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

Sutter County
Comparison of Plans & Performance

Basic Plan Information Highlights

Sutter County General Plan - adopted 1996
Sutter County Plan Map

Yuba City General Plan - adopted 2004
Yuba City Plan Map

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 efffort to update this web site.

In 2004, Sutter County adopted exemplary new zoning provisions that tightened the criteria for permitting "ranchette" development, an increasingly worrisome problem throughout the Central Valley. In March 2006, the Supervisors extended a moratorium on land subdivisions in the Meridian and Sutter basins until September to allow further study of ranchettes.

[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 preserve agriculturally-designated areas for agricultural uses and direct non-agricultural development to areas designated for urban/suburban growth, or rural communities and/or cities.” Policy 6.A-1, Sutter County General Plan (SCGP), at 58.

“The County shall direct new urban and suburban residential development to existing rural communities and within the spheres of influence of Yuba City and Live Oak where adequate public facilities are available.” Policy 1.C-1, SCGP, at 13.

Maintain a cohesive city and protect surrounding rural areas by fostering a compact, rather than scattered development pattern, with strong urban edges.” Yuba City General Plan (YCGP), at I-5.

Percentage of urban & built-up land outside city spheres of influence: 27% (Rank 6)

Since 2002, five amendments to the Sutter County General Plan have resulted in the conversion of about 200 acres of agricultural land to other uses. 162 acres was for wetland mitigation and the rest for residential uses. The County also turned down at least two applications for amendments that would have converted about 30 acres of agricultural land to ranchette development. [Link to County planning staff reports on General Plan Amendments]

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

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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

“To preserve high quality agricultural land for agricultural purposes.” Goal 6.A, SCGP, at 58.

Proportion of all land developed 1990-2000 that was High Quality Farmland: 80% (Rank 10)

High quality farmland as proportion of all land in county: 78%

High Quality Farmland as a proportion of all undeveloped land within city spheres of influence in 2000: 84% (Rank 11)

Land Development Quality Index: 1.03 (Rank 3)

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

SCGP designates most of the county for agriculture in two clearly defined zones based strictly on soil classifications: The AG-20 zone (minimum parcel size for dwelling is 20 acres), corresponding to soils suitable for orchard crops, generally follows the Feather and Sacramento Rivers and surrounds Yuba City and Live Oak. The much more extensive AG-80 zone (80 acre per dwelling) includes soils suitable for growing field and row crops, mostly “rice lands,” and for ranch uses. SCGP, LU Element, pp. 2-3.

Agricultural Preserve Option allows rural residences to be clustered on small (2 acre maximum) lots as an alternative to removing entire large tracts from agricultural use. SCGP, at 3.

"Ranchette designation is applied to areas located outside of the Yuba City and Live Oak spheres of influence, which are suitable for rural residential and small scale farming operations. Allowed densities within this designation range between 0.1 to 1/3 dwelling unit per acre (3-10 acre parcel size)." SCGP, LU Element, p. 3

Developed 1.5-10 ac ranchette acreage: 530 acres (Rank 1)

Ranchettes 1.5-10 ac as percentage of urbanized land: 5% (Rank 2)

Current zoning would theoretically permit about 5,700 more rachette residences in the AG-20 zone. However, new zoning code provisions and ranchette criteria discourage rural residential development with lot dimension, road frontage and other requirements.

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

“To promote the efficient use of lands within the County to preserve and enhance the quality of life for existing and future residents of Sutter County.” Goal 1.A, SCGP, at 10.

"Maintain a well-defined compact urban form, with a defined urban growth boundary and urban development intensities on land designated for urban uses.” Policy 3.4-G-1, YCGP, at 3-10.

“Encourage and provide incentives for infill development, including affordable housing for low and very low income residents, within existing residential areas at a density not less than surrounding development, subject to appropriate standards to ensure compatibility with adjacent uses.” Policy3.5-G-6, YCGP, at 3-13.  It provides density bonuses for affordable housing. Id.

"Provide for concentrations of activity and mixed-use and pedestrian-oriented development in selected areas.” Policy 3.4-I-8, YCGP, at 3-11


People per urbanized acre 2000:
5.9 (Rank 6)

People per urbanized acre, new development 1990-2000:
6.5 (Rank 9)

Undeveloped land within city spheres of influence: 14,234 acres;
279% of 2020 need at current development efficiencies (Rank 7)

Vehicle Miles Traveled per Household 2000: 26,411 (Rank 6)
Change from 1990: +4% (Rank 6)

About 3,550 (79%) of the 4,484 acres planned for residential use in the county are earmarked for “low-density” development in the 2 to 8 dwellings per acre range.

3,800 (53%) of the 7,200 undeveloped acres within Yuba City’s sphere of influence are planned for low-density residential use averaging 4.25 units per acre. YCGP, at 3-5, 3-8.  The city plan calls for accommodating an additional 51,300 people within the 7,200-acre sphere by 2025, an average of 7.1 people per urban acre. 

Through Measure M, an advisory ballot measure passed in 2004, county voters approved a 3,500-acre commercial and industrial district in the southeastern part of the county.  Though this area is now agricultural and isolated from other commercial areas of Sutter County, it is on Highway 99 just north of the Sacramento International Airport and just west of an area planned for development in Placer County.

Yuba City has adopted a Town Center Redevelopment Plan that combines civic and business uses with a town square and other parks.  It is committed to “fast track” approval of permits within the 26-acre enterprise zone.

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 (where 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]

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