County officials had the opportunity to discuss the farmland mitigation during this week’s informational hearing of the Assembly Agricultural Committee. Speaking on behalf of CSAC and the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann discussed the current status of farmland mitigation at the county level, and barriers and opportunities for farmland mitigation at the local level.
Supervisor Vann noted that most counties have adopted local programs or policies to protect agricultural lands and encourage the continued operation and expansion of value-added agricultural based businesses.
Speaking to the issue of barriers to farmland mitigation/conservation, she pointed to the reality of an unstable water supply in this state and the increased regulatory costs that make profitable farming in this state nearly impossible. Financial incentives to landowners to keep their land in production was also noted as a significant barrier to farmland conservation.
She further stressed, “…that counties, who alone can’t provide the financial incentives to land owners to keep their land in production, are the ONLY entities providing financial incentive to land owners, via the Williamson Act. The need for a permanent funding source of the Williamson Act subventions was also emphasized.
Supervisor Vann was followed by Tim Snellings, Director of the Butte County Department of Development Services, who was speaking on behalf of the California County Planning Directors Association (CCPDA).
Mr. Snellings discussed Butte County farmland conservation efforts and identified challenges to protecting farmland, including: low cost of land relative to land zoned for new development in cities/urban areas, physical suitability of agricultural land for urban development, state agencies with different missions that work at cross purposes; solar v. farmland, cities looking to expand rather than build-up, and fiscalization of land use.
He also provided an overview of the CCPDA recommendations for addressing farmland conservation, many of which echoed those of Supervisor Vann, including support for a stable source of funding for the Williamson Act subventions.
Other panelists at the hearing included John Lowrie, Department of Conservation; John Gamper California Farm Bureau Federation; Ed Thompson, American Farmland Trust; Darla Guenzler, California Council of Land Trusts; John Beckman, Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley; and Osha Meserve, Soluri Meserve, A Law Corporation.
The Assembly Agriculture Committee plans to schedule a follow-up roundtable discussion with the same panelists at a future date. The roundtable discussion will address how the state may move forward in addressing farmland conservation.