Farmland Security Zones
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Questions and Answers
What is a farmland security zone?
A farmland security zone is an area created within an agricultural preserve* by a board of supervisors (board) upon request by a landowner or group of landowners.
* An agricultural preserve defines the boundary of an area within which a city or county will enter into Williamson Act contracts with landowners. The boundary is designated by resolution of the board or city council having jurisdiction. Agricultural preserves must generally be at least 100 acres in size.
What new benefits do farmland security zone contracts offer to landowners?
Farmland security zones offer landowners greater property tax reduction. Land restricted by a farmland security zone contract is valued for property assessment purposes at 65% of its Williamson Act valuation, or 65% of its Proposition 13 valuation, whichever is lower.
New special taxes for urban-related services must be levied at an unspecified reduced rate unless the tax directly benefits the land or living improvements. Cities and special districts that provide non-agricultural services are generally prohibited from annexing land enrolled under a farmland security zone contract. Lastly, school districts are prohibited from taking farmland security zone lands for school facilities.
What is a farmland security zone contract?
It is a contract between a private landowner and a county that enforceably restricts land to agricultural or open space uses. The minimum initial term is 20 years. Like a Williamson Act contract, farmland security zone contracts self-renew annually, thus unless either party files a “notice of nonrenewal” the contract is automatically renewed each year for an additional year.
What is the process for establishing a farmland security zone contract?
The process is entirely voluntary for both the landowner and the county. The landowner with a Williamson Act contract must submit a petition for a farmland security zone contract to the local governing body. If the board approves the proposal, it will rezone the subject property as a farmland security zone. Once the subject property is rezoned, the board will rescind the Williamson Act contract and simultaneously place the same property under a farmland security zone contract. Landowners who are not participating in the Williamson Act may petition a board to create a farmland security zone for the purpose of entering into contracts. If two or more landowners with contiguous parcels request the creation of a farmland security zone, the county will place the parcels in the same farmland security zone.
Can a landowner who does not have land currently enrolled in a Williamson Act contract apply for a farmland security zone contract?
Yes. A landowner or a group of landowners may petition the board to create a farmland security zone for the purpose of entering into farmland security zone contracts.
What type of land is eligible for a farmland security zone contract?
To be eligible for a farmland security zone contract, the subject land must be designated on the Important Farmland Series maps as predominantly one of the following:
How is a farmland security zone contract terminated through nonrenewal?
A landowner may initiate nonrenewal of a farmland security zone contract by serving a written notice to the local governing body at least 90 days prior to the renewal date. The farmland security zone contract then “winds down” over the remaining 19-year term, with the taxes gradually rising back to the full, unrestricted, rate. Upon termination of the farmland security zone contract, the farmland security zone designation for that parcel is also terminated.
Can a farmland security zone contract be terminated through cancellation?
Yes. However, in order to approve cancellation a city or county must make both of the required findings that 1) the cancellation is consistent with the purposes of the Williamson Act and 2) cancellation is in the public interest. In the resolution approving cancellation the local government must find that 1) no beneficial public purpose is served by continuing the contract, 2) the uneconomic nature of the agricultural use is due to circumstances beyond control of the landowner and local government, 3) the landowner has paid a cancellation fee equal to 25% of the cancellation valuation of the land as through unrestricted by the contract. The Director of the Department of Conservation may approve the cancellation upon making specified findings. More details on the cancellation process are outlined on this page.