The Williamson Act


26500 Reynolds Highway, Willits, CAA year ago I began posting on the California’s Williamson Act and Ag Preserve as a guide in buying and developing land in Mendocino County. See my earlier posts for an explanation of the Act. This post reports on the impact of current (3/11) California state budget realities, the Williamson Act, the economic realities of private ranching, and preserving the beauty and health of our land.

The Williamson Act has given landowners tax breaks for keeping land in agriculture or open space use for a specified time. This has been a life support system to private ranchers for nearly 50 years. Private ranching is a low-profit industry. Many ranchers in California report making less than $10,000 a year or no profit at all. The Williamson Act has been extremely important to their operations.

According to John Stumbos in his UC Green Blog post, “California’s premier farmland protection tool – the Williamson Act – is on the state’s budget-cutting chopping block and with it critical habitat needed for conservation.”

Many ranchers would need to sell some or all of their land for nonagricultural development.  Along with supporting local agriculture, John Stumbos reports that, “California’s rangelands provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, open space, and sequester carbon among many other critical ecosystem services.”26500 Reynolds Highway, Willits, CA

Local governments are also struggling and until 2008, the state reimbursed counties for reduced property tax under the Williamson Act. These subsidies were cut in 2008 and 2009. The future is uncertain.

What do you think?  Where do we go from here? Among all the state services under scrutiny now, how important is local private ranching and protecting the health and beauty of our land?  The Williamson Act is one of many important protections in jeopardy. How important is it to you? Post a comment and let me know what you think.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094

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It is seen less as the denial of a building permit (and associated revenues) and more of compliance with the terms of a contract.  The intent of the Act has been to assist agriculture by reducing the tax burden on those who maintain qualifying agricultural operations.  Unfortunately, the program has been abused by some who enjoy the benefits without holding their end of the deal, which is to maintain an ag operation for at least a 10 year period.  By allowing non-ag related development on Williamson Act contracted land, the County would be condoning a breach of those contracts.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094

The Board of Supervisors has directed the recently (about a year ago) formed Resource Lands Protection Committee (RLPC) to review the all Ag Preserve (as well as TPZ) related items.  RLPC is comprised of a representative from PBS, the County Assessor, Agricultural Commissioner and County Counsel.  We have been meeting on a weekly basis focusing mainly on reviewing the reporting statements to ensure each of the contracted properties are in compliance.  Part of this necessarily entails the interpretation of the County Code and State laws where the Williamson Act is concerned.

The Williamson Act has remained more or less consistent on the building restrictions.  However, it is the County that is given discretionary authority as to how restrictions should apply locally.  Having said that, the state can conduct (and has conducted) audits to ensure that non-compliance is held to a minimum which could include penalties as they have in the past.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094

Any structure may be permitted as long as it is compatible with the agricultural operation and is “incidental” to that operation.  The building permit applicant would probably be asked to sign a statement understanding that the building is subject to the Ag Preserve provisions.  The application would also be checked against the recently provided reporting statements to ensure an ag operation exists on the property.  If one doesn’t, then the structure would not be allowed unless the applicant can demonstrate in good faith that they are striving to become compliant (e.g. building fencing, grazing leases have been provided, etc.).  Otherwise, they would be required to apply for an immediate cancellation, which are extremely rare and under most circumstances unsupportable by PBS.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094

Section 22.08.020 talks about the creation of preserves and how “Property within the County…may be incorporated into agricultural preserves, and property within any agricultural preserve may be further restricted by contracts between the County…and the owners of said property…”  The section goes on to discuss minimum acreages and such, but the bottom line is that an “Ag Preserve” in and of itself is basically a qualifying region within which property may be placed under a Williamson Act contract.  The language appears to have been lifted from the California Government Code Section 51230, although the state law has probably been revised over time, and the County Code probably hasn’t kept up for the most part.  It seems that in our County the terms Ag Preserve and Williamson Act contract have been used interchangeably through the years which, according to the State Department of Conservation, happens in other counties as well.  It can and does add to some confusion though, especially where multiple property owners combine under one contract which has occurred traditionally so that the 100 acre minimum “Ag Preserve” threshold could be met.  In any case, the minimum sizes the state will recognize are 40 acres for a Type II (grazing) contract and 10 acres for a Type I (row crop) preserve.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094

It was decided by the Board to issue a moratorium on all new applications for ag preserve. The Board also decided to issue non-renewal notices for land not in compliance with the Williamson Act.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094

Williamson Act contracts are being reviewed by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, Tuesday, February 2nd at the Administration Building on Low Gap Road. The state cancelled funding about a year ago and the county is now carefully reviewing land reserved for agriculture under the Williamson Act. At the meeting, the Board is contemplating non-renewal notices for land not in compliance with the Act. They are also addressing a moratorium on accepting new applications for Ag preserve.
An item the Board will not be discussing is the limitation of one home per land in Ag preserve. I understand this to mean that if there are 5 parcels in Ag preserve under the Williamson Act with all the development on one of the parcels and an undeveloped parcel is sold, the county will not issue a building permit for that undeveloped parcel. This is a new development. To get the property out of Ag preserve, the county would roll it out over 10 years, which means the county would not issue a building permit for that parcel for 10 years.
It is important for people owning, selling, or buying land in Ag preserve to be aware of these changes.

Cindy Lindgren, The Mendocino County Landlady

As a Ukiah real estate professional, I have had the joy of helping individuals, couples, and families buy and sell Mendocino County real estate and Ukiah homes for over 30 years.

Contact me anytime if you want to sell your home or land or receive a free custom listing of properties.

cindy@the-landlady.com

707-972-2094