NR 2001-49
June 27, 2001

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


SACRAMENTO -- Already heavily urbanized, Santa Clara County saw another 4,701 acres of land -- most of it agricultural -- converted to urban uses between 1998-2000, according to a map released today by the California Department of Conservation. The map is designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions.

Meanwhile, the pace of urbanization slowed slightly in Alameda County.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, maps 44.1 million acres of California's public and private land to produce a major study every two years.

In Santa Clara County, net totals of 2,300 acres of farmland and 1,592 acres of grazing land were reclassified as urban land by the FMMP. During the previous mapping cycle, 2,180 acres of Santa Clara County agricultural land were urbanized.

Additionally, 817 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 in the 1998-2000 cycle.

Looking ahead, 3,055 acres of agricultural land 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 Alameda County, a net total of 1,508 acres of agricultural land were re-classified as urban. In the last mapping cycle, 1,761 acres of agricultural land were urbanized. An additional 241 acres of "other" land were urbanized from 1998-2000, while 3,958 acres of agricultural land were committed to non-agricultural use.

Of the 835,225 acres mapped in Santa Clara County, 433,233 acres were class ified as being in agricultural use, 184,183 acres were urban, 209,357 acres were "other" land and 8,452 acres were water. In Alameda County, 525,339 acres were mapped; 257,575 were agricultural, 141,532 were urban, 73,704 were "other" land and 52,528 were water.

The maps have been sent to planning officials in the two counties 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 mapping 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 local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Agricultural land in Santa Clara and Alameda counties will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects that Santa Clara County's population will grow from its current 1.7 million to more than 2 million by 2020 while Alameda County's population is projected to grow from 1.45 million to nearly 1.7 million in that period.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Santa Clara County's agricultural production was valued at nearly $178 million in 1999, while Alameda County's was valued at nearly $40 million.

The latest statewide study by the FMMP, Farmland Conversion Report 1996-98, was released last fall. About 70,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state as the rate of urbanization rose 25 percent from the previous two-year survey period. 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.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers several programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use. The California Farmland Conservancy Program makes monies 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 20 or 10 years, respectively.