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Davis

Davis, California

Monday, February 26, 2024

Davis secures state funds for agricultural conservation easements

The Yolo Land Trust and Solano Land Trust easements will protect agricultural land acquisition for years to come

 

By LA RISSA VASQUEZ city@theaggie.org

 

On Dec. 15, 2022, the city of Davis, Yolo Land Trust and Solano Land Trust received nearly $4 million in grant funds from the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) program, a division of the California Strategic Growth Council’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program. The grants will fund the city of Davis’s purchase of two agricultural conservation easements. 

Shanna Atherton-Bauer, a senior environmental planner with the California Department of Conservation and the program manager for land conservation programs, explained the purpose of easements. 

“The theory is that you can’t just construct housing; you also need to protect the agricultural land surrounding communities,” Atherton-Bauer said. “Regional parks and open space districts work with landowners who are interested in conserving their lands. They help develop applications and then they bring those applications to us, so we don’t work directly with landowners. We work with intermediaries who will ultimately hold the easements and ensure that the land is not developed.”

Reynolds talked about concerns regarding negotiating zoning and developer contracts, but that easements can preserve critical resources “in perpetuity.” 

“What the conservation easement does is it says you have to keep this in agriculture forever,” Reynolds said. “Even if this is annexed into the city someday, it would still stay agriculture; [it] can’t be rezoned for something else, and so there’s a value on it. Yolo County has some of the best farmland in the world, and so there’s also a desire to preserve that farmland because we also need food.”

According to Tracie Reynolds, the city manager of the Davis Open Space Program, the city is working to execute the easements by Feb. 2023, and both are expected to be completed by the end of 2023 or early 2024. The grants are described in a document that Reynolds provided.

The first grant awards $915,000 to help the city purchase an agricultural conservation easement on 120 acres of farmland located near the intersection of County Roads 104A and 30, according to the document. The second grant, for $2.9 million, will help purchase an easement on 217 acres on the city of Davis’s southern border with Solano County. 

Reynolds talked about Measure O and how the parcel tax plays an important role in securing funds for land easements. 

“Measure O is a parcel tax; it’s small like for your typical house,” Reynolds said. “I think it’s $24 a year. It’s a small amount of money, but it generates about $700,000 a year. It’s not always easy to come up with $500,000 or something for matching funds. The point is that in 2000, because of Measure O, it became easier to preserve more farmland because we had this ready source of funds.”

 Reynolds’ work will continue to focus on promoting Measure O as a cost-effective and efficient way for the city to secure acquisition grants.

The Open Space Program and  Open Space Commission consult with property owners and land trusts to establish guidelines for priority land acquisitions so that preservation occurs without halting urban growth and property development.

According to a comment provided by John Currey, the executive director of the Yolo Land Trust (YLT), the organization has been a longtime Open Space Program partner, and they have plans to continue to work with Open Space this year.

“We’ve partnered with the City of Davis on agricultural conservation easements since 1995,” the statement reads. “Both staff and the City Council of Davis have been strong partners with YLT, and the city has provided much-needed funding to accomplish our mission of conserving farmland in and around Davis. To date we have completed 21 conservation easements with Davis, and we have a potential easement forthcoming in 2023.”

 

Written by: La Rissa Vasquez city@theaggie.org