AB 551 – update

August 2nd, 2013 by caitlyn

The Urban Ag Incentives Zone Act (AB 551) is moving along! Urban property owners might soon have incentive to enter into longer term contracts with farmers, which could increase access to land and allow for what could potentially be a much more viable reality for urban farmers across the state. This could be huge.

We could really use your help nudging it along further through what could be its final stages. Here is an update from Eli Zigas, our dedicated and instrumental point person throughout this process, along with a description of the bill’s amendments so far. Please consider taking a minute to send a letter, and please pass this on to friends and family too. Instructions and a template for submitting letters are attached at the bottom of this post, and an FAQ about the bill can be found here:

Dear Supporters of AB 551,

The Urban Ag incentive Zones Act has its next hearing coming up soon – Monday, Aug. 12 – in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Between now and then, we want to make sure that we get another round of support letters into the committee and Senators’ office. Below is the list of committee members. If you are from any of the areas represented by the committee members please send a letter (even if you’ve already sent one before). Similarly, please consider reaching out to friends, family, and colleagues in those areas to ask them to send letters too! An updated sample letter and how-to instructions are attached.

Also, in response to some concerns from the CA Assessor’s Association and Board of Equalization about how the bill would be implemented, Assembly Member Ting recently submitted another round of amendments for consideration in advance of the hearing. A summary of those amendments is below and I will send a mock-up with the revised legislative text as soon as one is available.

This will be the last committee hearing before moving back to the full Senate and then the full Assembly (and then hopefully the Governor’s desk). This next round of letters and outreach will be very important and helpful!

Your support has gotten us this far and your continued support is what we need to get all the way to the finish line in just a couple more months!

Senate Appropriations Committee Members:

Kevin de León (Chair) — Alhambra, Los Angeles, Maywood, San Marino, South Pasadena, Vernon
Mimi Walters (Vice Chair) — Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Woods, Laguna Beach, Foothill Ranch, Lake Forest, Tustin, Orange
Ted Gaines — Auburn, Grass Valley, Nevada City, Redding, South Lake Tahoe, Truckee
Jerry Hill — Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Mateo, South San Francisco, Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale
Ricardo Lara — Bell, Huntington Park, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Lynwood, Maywood, Vernon, Walnut Park
Alex Padilla — Los Angeles, San Fernando
Darrell Steinberg — Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Sacramento

Summary of Amendments:
City Authority to Establish Urban Ag Incentive Zones – The most recent amendments would allow cities as well as counties to initiate these programs. This is a model similar to the Mills Act (which provides reduced property taxes for historic preservation). With this change, if a city wanted to create an urban agriculture incentive zone, it could do so immediately through its own ordinance (without a separate county ordinance).

Valuation procedure – The Governance and Finance Committee made clear that the procedure for determining the agricultural value of urban land had to be made clear and consistent in a way that addressed concerns of the Assessor’s Association and would work for the Board of Equalization. The amendment to the bill would make it so that land under an Urban Ag Incentive Zone contract would be valued based on the per acre average value of irrigated cropland in California. For ease of administration and consistency statewide, this would be one value statewide, based on a land value survey by USDA. Currently, that is $12,000 per acre. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service publishes this figure each fall.

Preventing Competition with Williamson Act – Some of the assessors were concerned that the Urban Ag Incentive Zone could undercut the Williamson Act (which has longer-term contracts and very focused on large tracts of agricultural land). So, to prevent competition between the two programs, there is an explicit ban on setting up an Urban Ag Incentive Zone anywhere were Williamson Act contracts are currently allowed or were allowed in the previous three years.

Defining Agricultural Use – Also to address concerns about applying the law consistently across the state, there is an amendment that provides a definition of agricultural use in Urban Ag Incentive Zones. The enforcement would still happen at the city or level, but now the guidance would be more straightforward from the legislation itself (rather than each county deciding how to define agricultural use). In shaping this definition, we tried to keep it broad to encompass as many of the models of urban ag that we know of. The new language is:

“Agricultural use” includes farming in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil; the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural products; the raising of livestock, bees, fur-bearing animals, dairy-producing animals, and poultry; agricultural education; the sale of produce through field retail stands or farms stands as defined by Food and Agricultural Code Section 47030-47050; and any practices performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations. Timber production is not an agricultural use for the purposes of this chapter.”

There is also an amendment that would clarify that a) both commercial and non-commercial agricultural uses are allowed, and b) dwellings are not allowed on any site under contract.

Acreage cap – Currently, the bill remains without an acreage cap. Thanks to those on this list who provided feedback on that question as it will help in any future negotiations on this point.

Sample Support Letter
How to submit letters

One response to “AB 551 – update”

  1. friscolex says:

    Done and done!!

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