San Diego County To Create Incentive Zones For Urban Farms

http://www.kpbs.org/news/2015/nov/18/san-diego-county-create-incentive-zones-urban-farm/

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

By City News Service

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to start the process toward creating incentive zones for urban agriculture in the region.

Supervisors Diane Jacob and Ron Roberts brought the policy forward, calling it an extension of the county's "Live Well San Diego" health initiative.

"It's providing more opportunities for people to learn about food and to have healthy food," Roberts said.

"There's collateral benefits, in that we have blighted lots and we can turn them into something that produces food and that involves a safer cleaner environment," Roberts said. "This just fits in with everything that we're doing and a healthier, happier, safer community will result from this."

Under the program, owners who dedicate vacant, blighted or unimproved land for farming use will be assessed at a lower property tax rate, which was authorized by state legislation two years ago.

According to a county staff report, the property tax assessment would be based on the average per-acre land value of irrigated cropland in California. In August, that figure was $12,700 per acre, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson said the incentive program would help part-time farmers build their business while deciding on the future of their agriculture operation.

He also said the average age of a San Diego farmer is 61. The high cost of land and barriers faced in getting acquiring farmable land has led to a dearth of young farmers, according to Larson.

San Diego County has the highest concentration of part-time farmers in the United States, according to Larson.

Diane Moss, with the San Diego Food Systems Alliance, said the program could help grow community gardens throughout the neighborhoods of southeast San Diego.

Kristin Kvernland, youth garden manager for local nonprofit Second Chance, echoed Moss' support.

"The main goal is to keep access flowing in different communities, to help transform and beautify neighborhoods and to help employ community members," Kvernland said.

Supporters of the incentive program also say it provides tangible financial incentives for a landowner who may not be interested in immediately developing vacant land.

Roberts said the program makes financial sense for the county.

"I'm a big supporter of sustainable urban farming and believe incentivizing small scale urban agriculture in our urban cores will be good for the environment and ultimately serve to promote better food choices for our residents," the supervisor said.

Roberts said he comes from a farming family on the East Coast, and as a parent, he's realized how important it is to educate children and young people about food systems.

The program can be applied to both unincorporated county areas and the region's 18 cities.

County staff were directed to create a framework for evaluating urban agriculture proposals by identifying eligible properties, providing notice to agencies that set taxes and fees based on assessments, and preparing a fiscal analysis.

Staff will report back on the feasibility of the program in six months.