Farm Bureau sues to maintain integrity of farmland law
» January 26, 2007 «
Merced County case seeks to halt farmland conversion for 185-acre development
Stating that the Merced County must remain consistent in its administration of Williamson Act land contracts, the California Farm Bureau Federation, along with the Merced County Farm Bureau, has filed suit against the county. The suit seeks to halt the conversion of farmland for the Fox Hills development of nearly 185 acres of land currently in a Williamson Act contract.
Under the Williamson Act, a farmland owner may enter into a contract with the county if the landowner agrees to maintain the land in agriculture for at least 10 years. In return, the landowner pays a reduced property-tax rate.
"This case is about integrity, trust and accountability," said Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau. "The county of Merced agreed to enroll this land in a Williamson Act contract only a few years ago and now it needs to stand behind that decision."
"In order to approve a Williamson Act contract cancellation, a city or county must abide by specific guidelines. In this case, the county failed to follow those guidelines. It approved cancellation of the contract in order to replace productive farmland with low-density housing and a golf course. There is neither a sufficient public interest reason for the cancellation nor is the cancellation consistent with the purposes of the Williamson Act," said John R. Weech, CFBF associate counsel.
"Premature and unnecessary conversion of agricultural land is a matter of public interest, because protected lands provide open space as well as critical food production," Weech said. "The Williamson Act was created, in part, to prevent this very type of development project."
"The Fox Hills owners purchased the property knowing that there was a Williamson Act contract in place. They have received tax benefits from that contract, and as there is other nearby land not under Williamson Act contract available for their proposed use, they must not be allowed to merely pay a fee and take their land out of contract and begin developing it," Westmoreland Pedrozo stated.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farm organization, works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 92,000 members.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top