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Agricultural Mitigation

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Agricultural mitigation policies have successfully been adopted throughout California. They generally require protecting farmland in an amount equal to the agricultural land converted to other uses – either through the purchase of permanent conservation easements or the payment of an in-lieu fee. They are a valuable tool for protecting specific farmland properties and a source of funds for local or state farmland protection programs. The review process for development under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has increased potential for the use of agricultural mitigation.

The adequacy of agricultural mitigation policies is debated. Critics argue that mitigation should reflect the use of the converted land, wherein low-density developments must provide substantially more mitigation acre-per-acre than a high-density subdivision.

Nonetheless, a handful of local jurisdictions in the Central Valley require mitigation, including San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, Yolo County, and the City of Brentwood. The City of Stockton has one of the most aggressive mitigation ordinances in the state. The Cities of Lathrop, Manteca, and Tracy have adopted fee programs in their Municipal Codes that authorize each City Council to set the fees as appropriate. The Fresno Council of Governments received a $200,000 grant from the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley to create and implement a model farmland conservation program, however the Farmland Conservation program is not moving forward at this time.

Ordinances and municipal codes are typical policy tools for establishing agricultural mitigation programs. To pave the way for implementation, city and county planners can:

  • Develop technical guidelines regarding replacement ratio, minimum and maximum land areas, fee structures, transfer of ownership rights, designated municipal agency
  • Complete land evaluation and site assessments to determine preferred areas for preservation (generally, ecologically important sites) and the appropriate buffer zones

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