NR 2001-36
April 17, 2001

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886


California Department of Conservation Map
Shows Urbanization is Speeding Up

SACRAMENTO -- Contra Costa County saw another 4,798 acres of land converted to urban uses between 1998-2000 -- nearly quadruple the 1996-1998 total -- mapping done by the California Department of Conservation shows.

Thousands of acres of farmland or grazing land are being urbanized or otherwise taken out of agricultural use around the state, according to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection.

In Contra Costa County, a net total of 4,381 acres of agricultural land -- 2,791 acres of farmland and 1,590 acres of grazing land -- were reclassified to urban land by the FMMP. Also, 417 acres of "other" land -- neither built-up nor used for agriculture, such as wetlands, low-density "ranchettes" or brush lands not suitable for grazing -- were reclassified as urban.

The rate of urbanization is increasing in Contra Costa County. In the 1996-98 FMMP mapping cycle, 1,264 acres (1,202 agricultural) were urbanized. In 1994-96, 1,467 (852 agricultural) were urbanized.

Looking ahead, 4,266 acres -- 3,484 of it agricultural -- were committed to non-agricultural use. Typically, this is land earmarked for development. In some cases the development, such as sanitary sewer installation, already may be underway.

The FMMP maps 44.1 million acres of California's public and private land to produce a major study every two years. The latest, Farmland Conversion Report 1996-98, was released last fall. About 70,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state. More than 43,000 acres of the new urban land, an area about the size of the city of Modesto, was developed on agricultural land.

DOC's maps help local entities evaluate land use planning decisions. Contra Costa County planning officials and interested organizations such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, planning consultants and area resource conservation districts have received copies.

"We do this to help counties plan and prepare for their expected growth in the coming years," explained Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young. "This information is a tool that can help Contra Costa County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Contra Costa County agricultural land will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects that the county's population will grow from its current 948,816 to nearly 1.2 million by 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Contra Costa ranks No. 37 among California counties in gross value of agricultural production at $86,694,000 for 1999. Primary crops and products include bedding plants and milk.

The FMMP found the following examples of land conversion in the county:

  • Twelve conversions of farmland to urban land in the Brentwood area, including the 500-acre Summerset golf community, Loma Vista Elementary School, a new shopping center, and the Brentwood Aquatic Center.

  • The Meadowcreek Village housing development in South Antioch.

  • Thirty-seven conversions of lesser farmland, grazing or other land, most notably the 700-acre Gale Ridge community in San Ramon, the 160-acre Brookfield golf community near Antioch, and the 160-acre Crystyl Ranch community in Concord.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use. The California Farmland Conservancy Program makes grants available to local governments, land trusts or resource conservation districts to purchase permanent agricultural conservation easements from willing landowners. These easements prohibit future development. Farmland Security Zone and Williamson Act contracts provide potential tax breaks to landowners who commit to keeping their land in agricultural use for periods of 20 or 10 years, respectively.