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Ag land could convert to development if state withholds $1.1 million

The county stands to lose more than a million a dollars in state funds targeted for open space under a budget proposal set forth by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The governor says he will recommend against giving out $39.1 million in Williamson Act money to counties. San Luis Obispo County would lose $1.1 million.

Under the Williamson Act, landowners agree to not develop agricultural land in exchange for tax breaks over time. In effect for 42 years, the act is widely considered an effective way of keeping agricultural land from being built over.

The state has traditionally reimbursed counties for the money they lose when they give Williamson Act tax breaks. Loss of these “subventions,” as they are known, “may force some agriculturalists to sell their land to developers,” according to a press release from the county Farm Bureau.

The farm community views the loss as potentially disastrous.

Without the state funds, counties might be forced to stop participating in the Williamson Act, according to Hugh Pitts, a farm bureau director. It would come at a time when the state is facing enormous population pressure, he adds.

In San Luis Obispo County, the Williamson Act protects more than 750,000 acres. Statewide, the number is 16 million acres, more than half the state’s prime farm land, according to the Farm Bureau.

Jerry Lenthall, the Board of Supervisors’ chairman, already has written the governor asking him to reverse his decision. “We believe the continued viability of many farms and ranches in San Luis Obispo County will be jeopardized by the elimination of the…funds,” he wrote.

Farm Bureau President Paul Clark says the bureau also is asking the governor to reinstate the money.

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