A recent release by the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance mentioned that Governor Schwarzenegger is considering elimination of funding for the Williamson Act in an effort to reduce the State deficit.
The Williamson Act is critical to conserving agricultural land near urban areas. When land values rise due to speculation because it is in that path of development, the Williamson tax break makes the investment economically viable.
By being economically viable, the investors can keep the property in ag until the site is ready to be developed. This is a benefit to the agricultural community and sometimes to wildlife. For this reason the agricultural preserve benefits us all.
There was a time during the (1960s) when ranch owners lost their land to tax sales because they could not afford to carry the taxes with the slim agricultural income. Rapid growth and land speculation raised their taxes to the point where they had to either sell to developers of lose their ground.
However, the advent of Prop 13 in the 1980s reduced the importance of the Williamson Act by tying the property tax to the value of the property and the value is typically determined by the sales price.
Because property that is true ag property is usually based upon ag income, the need for the Williamson Act was greatly reduced. In fact, many ranch properties is the East Bay are not in the Williamson Act and the taxes are not an unreasonable burden.
Therefore, a revision of the Williamson Act makes sense. Not all properties should qualify for tax relief. Another problem with the Williamson Act is that it is often abused.
Once a ranch is in the Williamson Act, it is often subdivided into smaller ranch parcels which retain the designation. Once a parcel is too small to be truly agricultural, it should not enjoy agricultural preserve status, but because agencies are overburdened, they are unable to facilitate change.
Land owners make the case that everybody should be treated equal and that valid argument allows them to keep property under the Act when in reality, their property should be taxed at its full value.
As an owner of land that is in the Williamson Act and other land that is not, I see many inequities in the program.