CALIFORNIA LAND CONSERVATION
The Williamson Act Contract:
California's primary farmland preservation law is commonly know as the Williamson Act basically it is a contract between a county/city, in which the landowner within a locally designated agricultural preserve may voluntarily place use restrictions on agricultural land, in exchange for tax reductions and other incentives.
The contracts must provide for an initial term of no less than 10 years.
The contracts must be binding on upon and inure to the benefit of all successors in interest of the contracting landowner.
The tax savings range from 20% to 70% of the property tax liabilities per year.
Any County/city may, by resolution and after a public hearing, establish an agricultural preserve under the Williamson Act.
The Act among other things was meant to discourage discontiguous urban patterns and to preserve open space and the aesthetic value of farm land.
Agricultural preserves are generally 100 acres or more, smaller are allowed, under special circumstances, but should be at least:
10 acres for prime agricultural land.
40 acres for nonprime agricultural land.
In the Act, agricultural lands are very broadly defined to include; scenic highway corridors, wildlife habitat areas, saltponds, managed wetlands or submerged areas.
Dedicated agricultural uses include recreational and open space uses.
Agricultural preserves rules generally continue in full effect on land within the preserves following:
Contract nonrenewals typically take about decade to become effective, landowners of restricted agricultural lands wishing to develop their lands for nonagricultural uses have to seek a contract cancellation. This requires a petition to the county/city and must be accompanied by a proposal for a specified alternative use of the land. The County Assessor then determines the fair market value of the land, as if it was free of restrictions. The landowner can contest the assessor's evaluation.
Cancellation of the Williamson Act Contract:
Prior to tentative approval of the cancellation of the contract, the county/city must determine and certify to the county auditor the amount of the cancellation fee that the land owner must pay the county treasurer on cancellation.
The fee is calculated at 12.55 of the fair market value of the land, as if it was free of restrictions.
The county/city (under limited conditions) may waive all or some of the cancellation fee.
The fees may be avoided, in some cases by a land swap:
Within the jurisdiction of the city/county.
Equal or larger land size.
Equal or more suitable for agricultural use.
The county/city may approve the cancellation only if it finds, at a noticed hearing that the cancellation is:
Consistent with the purposes of the Williamson Act, or
It is in the public interest.
A determination that cancellation is consistent with the Williamson Act must be supported by the following findings.
Cancellation will not result in a discontiguous pattern of urban development.
Cancellation is for land on which a notice of nonrenewal has been served.
Cancellation is not likely to result in the removal of adjacent lands from agricultural use.
Cancellation is for an alternative use that is consistent with the county/city general plan.
There is no proximate noncontractual land which is available and suitable for the use proposed on the contracted land, unless such land would provide less contiguous patterns of urban development.
A determination that cancellation is in the public interest must be supported by findings that other public concerns substantially outweigh the objectives of the Williamson Act, and that there is no proximate noncontractual land which is available and suitable for the use proposed on the contracted land, unless such land would provide less contiguous patterns of urban development.
Upon approval of cancellation, a certificate of tentative cancellation is recorded.
To move from a tentative cancellation recordation to a certificate of cancellation of contract recordation, two things must be accomplished:
Payment of the cancellation fee.
Satisfaction of all conditions and contingencies.
If there are any problems between the recordation of the tentative recordation and the final cancellation of contract recordation, judicial review of the final county/city determination regarding the contract cancellation must be brought with in 180 days.
Whether a county/city concurs that all conditions and contingencies have been fulfilled, is up to that county/city. However, the county/city cannot act is a capricious, discriminatory manner without incurring significant liability.