San Gregorio’s Blue House Farm has been enrolled in the Williamson Act. Proponents of the move say it will ensure the land is used for agricultural purposes and provide tax relief.
According to the California Department of Conservation, a third of privately held land in the state and about half of the state’s agricultural land is enrolled in the program. The Williamson Act Program — passed in 1965 as the California Land Conservation Act — was designed to allow local governments to create contracts with landowners to designate land for agricultural production to preserve farmlands. In exchange, farmers get a tax break.
“The reason we wanted to enroll the land in the Williamson Act is because we believe farmers are good stewards of the land and good community members,” said Marti Tedesco, senior director of marketing and communications for POST. “We believe farming is a valuable piece of the economy and a valuable experience of living on the coast. It’s good for the land.”
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the 20-year contract last week, with an automatic annual renewal once the 20 years are up.
POST purchased the 74-acre land in 2017 and leases it to Blue House Farm owner Ryan Casey, who did not respond in time for this article. It’s part of the organization’s Farmland Futures Initiative, which POST says is dedicated to ensuring the long-term, sustainable viability of local farms in San Mateo County.
Tedesco explained that POST pays property taxes on the land and will receive the tax break. If Casey chose to purchase the land, the conditions of the contract would remain.
The California Department of Conservation documents the trend of agricultural and open space land being lost to development. The department’s 2015 farmland conversion report indicated that from 1984 to 2012 “1.4 million acres of agricultural land in the state were converted to nonagricultural purposes. This represents an area larger in size than Merced County, or at a rate of nearly one square mile every four days.”
“The Williamson Act provides for some favorable tax breaks to farmland,” Tedesco said. “You know how expensive farmland is on the coast. If we want to keep farmers out there, we need to make it as affordable as possible.”