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NR 2001-37
April 17, 2001

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

ORANGE COUNTY CONTINUES TO LOSE AGRICULTURAL LAND

California Department of Conservation Map Shows
 Urbanization Takes 1,614 Acres Out of Agricultural Use

SACRAMENTO -- Already heavily urbanized, Orange County saw another 3,397 acres of land -- including 972 acres of farmland -- converted to urban uses between 1998-2000, mapping completed 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 Orange County, a net total of 1,614 acres of agricultural land were reclassified to urban land by the FMMP. Also, 1,783 acres of "other" land -- neither built-up nor used for agriculture, such as wetlands, low-density "ranchettes" or brush and timberlands unsuitable for grazing -- were reclassified as urban.

Looking ahead, 2,781 acres -- 747 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.

In the 1996-98 mapping cycle, Orange County added 7,740 new acres of urban land; 1,951 acres of that was cultivated land.

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. Orange 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 Orange County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Orange 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 2,846,289 to nearly 3,300,000 by 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Orange County ranks No. 20 among California counties in gross value of agricultural production at $341,621,000 for 1999. Primary crops include nursery stock and cut flowers, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers.

Where is land conversion occurring in Orange County? The FMMP found the following examples:

  • A dozen housing developments going up on farmland in the Tustin area, including one of 200 acres.

  • Thirteen examples of housing developments on grazing or other land in the San Juan Capistrano area, including one of 180 acres and another of 100.

  • Nearly 300 acres of new homes and a golf course in the hills of San Clemente.

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.

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