Laws, Regulations & Annotations
Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2011
Government Code Provisions
Provisions Relating to the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (The Williamson Act)
Chapter 7. Agricultural Land*
Article 1. General Provisions
(a) "Agricultural commodity" means any and all plant and animal products produced in this state for commercial purposes, including, but not limited to, plant products used for producing biofuels.
(b) "Agricultural use" means use of land, including but not limited to greenhouses, for the purpose of producing an agricultural commodity for commercial purposes.
(c) "Prime agricultural land" means any of the following:
(1) All land that qualifies for rating as class I or class II in the Natural Resource Conservation Service land use capability classifications.
(2) Land which qualifies for rating 80 through 100 in the Storie Index Rating.
(3) Land which supports livestock used for the production of food and fiber and which has an annual carrying capacity equivalent to at least one animal unit per acre as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture.
(4) Land planted with fruit- or nut-bearing trees, vines, bushes, or crops which have a nonbearing period of less than five years and which will normally return during the commercial bearing period on an annual basis from the production of unprocessed agricultural plant production not less than two hundred dollars ($200) per acre.
(5) Land which has returned from the production of unprocessed agricultural plant products an annual gross value of not less than two hundred dollars ($200) per acre for three of the previous five years.
(d) "Agricultural preserve" means an area devoted to either agricultural use, as defined in subdivision (b), recreational use as defined in subdivision (n), or open-space use as defined in subdivision (o), or any combination of those uses and which is established in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.
(e) "Compatible use" is any use determined by the county or city administering the preserve pursuant to Section 51231, 51238, or 51238.1 or by this act to be compatible with the agricultural, recreational, or open-space use of land within the preserve and subject to contract. "Compatible use" includes agricultural use, recreational use or open-space use unless the board or council finds after notice and hearing that the use is not compatible with the agricultural, recreational or open-space use to which the land is restricted by contract pursuant to this chapter.
(f) "Board" means the board of supervisors of a county which establishes or proposes to establish an agricultural preserve or which enters or proposes to enter into a contract on land within an agricultural preserve pursuant to this chapter.
(g) "Council" means the city council of a city which establishes or proposes to establish an agricultural preserve or which enters or proposes to enter into a contract on land within an agricultural preserve pursuant to this chapter.
(h) Except where it is otherwise apparent from the context, "county" or "city" means the county or city having jurisdiction over the land.
(i) A "scenic highway corridor" is an area adjacent to, and within view of, the right-of-way of:
(1) An existing or proposed state scenic highway in the state scenic highway system established by the Legislature pursuant to Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 260) of Chapter 2 of Division 1 of the Streets and Highways Code and which has been officially designated by the Department of Transportation as an official state scenic highway; or
(2) A county scenic highway established pursuant to Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 260) of Chapter 2 of Division 1 of the Streets and Highways Code, if each of the following conditions have been met:
(A) The scenic highway is included in an adopted general plan of the county or city; and
(B) The scenic highway corridor is included in an adopted specific plan of the county or city; and
(C) Specific proposals for implementing the plan, including regulation of land use, have been approved by the Advisory Committee on a Master Plan for Scenic Highways, and the county or city highway has been officially designated by the Department of Transportation as an official county scenic highway.
(j) A "wildlife habitat area" is a land or water area designated by a board or council, after consulting with and considering the recommendation of the Department of Fish and Game, as an area of importance for the protection or enhancement of the wildlife resources of the state.
(k) A "saltpond" is an area which, for at least three consecutive years immediately prior to being placed within an agricultural preserve pursuant to this chapter, has been used for the solar evaporation of seawater in the course of salt production for commercial purposes.
(l) A "managed wetland area" is an area, which may be an area diked off from the ocean or any bay, river or stream to which water is occasionally admitted, and which, for at least three consecutive years immediately prior to being placed within an agricultural preserve pursuant to this chapter, was used and maintained as a waterfowl hunting preserve or game refuge or for agricultural purposes.
(m) A "submerged area" is any land determined by the board or council to be submerged or subject to tidal action and found by the board or council to be of great value to the state as open space.
(n) "Recreational use" is the use of land in its agricultural or natural state by the public, with or without charge, for any of the following: walking, hiking, picnicking, camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, or other outdoor games or sports for which facilities are provided for public participation. Any fee charged for the recreational use of land as defined in this subdivision shall be in a reasonable amount and shall not have the effect of unduly limiting its use by the public. Any ancillary structures necessary for a recreational use shall comply with the provisions of Section 51238.1.
(o) "Open-space use" is the use or maintenance of land in a manner that preserves its natural characteristics, beauty, or openness for the benefit and enjoyment of the public, to provide habitat for wildlife, or for the solar evaporation of seawater in the course of salt production for commercial purposes, if the land is within:
(1) A scenic highway corridor, as defined in subdivision (i).
(2) A wildlife habitat area, as defined in subdivision (j).
(3) A saltpond, as defined in subdivision (k).
(4) A managed wetland area, as defined in subdivision (l).
(5) A submerged area, as defined in subdivision (m).
(6) An area enrolled in the United States Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
(p) "Development" means, as used in Section 51223, the construction of buildings or the use of the restricted property if the buildings or use are unrelated to the agricultural use, the open-space use, or uses compatible with either agricultural or open-space uses of the property, or substantially impair the agricultural, open-space, or a combination of the agricultural and open-space uses of the property. Agricultural use, open-space use, uses compatible with either agricultural or open-space uses, or the acquisition of land or an interest in land are not development.
History.—Stats. 1967, p. 3214, in effect November 8, 1967, added subparagraphs (2), (3), and (4) and renumbered former subparagraph (2) as (5) in subdivision (c); substantially revised subdivision (d); and added subdivisions (e) and (f). Stats. 1968, p. 852, in effect November 13, 1968, added the second sentence to subdivision (d). Stats. 1969, p. 3018, in effect November 10, 1969, substantially revised subdivision (d), deleting the second to sixth sentence; substantially revised subdivision (f), deleting the definition of "Uniform rules"; and added subdivisions (g) to (n). Stats. 1970, p. 2317, in effect November 23, 1970, added "any of the following" to subdivision (c); expanded subdivision (d) to include "recreational use" or a combination of uses; added "recreational" to the list of compatible uses and added the second sentence to subdivision (e); added subdivision (n); and relettered former subdivision (n) as subdivision (o). Added Stats. 1978, Ch. 1120, in effect January 1, 1979. Added in subdivision (d) the words "as defined in subdivision (b)," between "agricultural use," and "recreational use"; and after "and" added "which is established in accordance with the provisions of this chapter." Also in subdivision (i)1 and (C) deleted the words "Public Works" and inserted "Transportation". Stats. 1994, Ch. 1251, in effect January 1, 1995, hyphenated "open space" after "subdivision (n), or", and substituted "those" for "such" after "any combination of" in subdivision (d); substituted "Section 51231, 51238, or 51238.1" for "Section 51231 or Section 51238" after "pursuant to" in the first sentence; substituted "the" for "such" after "and hearing that", and hyphenated "open space" after "agricultural, recreational or" in the second sentence of subdivision (e); substituted "a manner that preserves" for "such a manner as to preserve" after "of land in" and substituted "the" for "such" after "commercial purposes, if" in the first paragraph of subdivision (o). Stats. 1998, Ch. 690 (SB 1835), in effect January 1, 1999, substituted "that" for "which" after "All land" and substituted "Natural Resource" for "Soil" after "in the" in the first sentence of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c); and deleted "the Director of" before "Department" twice in paragraph (1) and subparagraph (C) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (i). Stats. 1999, Ch. 1018(SB 985), in effect January 1, 2000, substituted "seawater" for "sea water" in subdivision (k), and added "in its agricultural or natural state" after "land" in the first sentence of, and added the third sentence to subdivision (n). Stats. 2005, Ch. 605 (AB 365), in effect January 1, 2006, added ", including but not limited to greenhouses," after "use of land" in the first sentence of subdivision (b) and substituted "seawater" for "sea water" after "solar evaporation of" in the first sentence of subdivision (o). Stats. 2008, Ch. 503 (AB 2921), in effect January 1, 2009, added ", the following terms have the following meanings" after "from the context," in the first sentence of the first paragraph; added ", including, but not limited to, plant products used for producing biofuels" in the first sentence of subdivision (a); added a comma after "vines, bushes" in the first sentence of paragraph (4) of subdivision (c); deleted "great" after "an area of" in the first sentence of subdivision (j); deleted "essential" after "public, to provide" in the first sentence of subdivision (o) and added paragraph (6) thereto; and added subdivision (p).
Note.—Stats. 1969, p. 2806, also provided: If any provision of this act or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the act which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable.
The provisions of this act shall be given prospective application only and shall not be construed in a manner which would impair the obligation of any existing contract or agreement entered into pursuant to the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, prior to the effective date of this act. However, this section is not intended to prevent the provisions of this act from being incorporated by reference into existing contracts or agreements, if such existing contracts or agreements provide for incorporation by reference of amendments subsequently enacted by the Legislature; provided further, however, that this act shall not, by incorporation by reference or otherwise, invalidate any restrictions, terms, or conditions, including payments and fees, more restrictive than or in addition to those required by this chapter.
Section 9 of Stats. 1998, Ch. 690 (SB 1835), provided that no reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIIIB of the California Constitution because a local agency or school district has the authority to levy service charges, fees, or assessments sufficient to pay for the program or level of service mandated by this act, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code.
* Unless otherwise noted Chapter 7 was added by Stats. 1965, p. 3377, in effect September 17, 1965.