NR 2001-72
December 18, 2001

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

Urbanization up 50% in Riverside, San Bernardino Counties, Maps Show

SACRAMENTO – The pace of urbanization increased in the late 1990s in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to maps released today by the California Department of Conservation. The maps provide decision-makers with land-use conversion information to use in planning for California's agricultural land resources.

A total of 16,998 acres were urbanized in the two counties between 1998-2000, compared to just over 11,000 acres in 1996-1998.

Riverside County was the focus of major land use change between 1998 and 2000, with 14,080 acres urbanized. Moreover, a net total of 15,419 acres of agricultural land were reclassified to non-agricultural uses due primarily to the completion of the Diamond Valley Lake and the establishment of ecosystem and wildlife habitat reserves.

More than 3,000 acres of prime farmland -- the most productive type -- were brought into production, including a 1,000-acre citrus orchard. However, coupled with a continued downward trend in the amount of land being cultivated, land-use changes in the county resulted in a net loss of 8,475 acres of prime farmland.

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.

Since the FMMP began in 1984, 80,780 acres have been reclassified as urban in Riverside County, which consistently leads the state in the amount of new urban land.

In San Bernardino County, 2,918 acres were urbanized from 1998-2000, up from 2,376 acres in 1996-98. Since 1984, 49,081 acres have been reclassified as urban in the county, ranking it just behind Riverside in the amount of land converted.

San Bernardino County is also losing agricultural acreage as land, particularly in the Mojave Desert area, is no longer being cultivated. More than 6,000 acres were downgraded to “other” or “grazing land” categories. Of that, more than 4,000 acres were previously described as prime farmland.

"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."

The Inland Empire's agricultural land will continue to face development pressure. The California Department of Finance projects that Riverside County's population will grow from 1.6 million to 2.9 million by 2020 while San Bernardino County is expected to grow from 1.8 million to more than 3 million.

This can be verified by information submitted by the counties on land committed to non-agricultural use. In Riverside County, 46,982 acres -- including 22,000 acres of farmland – are currently earmarked for development, while 16,307 acres of land are committed in San Bernardino. In some cases infrastructure development, such as sewer installation, may be underway.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Riverside County's agricultural production value was more than $1 billion in 2000, ranking it ninth among the state's 58 counties. San Bernardino ranked 15th at nearly $620 million.

The new maps have been sent to county planning officials as well as interested parties such as local Farm Bureaus, Local Agency Formation Commissions, planning consultants and area resource conservation districts.

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; more than 43,000 acres of the new urban land, an area about the size of the city of Modesto, were developed on agricultural land.