California - YOLO LAND TRUST
Countywide program - Formed in 1988 - researched by Al Sokolow
OVERVIEW - Yolo Land Trust (YLT) is the most active of the few agricultural land trusts in California's Central Valley, the state's premier farming region. Lacking a steady revenue stream and with only one staff member but an active board, the trust has been entrepreneurial in putting together funds from multiple sources to build a portfolio of almost 5,000 easement acres in only seven years. Most of its initial acquisitions were the result of a development mitigation ordinance enacted by the city of Davis in 1995, that requires developers to purchase easements on a like amount of agricultural acres elsewhere in the area to match farmland converted to urban uses in the city. The first such local law implemented in the nation, this is a version of the TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) process. Yolo County is in the middle of a rapidly growing region; it is located just west of the capital city of Sacramento and in the Interstate 80 corridor, a major commuter link to the San Francisco Bay area. Yet growth rates have been lower here than in Sacramento's eastern suburbs and to the west because of local land use policies that emphasize the preservation of farmland and the direction of growth for cities.
EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 4,629 agricultural acres in 19
properties. All irrigated cropland-tomatoes, alfalfa, grain, wine grapes. This
includes about 1,250 acres in four properties turned over to the trust through
the city of Davis mitigation program.
Goals: No specific program goals.
Other Easement Programs: Davis city voters in 2000 approved a small parcel tax for a new municipal program to acquire easements with resource values on the city's borders. No easements have yet been acquired under this program.
Acquisition Spending to Date: $25 million-does not include the value of mitigated-acquired easements and landowner donations.
Revenues: State funds (Farmland Conservancy Program), federal funds, local fundraising and foundation support. With development in the city of Davis and hence mitigations slowing down in recent years, state and federal funds are the principal means of acquiring easements.
GOVERNANCE - Overseeing the program, the 13-member land trust board serves unrestricted three-year terms. Most board members have agricultural connections. With a staff of only one, board members do much of the detailed work of easement transactions-including landowner negotiations and easement monitoring.
STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - The Executive Director, the only paid staff person, was hired as the land trust's first employee in 1998 with the help of planning grants from outside organizations. Legal services are donated. The annual operating budget is about $70,000.
ORIGINS - YLT was organized by a group of leading
farmers and others who were concerned about protecting the county's farmland
from anticipated urban development. Although established in 1988, not until
1995 did the land trust acquire its first easements as a result of the city
of Davis mitigation program.
ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - The YLT board makes final decisions. Board members as well as their executive director are directly involved in working with landowners in all stages of a transaction, including the initial contacts. The land trust seeks easements on prime irrigated farmland and engages in some geographical targeting, as noted below. Availability of funds and timeliness are considerations.
Rating of Parcels: Not quantitative, see below.
Other Criteria: Qualitative criteria adopted by the land trust at the time of its organization focus on parcels that are capable of producing an economic return, size and soil quality, zoned for agriculture and located so as to enhance the protection of other agricultural land. While the YLT has acquired easements throughout the county's prime farmland area of a quarter million acres, it tries to target strategic locations. Preferred are easements in "second tier" rings, located not in immediate proximity to city boundaries, but a few miles out to have a future impact on urban expansion. The most obvious manifestation of this strategy is the effort to form with easements a community separator or protected greenbelt between the county's largest cities of Davis and Woodland, seven miles apart but gradually growing toward each other.
CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES
- YLT's easement activities are complemented by Yolo County planning, which
for several decades has given top priority to directing development away from
prime farmland and to existing urban centers, mainly the four incorporated cities.
As well as protecting agriculture and open space, this is intended to avoid
the public costs of dispersed development. Specific county policies that express
this objective include: (1) Agricultural zoning with high minimum lot sizes
(see below); (2) An agricultural element recently added to the county General
Plan; (3) County agreements with the cities concerning planning and finances;
(4) A county ordinance adopted in 2000 providing for the mitigation of development
on farmland; and (5) A 2002 agreement with David and Woodland concerning the
community separator between the two cities. Although an independent nonprofit,
the land trust works closely with county government on planning matters.
Zoning: Exclusive agricultural zoning for 80 percent of the farmland, with a residential density of one unit to 80 acres (1:80) for irrigated cropland, 1:160 acres for other cropland and 1:320 acres for grazing land.
2000 Population: 168,000
1990-2000 Population Change: +27,200 residents; + 19 percent
536,000 acres: 70 percent prime cropland
Conversion to Urban Use: 3,655 total agricultural acres in 1990-2000 (0.6 percent of 1990 base), including 3,532 cropland or important farmland acres (0.8 percent of base). (State conversion data)
OTHER AGRICULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS
1997 Market Value: $302 million Number of Farms: 923
Principal Commodities: Processing tomatoes, wine grapes, rice, hay
MAP NARRATIVE - EASEMENT GEOGRAPHY (PROGRAM MAP)
YLT easements are distributed across a broad swatch of the south central and southeastern parts of Yolo County where the flat terrain holds prime soils that grow a variety of crops. A few easement clusters are near the growing cities: (1) About 724 acres in six parcels in one block, forming the beginning of a community separator between Davis and Woodland; (2) Close to 2,000 acres in nine parcels northwest of Woodland; and (3) A cluster of seven parcels totaling 1,117 acres just south of West Sacramento.