Last month, land use experts weighed in on the environmental impacts that could result from budget cuts to the Williamson Act, California's anti-sprawl measure that gives tax breaks to landowners, usually farmers, who sign contracts to keep their land development free (in return county governments reimburse the counties* for the lost property tax revenue). Another story to file in the California-is-screwed-department: Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Williamson Act is "widely viewed as the state's most significant land-management tool," and the $28 million in cuts could force landowners to sell off land they can't afford to keep. What's at stake? Oh, more than half the state's land.
Additionally, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors has already stopped accepting applications for new Williamson Act contracts. Via the Times: "
At stake are about 16.5 million acres -- more than half of the state's farmland -- protected from development through Williamson Act contracts. Kern County has 1.7 million acres enrolled in the program, and Fresno County is close behind at 1.5 million acres. Tulare County rounds out the top three with more than a million acres, much of it dairy farms that make the county the top milk-producing region in the nation.
The paper goes on to notes the cuts will have less of an impact in Southern California " because there's not much farmland left to protect." So will developers come in to buy all this land, or are they just as strapped for cash these days, too? Meanwhile, in some cases, it doesn't sound like that much money is needed to fund the program: "For instance, the Members of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors say that meager tax base leaves them with little choice but to cancel Williamson Act contracts or find a way to replace the $3.4 million in state money that the county will lose this year."
· State cuts imperil program to preserve farmland [LA Times]
· Budget Cuts Sprawl-Protecting Williamson Act Funds [Curbed LA]