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AFT Calls for Williamson Act Improvement

At the invitation of the California Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Dave Cox (1st Dist.), AFT California Director Edward Thompson, Jr., testified that the Williamson Act needs significant improvement. The Williamson Act is the backbone of the state’s farmland preservation effort, offering farmers and ranchers lower property taxes in exchange for agreeing not to develop their land for at least 10 years. Governor Schwarzenegger’s most recent budget proposal would cut virtually all funding for the program, forcing local governments to cancel agreements with landowners and leaving tens of thousands of acres of farm and ranch land vulnerable to development.

Thompson called for a restoration of $40 million in funding, which he said is barely a “rounding error” in the overall state budget and, in view of all the economic and environmental contributions agriculture makes to California, is a bargain for state taxpayers. He also noted that fewer farmers take advantage of Williamson when their land is close to cities (see map), calling into question whether the financial incentives the law offers are sufficient to save the state’s most vulnerable and valuable farmland. Thompson suggested that incentives may need to be increased and linked to more effective local land use planning so that farmers who voluntarily agree not to develop their land are not put at risk from subdivisions next door. He also called for a more robust overall effort to preserve California’s best farmland, including more efficient urban development and an explicit state farmland conservation policy.

Read AFT’s Williamson Act Testimony

California Farms Enrolled in Williamson Act
Farms enrolled in Williamson Act are shown in green in the area of Fresno County called the “Golden Triangle” because of its high agricultural productivity. White areas are not enrolled and are vulnerable to development. Red areas are cities. (Map by Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program, CA Dept of Conservation)
American Farmland Trust