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State budget puts Williamson Act in jeopardy

Enacted in 1965, the Williamson Act has allowed many of the state's farmers to stay in the agriculture business instead of selling their property for development. Under the act, rural land owners commit to keeping their property in farming for 10 years and, in exchange, receive a property tax break. The state reimbursed county governments from the state general fund for money lost to the tax break.

However, because of the budget crisis, the state is considering suspending the reimbursements, according to an column by freelance writer Don Curlee. In the story, Curlee outlined an article that appeared recently in California Agriculture journal by UC Davis Cooperative Extension public policy specialist emeritus Alvin Sokolow titled "Outlook: Budget cuts threaten the Williamson Act, California's longstanding farmland protection program."

Sokolow, who has monitored the effect of the Williamson Act since its inception, considers the legislation a successful case of converging public and private interests, achieving long-term land conservation while helping the economic bottom line of farmers and ranchers.

Sokolow believes time for resolving the issue by preserving the state's participation is running out. Without fiscal assistance, most counties with substantial acres in the program probably would pull out through contract nonrenewals. If the contracts aren't renewed, urban development on Williamson Act lands may begin in nine years.

The Williamson Act has protected farmland from development for 45 years.
The Williamson Act has protected farmland from development for 45 years.

Posted on Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 10:27 AM

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