The Future is Now: Central Valley Farmland at the Tipping Point?
Executive Summary
Resumen Ejecutivo
Current Trends
     Population Growth
  Farmland Use and Development
  Quality of Farmland Developed
  Efficiency of Urban Development
  "Ranchettes" & Other Rural Development
  Agricultural Trends
Local Plans & Performance
  Analytical Method
  Sutter County
  Sacramento County
  Yolo County
  San Joaquin County
  Stanislaus County
  Merced County
  Madera County
  Fresno County
  Tulare County
  Kings County
  Kern County
Where is The Valley Heading?
Time for Change
  Ideas for Change
What You Can Do
  Rank Your County
  Local Official Contacts
  Local Organizations
  Support AFT
Methodology & Background Data
About AFT in California

Sacramento County
Comparison of Plans & Performance

Basic Plan Information Highlights
Sacramento County General Plan – adopted in 1993. 
Update Now In Progress
Get Involved!

[Link to Update Process]

City of Sacramento General Plan - adopted in 1988.
Update Now In Progress
Get Involved!

[Link to Update Process]

Sacramento County LAFCo
Contains Policy Discussion Paper: Open Space and Agricultural Land Preservation Policy and maps.

We are sorry that we were not able to provide planning information for every city in the county. If officials or residents of those cities provide us with relevant data and information, we will make every effort to update this web site.

Through its Blueprint Project, the Sacramento Council of Governments has adopted an exemplary “smart growth” guide for future development throughout the region.  To become legally effective, it must be adopted by the cities within the county and by the County itself.

The 1999 Metro Square development in downtown Sacramento is an award-winning model of smart urban infill.

[Click for a Table Summarizing County Performance Data and Rank Compared to Other Counties]

Do local plans and their implementation provide certainty by clearly and consistently (without too many changes) indicating where urban development should occur and where agriculture should remain the preferred, long-term use of land?

[Click here for an explanation of this question]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

“The County shall maintain an Urban Service Boundary that defines the long-range plans (beyond twenty years) for urbanization and extension of public infrastructure and services, and defines important areas for protecting as open space and agriculture.”  Policy LU-58, Sacramento County General Plan (SCGP), Land Use Element, at 81. 

[Map of Urban Service Boundary]

“Objective: Limited agricultural-residential land use expansion outside the USB which does not compromise objectives for protecting prime agricultural lands.” SCGP, Land Use Element, at 84.

“The County will not support the development of new towns in rural areas extending beyond the Urban Services Boundary.” LU-61, Sacramento County General Plan Land Use Element, at 84. 

“Future agricultural-residential development outside the USB and outside Galt’s Sphere of Influence shall be limited to existing agricultural-residential lands so designated on the Land Use Diagram.” LU-62, SCGP, Land Use Element, at 86.

“The County shall not accept applications for General Plan amendments re-designating prime farmlands or lands with intensive agricultural investments to agricultural/residential or urban use (i.e. residential, commercial, industrial) unless proposed development is contiguous to agricultural-residential or urban uses, and unless the applicant demonstrates no feasible alternative sites are available other than prime farmlands or lands with intensive agricultural investment.” SCGP, AG-2, Agricultural Element, at 6.

“LAFCo will approve a change of organization or reorganization which will result in the conversion of prime agricultural land in open space use to other uses only if the Commission finds that the proposal will lead to the planned, orderly and efficient development of an area.”  Sacramento County LAFCo, Agricultural Land Conversion Policy, Staff Report, at 15.

Percentage of urban & built-up land outside city spheres of influence: 37% (Rank 9)

[Click here to see a map of actual development 1990-2000]

Adobe Acrobat is a program that will enable you to view the map.
Click the icon to download it for free.

Between 1988 and 2001, the City of Sacramento approved 128 General Plan Amendments changing the use of more than 5,800 acres.  The largest changes were in North Natomas and South Sacramento. See Tables 9 and 10, SCGP, at 1-33, 1-34.

Do local plans and their implementation avoid development of high quality farmland in favor of less productive land?

[Click here for an explanation of this question]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

“The County shall protect prime farmlands and lands with intensive agricultural investments from urban encroachments.”  AG-1, SCGP, Agricultural Element, at 6.

"Direct development away from prime or statewide importance soils or otherwise provide for mitigation that slows the loss of additional farmland conversion to other uses." SCGP, Conservation Element, CO-54, at 47.

"Projects resulting in the conversion of more than fifty (50) acres of prime or statewide importance farmland shall be deemed to have a significant environmental effect, as defined by CEQA." SCGP, Conservation Element, CO-55, at 47.

"Mitigate loss of prime farmlands or lands with intensive agricultural investments through CEQA requirements to require in-kind protection of nearby farmland." SCGP, Ag Element, AG-5, at 7.

Proportion of all land developed 1990-2000 that was High Quality Farmland: 27% (Rank1)

High Quality Farmland as a proportion of all land in county: 31%

• High Quality Farmland as a proportion of all undeveloped land within city spheres of influence in 2000: 21% (Rank 1)

Land Development Quality Index:  0.82 (Rank 2)

The county has only recently begun to implement its farmland mitigation policy CO-55 . (Sacramento County Planning Department)

Do local plans and their implementation protect agriculture by limiting and buffering incompatible residential development?

[Click here for an explanation of this issue]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

 There are five categories of agricultural land under the SCGP [Land Use Plan Map - 5.2 MB]

Agricultural Cropland – Suitable for intensive agriculture (includes same lands as “high quality farmland”), permits single-family dwellings at a density no greater than 1:40 acres.

General Agriculture 80 - Less suited for agriculture than Agricultural Cropland (Class IV-VI soils), permits single-family dwellings at a density no greater than 1:80 acres. 

General Agriculture 20 – Land designated for starter farms or large hobby farms, about 30% suitable primarily for grazing, permits single-family dwelling units at a density of no greater than 1:20 acres.

Agricultural-Recreation Reserve - Lands that are generally scenic or sensitive and have potential recreational (hunting, fishing, etc.) value, but which will remain in agricultural or related and compatible open space use for the plan period.

Agricultural-Urban Reserve - Areas intended for urban expansion after the 20-year planning period.  Land subdivisions incompatible with orderly and well-planned future urban development are not permitted.

Agricultural-Residential – Land for rural residential uses typical of established rural communities, small-scale agriculture and other limited agricultural activities, permits single-family dwellings at densities between one and 10 acres per dwelling.  SCGP, Land Use Element, at 7-8.

“Objective: Historical rate of Agricultural-Residential development accommodated so as to provide 2,400 new units or 2.6% of projected 2010 residential growth through build-out and limited expansion of existing Agricultural-Residential communities. *** As a land use, rural residential densities of one, two and five acres to the dwelling unit do not support many of the goals of this Plan. This Plan recognizes those issues while acknowledging that the pursuit of a rural lifestyle is a legitimate demand for which Sacramento has historically provided.  SCGP, Land Use Element, at 56.

The SCGP Agricultural Element also includes buffers to separate farming practices from urban uses (AG-3, at 3); right to farm ordinance (AG-4, at 4); mitigation for the loss of prime farmlands or land with less intensive agricultural investments through CEQA or in-kind protection of nearby farmland (AG-5, at 4); minimum parcel sizes for land divisions (AG-6, at 9); limits on divisions (AG-8, at 9). 

Developed 1.5-10 ac ranchette acreage: 8,346 (Rank 7)

Ranchettes as a percentage of urbanized land: 5% (Rank 3)

Of  13,937 acres of undeveloped land designated Agricultural-Residential in 1992, 77% were earmarked for development on 5-10 acres rather than smaller lots. SCGP, Land Use Element, Table II.2, at 12.

[Map of Existing Agricultural-Residential areas]


Do local plans and their implementation promote efficient "smart" development that minimizes farmland conversion while making communities more livable and sustainable?

[Click here for an explanation of this issue]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

 “The County shall give priority to residential development on vacant or underutilized sites within existing urban areas which have infrastructure capacity available.” SCGP, LU-2, at 49.

“Objective: High intensity, mixed use neighborhoods that provide a pedestrian environment and are closely linked to transit.” SCGP, Land Use Element, at 64.

“Developments in the areas designated on the Land Use Diagram as Urban or Neighborhood [Transit Oriented Districts] shall be designed in a manner that conforms to the concepts of transit-oriented development, including:” high intensity, mixed use development concentrated in a Core Area within an easy walk of a transit stop.  SCGP, LU-26, at 65.

“With only a third of the city left undeveloped now and with projections for only 10 to 15 percent vacant land in twenty years, the policy emphasis is on how best to conserve what development [opportunities] we have now and to maximize the quality of development as it occurs on remaining vacant lands.”  City of Sacramento General Plan (CSGP), at 1-1.

“It is the policy of the City to promote infill development, rehabilitation, and reuse that contributes positively to the surrounding area and assists in meeting neighborhood and other City goals.” CSGP, Policy 5, at 1-38.

People per urbanized acre 2000: 7.6 (Rank 1)

People per urbanized acre, new development 1990-2000:
9.3 (Rank 4)

Undeveloped land within city spheres of influence: 64,829 acres, representing 83% of 2020 need at current development efficiencies. (Rank 1) Note: Sacramento County has many unincorporated areas that form an urban continuum with its cities.

Of the approximately 63,000 acres earmarked for residential use in the county, 90% are designated for low-density development. SCGP, Land Use Element, Table II.1, at 11.

Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Household 2000: 12,458 (Rank 9)
Change from 1990: -8% (Rank 2)

Sacramento recently opened a light rail commuter link to Folsom.

In 2001, the City of Sacramento had about 2,500 acres of infill potential property that could yield approximately 17,800 dwelling units. CSGP, at 1-20.

Note on Ranking: The Central Valley counties included in this report are ranked to enable a comparison of their performance in preserving farmland and encouraging "smart growth." A rank of 1 (among the 11 counties studied) indicates the best relative performance, a rank of 11 indicates the worst relative performance. Rankings are based on percentage change (where it is given), amount of change (where no percentage change is given) or the absolute number (wherre no change is given).

Land Development Quality Index measures how well the local jurisdictions in a county have avoided the development of High Quality Farmland (HQF) by taking advantage of the available options for encouraging development of lower productivity land. It is the ratio of the percentage of development during 1990-2000 that occurred on HQF to the percentage of all land in the county mapped by FMMP that is HQF. The latter excudes undevelopable areas such as deserts and mountains. An LDQI greater than 1.0 indicates that the county is not taking full advantage of its alternatives.

Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Household is closely correlated with efficient development patterns that minimize auto trips between home, work, schools and shopping (as well as with levels of air pollution). [Click here for more information]

[Back to Top]