Laws, Regulations & Annotations
Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2015
Government Code Provisions
Provisions Relating to the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (The Williamson Act)
Chapter 7. Agricultural Land*
Article 3. Contracts
51250. Breaches of contract. (a) The purpose of this section is to identify certain structures that constitute material breaches of contract under this chapter and to provide an alternate remedy to a contract cancellation petition by the landowner. Accordingly, this remedy is in addition to any other available remedies for breach of contract. Except as expressly provided in this section, this section is not intended to change the existing land use decisionmaking and enforcement authority of cities and counties including the authority conferred upon them by this chapter to administer agricultural preserves and contracts.
(b) For purposes of this section, a breach is material if, on a parcel under contract, both of the following conditions are met:
(1) A commercial, industrial, or residential building is constructed that is not allowed by this chapter or the contract, local uniform rules or ordinances consistent with the provisions of this chapter, and that is not related to an agricultural use or compatible use.
(2) The total area of all of the building or buildings likely causing the breach exceeds 2,500 square feet for either of the following:
(A) All property subject to any contract or all contiguous property subject to a contract or contracts owned by the same landowner or landowners on January 1, 2004.
(B) All property subject to a contract entered into after January 1, 2004, covering property not subject to a contract on January 1, 2004.
For purposes of this subdivision any additional parcels not specified in the legal description that accompanied the contract, as it existed prior to January 1, 2003, including any parcel created or recognized within an existing contract by subdivision, deed, partition, or, pursuant to Section 66499.35, by certificate of compliance, shall not increase the limitation of this subdivision.
(c) The department shall notify the city or county if the department discovers a possible breach.
(d) The city or county shall, upon notification by the department or upon discovery by the city or county of a possible material breach, determine if there is a valid contract and if it is likely that the breach is material. In its investigation, the city or county shall endeavor to contact the landowner or his or her representative to learn the landowner's explanation of the facts and circumstances related to the possible material breach.
(e) Within 10 days of determining whether it is likely that a material breach exists, the city or county shall notify the landowner and the department by certified mail, return receipt requested. This notice shall include the reasons for the determination and a copy of the contract. If either the landowner or the department objects to the preliminary determination of the city or county, the board or council shall schedule a public hearing as provided in subdivision (g).
(f) Within 60 days of receiving notice that it is likely a material breach, the landowner or his or her representative may notify the city or the county that the landowner intends to eliminate the conditions that resulted in the material breach within 60 days. If the landowner eliminates the conditions that resulted in the material breach within 60 days, the city or county shall take no further action under this section with respect to the building at issue. If the landowner notifies the city or county of the intention to eliminate the conditions but fails to do so, the city or county shall proceed with the hearing required in subdivision (g).
(g) The city or county shall schedule a hearing no more than 120 days after the notice is provided to the landowner and the department, as required in subdivision (e). The city or county shall give notice of the public hearing by certified mail, return receipt requested to the landowner and the department at least 30 days prior to the hearing. The city or county shall give notice of the public hearing by first-class mail to every owner of land under contract, any portion of which is situated within one mile of the exterior boundary of the contracted parcel on which the likely material breach exists. The city or county shall also give published notice pursuant to Section 6061. The notice shall include the date, time, and place of the public hearing. Not less than five days before the hearing, the department may request that the city or county provide the department, at the department's expense, a recorded transcript of the hearing not more than 30 days after the hearing.
(h) At the public hearing, the city or county shall consider any oral or written testimony and then determine whether a material breach exists. The city or county shall support its determination with findings, made on the record and based on substantial evidence, that the property does or does not meet the conditions specified in subdivision (b).
(i) If the city or county determines that a material breach exists, the city or county shall do one of the following:
(1) Order the landowner to eliminate the conditions that resulted in the material breach within 60 days.
(2) Assess the monetary penalty pursuant to subdivision (j) and terminate the contract on that portion of the contracted parcel that has been made incompatible by the material breach.
If the landowner disagrees with the determination, he or she may pursue any other legal remedy that is available.
(j) The monetary penalty shall be 25 percent of the unrestricted fair market value of the land rendered incompatible by the breach, plus 25 percent of the value of the incompatible building and any related improvements on the contracted land. The basis for the valuation of the penalty shall be an independent appraisal of the current unrestricted fair market value of the property that is subject to the contract and affected by the incompatible use or uses, and a valuation of any buildings and any related improvements within the area affected by the incompatible use or uses. If the city or county determines that equity would permit a lesser penalty, the city or county, the landowner, and the department may negotiate a reduction in the penalty based on the factors specified in subdivision (k), but a reduction in the penalty may not exceed one-half of the penalty. If negotiations are to be held, the city or county shall provide the department 15 days' notice before the first negotiation. If the department chooses not to be a negotiator or fails to send a negotiator, the city or county and the landowner may negotiate the penalty.
(k) In determining the amount of a lesser penalty, the negotiators shall consider:
(1) The nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the material breach.
(2) Whether the landowner's actions were willful, knowing, or negligent with respect to the material breach.
(3) The landowner's culpability in contributing to the material breach and whether the actions of prior landowners subject to the contract contributed to the material breach.
(4) Whether the actions of the city or county contributed to the material breach.
(5) Whether the landowner notified the city or county that the landowner would eliminate the conditions that resulted in the material breach within 30 days, but failed to do so.
(6) The willingness of the landowner to rapidly resolve the issue of the material breach.
(7) Any other mitigating or aggravating factors that justice may require.
(l) If the landowner is ordered to eliminate the conditions that resulted in the material breach pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (i) but the landowner fails to do so within the time specified by the city or county, the city or county may abate the material breach as a public nuisance pursuant to any applicable provisions of law.
(m) If the city or county terminates the contract pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (i), the city or county shall record a notice of termination following the procedures of Section 51283.4.
(n) The assessment of a monetary penalty pursuant to subdivision (i) shall be secured by a lien payable to the county treasurer of the county within which the property is located, in the amount assessed pursuant to subdivision (j) or (k). Once properly recorded and indexed, the lien shall have the force, effect, and priority of a judgment lien. The lien document shall provide both of the following:
(1) The name of the real property owner of record and shall contain either the legal description or the assessor's parcel number of the real property to which the lien attaches.
(2) A direct telephone number and address that interested parties may contact to determine the final amount of any applicable assessments and penalties owing on the lien pursuant to this section.
(o) If the lien is not paid within 60 days of recording, simple interest shall accrue on the unpaid penalty at the rate of 10 percent per year, and shall continue to accrue until the penalty is paid, prior to all other claims except those with superior status under federal or state law.
(p) Upon payment of the lien, the city or county shall record a release of lien and a certificate of contract termination by breach with the county recorder for the land rendered incompatible by the breach.
(q) The city or county may deduct from any funds received pursuant to this chapter the amount of the actual costs of administering this section and shall transmit the balance of the funds by the county treasurer to the Controller for deposit in the Soil Conservation Fund.
(r) (1) The department may carry out the responsibilities of a city or county under this section if any of the following occurs:
(A) The city or county fails to determine whether there is a material breach within 210 days of the discovery of the breach.
(B) The city or county fails to complete the requirements of this section within 180 days of the determination that a material breach exists.
(2) The city or county may request in writing to the department, the department's approval for an extension of time for the city or county to act and the reasons for the extension. Approval may not be unreasonably withheld by the department.
(3) The department shall notify the city or county 30 days prior to its exercise of any responsibility under this subdivision.
(4) This section shall not be construed to limit the authority of the Secretary of the Resources Agency under Section 16146 or 16147.
(s) (1) This section does not apply to any of the following:
(A) A building constructed prior to January 1, 2004, or a building for which a permit was issued by a city or county prior to January 1, 2004.
(B) A building that was not a material breach at the time of construction but became a material breach because of a change in law or ordinance.
(C) A building owned by the state.
(2) Subject to paragraphs (4) and (5), this section does not apply when a board or council cancels a contract pursuant to Article 5 (commencing with Section 51280), or a city terminates a contract pursuant to Section 51243.5 or when a public agency, as defined by subdivision (a) of Section 51291, acquires land subject to contract by, or in lieu of, eminent domain pursuant to Article 6 (commencing with Section 51290) unless either of the following occurs:
(A) The action terminating the contract is rescinded.
(B) A court determines that the cancellation or termination was not properly executed pursuant to this chapter, or that the land continues to be subject to the contract.
(3) On the motion of any party with standing to bring an action for breach, any court hearing an action challenging the termination of a contract entered into under this chapter shall consolidate any action for breach, including the remedies for material breach available pursuant to this section.
(4) Paragraph (2) shall not be applicable for a cancellation or termination occurring after January 1, 2004, unless the affected landowner provides to the administering board or council and to the department, within 30 days after the cancellation or termination, a notarized statement, in a form acceptable to the department, signed under penalty of perjury and filed with the county recorder, acknowledging that the breach provisions of this section may apply if any of the following conditions are met:
(A) The action by the local government is rescinded.
(B) A court permanently enjoins, voids, or rescinds the cancellation or termination.
(C) For any other reason, the land continues to be subject to the contract.
(5) Paragraph (2) does not apply for a cancellation or termination occurring before January 1, 2004, unless the landowner provides the statement required in paragraph (4) prior to the approval of a building permit necessary for the construction of a commercial, industrial, or residential building.
(t) It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage cities and counties, in consultation with contracting landowners and the department, to review existing Williamson Act enforcement programs and consider any additions or improvements that would make local enforcement more effective, equitable, or widely acceptable to the affected landowners. Cities and counties are also encouraged to include enforcement provisions within the terms of the contracts, with the consent of contracting landowners.
(u) The department and the city or county may agree to extend any deadline to act under this section, upon the request of the city and county, and the written approval of the director of the department.
(v) In order to promote the reasonable and equitable resolution of a potential material breach, if a potential material breach involves extenuating circumstances, the city or county and the landowner may agree to request that the department meet and confer with them for the purpose of developing a resolution of the potential material breach. If the department agrees to meet and confer with the landowner and city or county, the time requirements specified in this section shall be tolled. The resolution may include remedies authorized by law or not prohibited by law that are agreed to by the landowner, city or county, and department. If the resolution resolves all outstanding issues under this section, the city or county shall terminate all proceedings pursuant to this section upon execution by the landowner, city or county, and department. The agreement executing the resolution shall be recorded in the county in which the affected parcel is located.
(w) A city or county shall not cancel a contract pursuant to Article 5 (commencing with Section 51280) to resolve a material breach except pursuant to this section.
History.—Added by Stats. 2003, Ch. 694 (AB 1492), in effect January 1, 2004. Stats. 2008, Ch. 503 (AB 2921), in effect January 1, 2009, substituted "whether" for "that" after "days of determining" in the first sentence and added the third sentence to subdivision (e); substituted "notice that it is likely a material breach" for "the notice" after "days of receiving" in the first sentence of subdivision (f); added "and the department," after "to the landowner" in the first sentence of subdivision (g); substituted "whether" for "if" after "and then determine" in the first sentence and added the second sentence to subdivision (h); substituted "any" for "either" after "this section if" in the first sentence of paragraph (1) of subdivision (r); substituted "a building for which a permit was issued" for "permitted" after "January 1, 2004, or" in the first sentence of subparagraph (A) of paragraph (1) and substituted ", or a city" for "or" after "(commencing with Section 51280)" in the first sentence of paragraph (2) of subdivision (s) and deleted "canceling or" after "The action" in the first sentence of subparagraph (A) thereto; and added subdivisions (u), (v), and (w).
Note.—Section 4 of Stats. 2003, Ch. 694 (AB 1492), provided that notwithstanding Section 17610 of the Government Code, if the Commission on State Mandates determines that this act contains costs mandated by the state, reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for those costs shall be made pursuant to Part 7 (commencing with Section 17500) of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Government Code. If the statewide cost of the claim for reimbursement does not exceed one million dollars ($1,000,000), reimbursement shall be made from the State Mandates Claims Fund.
* Unless otherwise noted Chapter 7 was added by Stats. 1965, p. 3377, in effect September 17, 1965.