Monday, 25 January 2021

Assembly Ag Committee approves Wiggins

SACRAMENTO – A key Assembly Committee voted 8-0 Wednesday to approve SB 562, a bill by Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) to clarify that plants raised for biofuel production may participate in the Williamson Act.

The bill also expands the Williamson Act definition of “open-space use” to include areas enrolled in the United States Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

Under the Williamson Act, a landowner and city or county agree to enforceably restrict land to an agricultural or compatible use for a period of at least 10 years. In return, the landowner receives a reduced property tax incentive.

Also under the Act, “agricultural use” means the production of an agricultural commodity (any and all plant and animal products commercially produced in this state), while “open space use” is defined as 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 essential habitat for wildlife, or for the solar evaporation of seawater in the course of salt production for commercial purposes, within a scenic highway corridor, wildlife habitat area, salt pond, managed wetland area, or submerged area.

In her testimony before the committee today, Wiggins said that “SB 562 updates and clarifies two provisions of the Williamson Act.

“The first includes the definition of agricultural commodities, which are plants that are grown for the production of biofuels. This will ensure that crops which may represent a source of renewable energy can be grown on lands under Williamson Act contract.

“The second update clarifies that lands under the federal Conservation Reserve Program are allowed on Williamson Act lands,” Wiggins told committee members. “These two simple changes will update the Williamson Act to keep pace with changes in California’s dynamic agricultural community.”

According to an analysis by committee staff, the agricultural industry “must adjust to changing markets in order to survive. There is a growing trend borne out of climate change proposals at the state and federal levels for farmers to respond to the demand for alternative fuels.

“Because those crops are not strictly for food or fiber, proponents are concerned that eligibility for Williamson Act contracts may be challenged,” the analysis continued. “Similarly, pursuant to the demand for environmental and habitat mitigation, proponents are concerned that participation in CRP and CREP may be challenged. This bill is intended to clarify definitions set forth in the Williamson Act, and to ensure continued participation in the program.”

Wiggins' spokesman, David Miller, said the bill has one more stop to go – the Assembly Natural Resources – before going to the full Assembly for a vote.


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