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Land Conservation (Williamson) Act

Legislative Amendments

effective January 1, 2000

In this legislative session several bills competed for proposed changes to certain sections. For example, SB 649 and SB 985 both proposed changes to the same section of the Williamson Act. In such cases, the bill with the higher chapter number supercedes the competing language of other bills with lower chapter numbers.

Senate Bill 649 (Costa, Chapter 1019, Statutes of 1999)

Open Space Subvention Funds for Farmland Security Zones (GC §51296)

Existing law, Local governments are now entitled to continue to receive Open Space Subvention Funds for 10 years from the date nonrenewal is initiated on lands enrolled under a Farmland Security Zone (FSZ) contract. This state appropriation is capped at $100,000 per year until 2005.

SB 649, Local governments with FSZ contracted land within an incorporated city, or within three miles of an incorporated city’s sphere of influence, are now eligible to receive eight dollars ($8) for each acre of that contracted land, as appropriated by the Open Space Subvention Act.

Cancellation Provisions for Farmland Security Zones (GC §51296)

SB 649, Costa, Chapter 1019, Statutes of 1999; Supercedes SB 985, Johnston, for this section

As of January 1, 2000, the FSZ program will contain contract cancellation provisions. Only the landowner may file a petition for FSZ contract cancellation. The local government may grant a petition for cancellation only if all the following findings are met:

a) That the cancellation is for land on which a notice of nonrenewal has been served pursuant to Section 51245.

b) That cancellation is not likely to result in the removal of adjacent lands from agricultural use.

c) That cancellation is for an alternative use which is consistent with the application provision of the city or county general plan.

d) That cancellation will not result in discontiguous patterns of urban development.

e) That there is no proximate noncontracted land which is both available and suitable for the use to which it is proposed the contracted land be put, or, that development of the contracted land would provide more contiguous patterns of urban development than development of proximate noncontracted land.

f) That other public concerns substantially outweigh the objectives of this chapter.

g) That no beneficial public purpose would be served by the continuation of the contract.

h) That the uneconomic nature of the agricultural use is primarily attributable to circumstances beyond the control of the landowner and the local government.

i) That the landowner has paid a cancellation fee equal to 25 percent of the cancellation valuation calculated in accordance with subdivision (b) of Section 51283.

Cancellations must be approved by the Director of Conservation. The director may approve the cancellation after reviewing the record if he or she finds both the following:

a) That there is substantial evidence in the record supporting the decision.

b) That no beneficial public purpose would be served by the continuation of the contract

For those FSZ contracts in existence prior to January 1, 2000 which incorporated the Williamson Act cancellation provisions (GC §51282), the contract will revert back to its original Williamson Act contractual status unless both parties agree to conform it to SB 649’s FSZ cancellation provisions.

For those FSZ contracts in existence prior to January 1, 2000 which contain no cancellation provisions or a prohibition on cancellation, may remain in effect unmodified—unless the parties agree to modify the contract to include SB 649’s FSZ cancellation provisions.

Local governments can rescind a portion or portions of an underlying Williamson Act contract for the purpose of immediately enrolling the land in a FSZ, so long as the remaining land is retained in a Williamson Act contract and the local government determines that its action would improve the conservation of agricultural land.

Senate Bill 985 (Johnston, Chapter 1018, Statutes of 1999)

“Recreational Use” definition (GC §51201(n))

SB 985 clarified that “Recreational Use” is the use of land in its “agricultural or natural state”.

Agricultural Preserves (GC §51230)

Existing law allows agricultural preserves to contain land other than agricultural land not under contract if the land is restricted within two years of the effective date of the contract.

SB 985 limits the means of restriction to zoning.

Existing provisions of the Williamson Act do not require that local zoning of designated agricultural preserves be consistent with the minimum parcel size under the act.

SB 985 requires local governments to rezone their agricultural preserves to reflect minimum parcel sizes required by the Williamson Act in their general plans and zoning ordinances.

Existing law requires that a proposal to establish an agricultural preserve be submitted to the local planning department or planning commission. The planning department or planning commission will submit a report to the county board of supervisors or the city council which includes a statement that the preserve is consistent or inconsistent with the general plan, and the board or council is required to make a finding to that effect.

SB 985 requires that the report include a statement that the preserve is consistent with the general plan, and the board or council makes a finding to that effect.

Lot Line Adjustments (GC §51257)

Existing law, to facilitate a lot line adjustment, parties to a Williamson Act contract may mutually agree to rescind the contract and simultaneously enter into a new contact provided that specified findings are made by the board or council. In addition to the existing specified findings.

SB 985 requires the board or council also find that “the lot line adjustment does not result in a greater number of developable parcels than existed prior to the adjustment, or an adjusted lot that is inconsistent with the general plan.”

Existing law, under the Williamson Act, whenever it appears that land within an agricultural preserve may be acquired by a public agency for a public use, the public agency is required to provide specified notices and findings to the Director of Conservation and the local governing body administering the preserve. The act also provides that the required notices and findings may be given and contained in California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents as long as they comply with specified timelines.

SB 985 repeals the provisions that allow CEQA documents to provide the required notices and findings.

SB 985 exempts acquisitions of land for the erection, construction, or alteration of gas, electric, piped subterranean water or wastewater, or communication facilities from the early notice requirements of Section 51291(b).

Under the Williamson Act, whenever a public agency acquires land within an agricultural preserve it is required to make specified findings. For the acquisition of contracted prime land, the public agency was required to find that: the lower cost of the agricultural preserve land was not a primary consideration and there is no other land within or outside the preserve on which it is reasonably feasible to locate the public improvement.

SB 985 deletes the word “Prime” in Section 51292(b), thus making all acquisitions of contracted land, regardless of whether the soil is prime or nonprime, subject to both of these findings.

1240 Land Exchange (GC §51256)

SB 985, Johnston, Chapter 1018, Statutes of 1999; Supercedes SB 831, Baca, for this section

Existing law, under the Williamson Act, the parties to a contract may enter into an agreement to rescind a contract in order to simultaneously place other land under an agricultural conservation easement, if specified findings are made. SB 985 requires contracts to be rescinded pursuant to the cancellation provisions of Government Code section 51282.

SB 985 clarifies that the land to be placed under an agricultural conservation easement must be located within the same county or city where the Williamson Act contract is rescinded.

When evaluating a conservation easement pursuant to the selection criteria in Public Resources Code section 10252, SB 985 requires the board or council to make a finding that the proposed easement will make a beneficial contribution to the conservation of agricultural land in its area. Existing law requires the board or council to receive approval for a proposed agreement from the Director of Conservation. The Director of Conservation may approve the agreement if he or she finds that findings of the board or council, as required by section 51256, are supported by substantial evidence, and that the proposed conservation easement is consistent with the criteria set forth in Sections 10251 and 10252 of the Public Resources Code. In addition to the above, SB 985 allows the director to approve the agreement if it finds that the board or council’s findings made pursuant to 51282 are supported by substantial evidence and that the proposed conservation easement will make a beneficial contribution to the conservation of agricultural land in its area.

Senate Bill 985 (Chapter 1018, Statutes 1999) and Assembly Bill 1505 (Ducheny, Chapter 967, Statutes of 1999)

Subdividing Williamson Act Contracted Land (GC §66474.4)

Existing law requires the legislative body of a city or county to deny approval of a tentative map or parcel map if it finds that the land is enrolled under a Williamson Act contract and that the resulting parcel(s) following a subdivision of the land would be too small to sustain agricultural use. SB 985 also requires the legislative body to deny approval if the subdivision will result in residential development not incidental to the commercial agricultural use of the land.

AB 1505 authorizes a landowner subject to a Williamson Act contract to subdivide no more than five acres of contracted land then to sell or lease it to a nonprofit organization, city, county, housing authority, or state agency for agricultural laborer housing upon making specified findings.