Farmland Protection Bill Dies in Committee;
Developers Lead the Opposition
In late May 2014, the Assembly Appropriations Committee “held over” the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act, AB 1961, essentially killing the bill. The bill was authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D- Stockton) who chairs the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
AB 1961 was crafted after a public hearing, roundtable discussion and many months of talks with county government associations and the California Farm Bureau Federation. However, AB 1961 came under heavy opposition from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA). In spite of the bill amendments the author took to address their stated concerns, CBIA continued to lobby actively to kill it. It seems anything that advances farmland conservation, however modest, is anathema to the developers’ lobby.
We are grateful for the leadership Assemblymember Eggman demonstrated in championing the critical issue of farmland conservation in California. We also appreciate the support for the bill from a diverse spectrum of land trust, agriculture, planning and conservation organizations as well as the dozens of farmers from around the state.
AB 1961 would have required that counties with significant farmland resources inventory their agricultural lands and describe their goals and policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss, compiling that information on the county website. The bill was co-sponsored by CalCAN, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and American Farmland Trust. More information on AB 1961 and a list of supporters can be found below. CalCAN and our allies will continue to push for stronger state policies to support farmland conservation and mitigation.
Background on AB 1961
On Feb. 19, 2014 Assembly Agriculture Chair Susan Talamantes Eggman introduced the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act (AB 1961). The bill recognizes the significance of the state’s farmland resources by requiring counties to complete a Farmland Conservation Strategy. It is co-sponsored by CalCAN, Community Alliance with Family Farmers and American Farmland Trust.
“The Farmland Conservation Strategy Act acknowledges that our agricultural land in California is a finite resource that is critical for our economy and our food security,” said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman. “This bill highlights the need to discuss at the local level how we can maintain our agricultural land for generations to come.”
The bill requires that counties with significant farmland resources inventory their agriculturally zoned land, describe their goals and policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss and compile that information on the county website. Counties with less than four percent of their land base in agriculture are not required to complete a Farmland Conservation Strategy.
“We cannot continue to lose farmland at the rate we’re going,” said Jean Okuye, Merced County farmer and President of the Merced Chapter of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “I welcome the opportunity this bill creates at the local level to discuss how our county can support our farmers and keep a thriving agriculture on the land.”
California is the most diverse and productive agricultural state in the United States with sales in 2013 topping nearly $45 billion. The state’s farms and ranches supply the majority of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables and are leading suppliers of dairy products. Despite this, over the past 30 years, the state has lost an average of 30,000 acres, annually, of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses.
Counties have jurisdiction over the majority of the state’s agricultural land and play a vital role in regulating the use of land, including the conservation of agricultural lands through zoning and planning activities. The Sustainable Farmland Strategy is intended to be a complement to the state’s Williamson Act, which provides tax incentives for landowners to keep their land in agriculture.
AB 1961 passed through the Assembly Local Government and Assembly Agriculture Committee but was held over in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May 2014.
American Farmland Trust (co-sponsor)
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (co-sponsor)
California Climate and Agriculture Network (co-sponsor)
Agricultural – Natural Resources Trust
American Planning Association, California Chapter
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California Center for Rural Policy, Humboldt State University
California Farm Bureau Federation
California Farmers Union
Catholic Charities Diocese of Stockton
Farmland Working Group
Friends Committee of Legislation of California
Land Trust of Santa Cruz County
LandWatch Monterey County
Marin Agriculture Land Trust
Peninsula Open Space Trust
Potrero Nuevo Farm
Rich Rominger, Rominger Brothers Farms
San Mateo County Farm Bureau
San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance
Sequoia Riverlands Trust
Sierra Nevada Alliance
Silicon Valley Land Conservancy
Sonoma Land Trust
Supervisor Don Horsley, San Mateo County
Supervisor Louis Calcagno, Monterey County
The Nature Conservancy
Trust for Public Land
Valley Land Alliance
Plus, a sign-on letter from 40 farmers in 20 counties