NR 2002-33
August 13, 2002

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


SACRAMENTO -- The pace of urbanization in San Luis Obispo County from 1998-2000 increased compared to 1996-98, and a significant amount of land was reclassified from dryland agricultural uses to vineyards and other irrigated crops, according to a new map from the California Department of Conservation. The map is designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, maps 44.5 million acres of California's public and private land to produce a major study every two years.

In San Luis Obispo County, 2,199 net acres of land were urbanized during the current mapping cycle compared to only 129 acres during the 1996-98 cycle. A total of 9,724 acres of land were reclassified as irrigated farmland on the new map. That continued a trend from the 1996-98 cycle, during which the county gained 5,285 acres of irrigated land. Both the new urban land and new irrigated agriculture occurred on what had historically been dryland grain and grazing areas.

Since the 1990 survey, San Luis Obispo County has gained 12,299 acres of irrigated land and 4,585 acres of urban land. Taken together with all other changes in the county, the total for all Important Farmland classes is 2,983 acres lower than it was in 1990.

Looking ahead, San Luis Obispo County reports that 638 acres have been committed to non-agricultural use in the future. Often, this is land earmarked for development. In some cases infrastructure development, such as sewer installation, may be underway.

The map has been sent to San Luis Obispo County planning officials. Interested parties such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, planning consultants and the county 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 San Luis Obispo County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Of the 1.3 million acres mapped in San Luis Obispo County, 51 percent was categorized as grazing land, 27 percent as farmland, 18 percent as “other” land and three percent as urbanized land. “Other” land includes wetlands, low-density "ranchettes" and brush or timberlands unsuitable for grazing.

San Luis Obispo County's agricultural land will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects the county's population will grow from its current 250,000 to 336,000 in 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of San Luis Obispo County's agricultural production was more than $487 million in 2000, ranking it 17th among the state's 58 counties.

Following are examples of farmland and grazing land being urbanized in San Luis Obispo County:

  • Two areas of new homes totaling 130 acres south of Highway 46 in Paso Robles.

  • Eighty acres of new homes, including the Suncrest development, west of Templeton.

  • Thirty acres of new homes and buildings in the Grover City area and 20 acres of new homes and sports fields in nearby Arroyo Grande.

  • Developments called Cuesta Villas, River Oaks and The Vineyards totaling 60 acres on the northern urban fringe of Paso Robles.

  • Homes in a development called The Lakes just north of Atascadero (25 acres).

  • New homes and sports fields replaced about 25 acres of grazing land in Morro Bay, while 17 new acres of homes were added in Cuesta-by-the-Sea.

The latest statewide study by the FMMP, Farmland Conversion Report 1996-98, was released in the fall of 2000. 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. A new statewide report will be released this fall.

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 benefits to landowners who commit to keeping their land in agricultural use for periods of 20 or 10 years, respectively.

In addition to administering agricultural and open-space land conservation programs, the Department of Conservation ensures the reclamation of land used for mining; promotes beverage container recycling; regulates oil, gas and geothermal wells; and studies and maps earthquakes and other geologic phenomena.