NR 2005-14
July 15, 2005

Contact: Tim Herrera
Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


WOODLAND -- Otis Rosasco and Linda Jenkins, a rancher and a farmer who have fought long and hard to protect California’s agricultural heritage, were today recognized by the California Department of Conservation as “Heroes of the Williamson Act.”

July 16 is the 40th anniversary of the Williamson Act, which shields more than 16 million agricultural and open-space acres in California from premature or leapfrog development. The California Legislature passed the California Land Conservation Act - now commonly known by the surname of its author, former Assemblyman John Williamson - in 1965.

“Otis and Linda are tremendous examples for California’s ranchers and farmers,” Department of Conservation Interim Director Debbie Sareeram said. “They’ve been staunch advocates of the Williamson Act and exceptional stewards of the land.”

John Gamper, Director of Taxation and Land Use for the California Farm Bureau Federation, praised Rosasco and Jenkins for their passion for protecting farmland and using the Williamson Act as a vehicle to do that.

“They’ve been influential in getting the counties in which they live to stand up for the statute,” Gamper said. “They were key individuals in a long, hard five-year effort to identify which land uses would be compatible with the Williamson Act.”

Rosasco was active in encouraging Merced County to begin participating in the Williamson Act program five years ago. Enrolled landowners receive a potential property tax break in exchange for a 10-year commitment not to develop their property. Counties receive a payment from the state to help make up for the lost revenue. Merced County now has nearly 430,000 acres in the program.

“I was anxious to see the county get involved and spent a lot of time with the Board of Supervisors,” Rosasco recalled. “It was a big step forward for them, but they needed to have the Williamson Act. Things are changing so fast these days. You see a lot of development in the valley and it’s moving into the foothills.”

Rosasco was born in 1921 and raised on family cattle ranches in western Tuolumne County. He attended a one-room elementary school. “There were 10 or 15 pupils at most,” he recalled. He earned a degree in business administration for the University of California. Rosasco built a home on a ranch five miles west of Jamestown in 1951. He and his wife Jean raised three sons there and still reside on the ranch.

“I’m a third-generation cattleman,” he said. “My granddad came to Tuolumne County in 1870 and my father was active in running the operation all his life until he passed away in 1979 at the age of 92.”

The Rosasco family today owns about 8,000 acres - some grazing land, some farmland and some irrigated pastureland -- and rents another couple of thousand. At one time, Rosasco ran as many as 1,500 head of cattle (he prefers a cross between Hereford and Angus) and sold exclusively to Harris Ranch. Rosasco currently has only a couple of hundred head as he shifts the business over to his son Nathan, who also has served on the Tuolumne County Williamson Act Ordinance Revision Committee and now serves on county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee.

Unlike Rosasco, Jenkins is a city girl, born in Fresno and raised in Sacramento. Her grandparents and uncle were grape and cotton farmers just south of Fresno, and Jenkins spent many a hot summer at their ranch.

“I have many wonderful memories of times at the ranch, but the thing I remember most was, when I was 4 or 5 years old, tunneling with my sister and burying ourselves in the piles of cotton seed,” she said with a laugh. “We really caught heck from my uncle because that playful stunt was a bit dangerous.”

But her highly regarded uncle, Dick Markarian, also inspired Jenkins’ interest in the world of agriculture. Markarian was involved in numerous agricultural-related groups. He was chairman of the California Raisin Advisory Board during the popular “dancing raisins” advertising campaign, and was an outspoken advocate for agriculture in California and Washington, D.C.

“My heart has always been in agriculture, because once you’ve seen production from start to finish - once you know where your food comes from -- it is part of you,” Jenkins said. “I’ve never driven a tractor, but I have done plenty of bookkeeping for the ranch, and I’ve always been an advocate for the Williamson Act and agriculture.”

Jenkins has been a spokesperson at many board of supervisors and planning commission meetings because she believes it’s vital for decision-makers to receive input from the farming and ranching communities in order to understand the needs of agriculture.

Jenkins graduated from UC Davis with a degree in mathematics and taught high school in El Cerrito and San Jose. She married Pat Jenkins 33 years ago and they soon settled on the Westover Ranch, eight miles south of Red Bluff in Tehama County. There, she and her husband raised three sons while also raising prunes, walnuts and cattle on several hundred acres. In 1985, the Jenkins family started its aquaculture operation, selling live catfish to markets in the Bay Area. The family also sells to municipalities in Northern California than in turn stock city and state park ponds for recreational fishing.

Locally, Jenkins has served as president of the Tehama County Farm Bureau, president of the Tehama County CattleWomen and served on the county planning commission for nine years, where she constantly endeavored to protect the integrity of the Williamson Act. She is currently a member of the county’s General Plan Revision Committee. At the state level, Jenkins served on Williamson Act Advisory Committee at the invitation of former Governor Wilson. She also served on land use committees for the California Cattlemen and the California Farm Bureau.

“The Williamson Act has provided the means by which farmers and ranchers can maintain their acreage in agricultural uses,” Jenkins said. “I was drawn to become involved in land-use issues when I first moved to Tehama County because it seemed like farmland was rapidly being divided for urban uses.

“We all need a reminder every now and then about how important agriculture is to the citizens of our state and our nation. I will continue to speak up about all the good reasons for having the Williamson Act because it is something that I truly believe in.”