Laws, Regulations & Annotations

Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2017

Government Code Provisions

Provisions Relating to the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (The Williamson Act)

Chapter 7. Agricultural Land*

Article 1. General Provisions

Section 51200

51200. Citation of chapter. This chapter shall be known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 or as the Williamson Act.

History.—Stats. 1967, p. 3214, in effect November 8, 1967, added "or as the Williamson Act" to the first sentence.

Note.—Section 1 of Stats. 1999, Ch. 1018 (SB 985), in effect January 1, 2000, provided that the Legislature hereby finds and declares all of the following:

(a) The long-term conservation of agricultural and open-space land is critical to the welfare of the people of California.

(b) The Williamson Act (Chapter 7 (commencing with Section 51200) of Part 1 of Division 1 of Title 5 of the Government Code) has succeeded in keeping large amounts of agricultural land in agriculture for more than three decades by providing long-term, enforceably restricted contracts, and property tax benefits to participating farmers and ranchers.

(c) The people of the state have made significant investments in local government subventions to offset property tax revenue loss and the cost of administering local agricultural preserve programs.

(d) Strong and consistent state and local enforcement of the restrictions required under the Williamson Act is necessary to preserve the constitutional benefit of preferential assessments for contracting landowners, and to protect the state's considerable investment in the conservation of agricultural and open-space land.

(e) The interpretation of compatible recreational uses has expanded well beyond the types of uses originally contemplated by the Legislature as being consistent with the agricultural or open-space character so greatly valued by the people of California, and local governments should be provided more specific guidance on the latitude for those uses.

(f) Some owners of contracted land are seeking to establish multiple legal parcels to circumvent local restrictions on minimum parcel sizes on land for which the original parcel size was an element of the contract.

(g) Existing provisions of the Williamson Act do not require that local zoning of designated agriculture preserves be consistent with the minimum parcel size under the act, and without that requirement the purpose of the act can be seriously undermined by subminimum parcel sizes and incompatible uses within those preserves.

(h) Some local governments have approved or are considering approval of large-scale mining or other uses that would terminate and replace or irreparably diminish the agricultural uses on contracted lands, while still receiving both tax benefits and qualifying for subventions from the state.

(i) The latitude provided by the Williamson Act to participating local governments is not, and has never been, so great as to make uses that are not inherently related to, or beneficial to, the agricultural or open-space character of contracted land permissible under the compatible use provisions of the Williamson Act.

(j) Some local governments have approved proposals for subdivision maps or parcel maps on Williamson Act contracted land that met the minimum parcel size requirements in the Subdivision Map Act (Division 2 (commencing with Section 66410) of Title 7 of the Government Code), even though the result has been the creation of housing developments on property under contract that continues to receive tax benefits and state subventions.

(k) More specific guidance is needed, in concert with the careful enforcement of the Williamson Act by administering local governments, so that the result will not excessively curtail the latitude of local governments to manage agricultural preserves and Williamson Act contracts.

(l) Focusing development pressures, infrastructure funding, and investment funds away from agricultural preserves will increase the urban benefits of the program by making more funds available to develop or redevelop within existing urban boundaries.

(m) The long-term conservation of agricultural and open-space land will additionally benefit urban areas by ensuring that a steady supply of high-quality, low-cost fresh foods is available to urban residents, by providing open-space uses that benefit the public seeking escape from the closeness of urban society, and by conserving world-class agricultural soils.

Construction.—A contract between a landowner and a county hereunder, entered into at a time when the existing zoning permitted all agricultural uses, including accessory buildings, without the necessity of obtaining a discretionary permit and providing that land would be restricted to agricultural and compatible uses, could not reasonably be interpreted as a promise by the county that the zoning would not be changed. The contract thus did not preclude the county from enacting and enforcing more restrictive zoning to conform to the California Coastal Act (Pub. Res. Code, 30000 et seq.). Delucchi v. Santa Cruz County, 179 Cal.App.3d 814. This act is implemented by a city or county through the establishment of agricultural preserves consisting of agricultural and other vacant lands, and the execution of long term contracts with land owners who are willing to restrict the land uses of their property to agricultural and similar endeavors; thereafter, the lands must be assessed for city or county tax purposes according to the restricted land use, not necessarily the highest and best use. Borel v. Contra Costa County, 220 Cal.App.3d 521. Acceptance by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of land into trust does not void restrictions on the land under a contract established pursuant to this Act. Friends of East Willits Valley v. Mendocino County, 101 Cal.App.4th 191.

* Unless otherwise noted Chapter 7 was added by Stats. 1965, p. 3377, in effect September 17, 1965.