. The motivation for the Williamson Act is to promote voluntary land conservation, particularly farmland conservation. The state then compensates the county for the loss of the property taxes.
To qualify, an agricultural preserve must consist of no less than 100 acres. However, in order to meet this requirement, two or more parcels may be combined if they are contiguous, or if they are in common ownership. Smaller agricultural preserves may be established if a board or council determines that the unique characteristic of the agricultural enterprise in the area calls for smaller agricultural units, and if the establishment of the preserve is consistent with the county General Plan. Preserves may be made up of land in one or more ownerships.
Imperial County initially adopted the Williamson Act in 2002. However, in November 2010, the Board of Supervisors voted to exit the program after receiving a minimal amount of money from the state.
According to Imperial County Assessor Robert Menvielle, approximately 135,000 acres of farm land (25 percent of the farm land in Imperial County) participated in the program prior to the program’s termination.
District 4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley requested the board place the Williamson Act on the agenda for discussion in hopes to re-adopt the program.
“The land in jeopardy is the land that immediately surrounds incorporated cities,” said Kelley.
The presentation to the supervisors was given by Chris Scheuring, associate counsel of the Farm Bureau Federation in Sacramento, who explained in program in depth.
“The California Farm Bureau Federation and I are ready to assist the county of Imperial to get the Williamson Act restored,” said Scheuring.
The county will schedule workshops in the upcoming months with various departments to discuss the program further.
To learn more about the Williamson Act, visit http://www.conservation.ca.gov/