The California Land Conservation Act of 1965, commonly referred to as the Williamson Act, is a program created by the State to help conserve agricultural land.  The Williamson Act enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use.  In return, landowners receive lower property tax assessments based upon farming and open space uses as opposed to full market value.

The Open Space Subvention Act of 1971 provided local governments an annual State subvention to provide for the partial replacement of forgone property tax revenues.  The historic average subvention totaled $23.3 million per year between 1972 and 2008.  In 2009, the subvention payments were reduced to a total of $1,000 annually.  There have been no subvention payments made to counties since 2009.

Since the cessation of subvention payments and the State/County partnership, one county has issued notices of non-renewal to landowners and numerous others have stopped accepting new contracts.  The cessation of State support for the program, and the reduced property tax revenue burden, impacts the ability of many counties, small counties in particular, to provide for needed services to county residents – many of which are mandated by the state.   

Despite efforts by a diverse coalition, the Legislature and the Administration have not provided funding for the Williamson Act subvention program.  RCRC will work with agricultural, environmental, and local governmental organizations to explore sources of sustainable funding, as well as potential changes to the program itself.

Staff: Tracy Rhine