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The Williamson Act

California Horse Economic Recent Statistics

Horse Property Real Estate and Equestrian Ranches in California

INFORMATION ON ACT:  The Williamson Act is defined as the California Land Conservation Act, which has been the state’s premier agricultural land protection program since its enactment in 1965. More than 16 million of the state’s 30 million acres of farm and ranch land are currently protected under the Williamson Act. Landowners have saved up to 75% of their property taxes when their land is placed under this Act. (Different counties have somewhat different requirements. In El Dorado county, your ranch can now qualify with as little as 10 acres, if your property meets the requirements.)

The California Legislature passed the Williamson Act in 1965 to preserve agricultural and open space lands by discouraging premature and unnecessary conversion to urban uses. The Act creates an arrangement whereby private landowners contract with counties and cities to voluntarily restrict their land to agricultural and compatible open-space uses. The vehicle for these agreements is a rolling term 10-year contract (i.e., unless either party files a "notice of non-renewal," the contract is automatically renewed for an additional year.). In return, restricted parcels are assessed for property tax purposes at a rate consistent with their actual use, rather then potential market value.

Possibly Save Big Taxes on Horse Property in California, Hopefully, in near future,

Ranches, on the other hand, can save tax dollars now with the Williamson Act, if the property qualifies. (See Below)

NOTE: We are now ( in 2007) asking groups of horse people, property owners, horse clubs, and Realtors to volunteer to meet with their Ag commissioners in their respective counties to get endorsement to have Horses added to the State of California category of "agriculture." This will horses the same benefits of Cattle and other Ag categories and qualify horse owners for Grants. Please email Michael Murphy or Marie Griffith (Horse Property and Ranch Realtors) for more information on this endeavor so you decide if you want to help with this campaign in any way; (announce to your horse club, talk to your clients, etc. Many of your clients will be glad you are taking time to represent their interests) This will benefit horsemen and horse farms and potential horse ranch buyers economically throughout the state as well as bring benefit to the individual counties where the property is located. It will also enable new horse ranch buyers to purchase property they could not afford otherwise, helping to keep more of California rural.

What benefits do Williamson Act contracts offer to landowners?

The Williamson Act is estimated to save agricultural landowners from 20 percent to 75 percent in property tax liability each year. One in three Williamson Act farmers and ranchers said in a survey that without the Act they would no longer own their parcel (Source: Land in the Balance, University of California: December 1989).

What is a Williamson Act Contract?

A Williamson Act Contract is the legal document that obligates the property owner, and any successors of interest, to the contract's enforceable restrictions.

How does a landowner initiate a Williamson Act Contract?

A landowner interested in enrolling land in a contract should contact the local planning department of the county in which the land is located to obtain information and instructions.

How long must land be maintained under a Williamson Act contract?

The minimum term for a contract is 10 years. However, some jurisdictions exercise the option of making the term longer, up to twenty years. Contracts renew automatically every year unless the non-renewal process is initiated.

Does my county participate?

As of March 2002, all counties except Del Norte, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Inyo, and Yuba offer Williamson Act contracts.

What are the major criteria for buyer and property to qualify for the Williamson Act in a county in California?

In El Dorado County, for example, the zoning has to be AE (Exclusive Agriculture) or AP (Agriculture Perserve); Note there is a fee (normally a fee of $3,000 to rezone your property but waived if being rezoned for Williamson Act). The fee is $800 to apply for the Williamson Act through the Planning Dept; it is to be reviewed by the Agriculture Commission. Also, it cannot be just bare land without any improvements; there has to be at least $45,000 in improvements (i.e., fencing, barn, etc). It should be a minimum of 20 acres. You can put several parcels together to achieve the 20 acres minimum. Also, it must yield at least $2,000 per year inr income (when considered low intensity agriculture), and $13,500 for high intensive agriculture. EXAMPLE: If you purchased 30 acres for $400,000 and put a barn, fencing and well and septic on the property and built a small home (with improvements of perhaps $200,000), for a total of about $600,000, and had only 2 horses that you wanted to breed, the commission may not approve your application. But with 8 to 20 horses on 30 acres it would probably feel more like a Horse Farm. ("You must verify all this information with the individual county in California you are interested purchasing property in. I provided the above EXAMPLE based on my perception of what was told to me by a county planner (530-621-5355) and pass it along for information purposes only. The County Ag Commission is the ruling party in each case." --Marie Griffith, Realtor,)

What is the State’s role?

The Department of Conservation is responsible for interpretation of the Williamson Act, research of related issues and policies and implementing assistance.

What is the nonrenewal process?

Either the local government, or landowner, can initiate the nonrenewal process. A "notice of nonrenewal" starts the 9-year nonrenewal period. During the nonrenewal process, the annual tax assessment gradually increases. At the end of the 9-year nonrenewal period, the contract is terminated.

What is a cancellation?

Only the landowner can petition to cancel a contract. To approve a tentative contract cancellation, a county or city must make specific findings that are supported by substantial evidence. The existence of an opportunity for another use of the property is not sufficient reason for cancellation. In addition, the uneconomic character of an existing agricultural use shall not, by itself, be a sufficient reason to cancel a contract. The landowner must pay a cancellation fee equal to 12 1/2 percent of the cancellation valuation of the property.

Must a landowner comply with the terms and conditions of a contract?

Yes. A Williamson Act contract secures an enforceable restriction. Failure to meet the conditions of the contract may be considered a breach of the contract.

What happens to a Williamson Act contract upon sale of the property?

A Williamson Act contract runs with the land and is binding on all successors in interest of the landowner.

What happens if an owner fails to comply with the terms and conditions of a contract?

In the case of a breach of a contract, the local government may seek a court injunction to enforce the terms of the contract. Where the breach of the contract is a violation of land use restrictions, normal zoning enforcement provisions will also apply.

Information deemed correct but not guaranteed.

Contact State of California or the local county planning department for up-to-date information, revisions, and/or changes and information on Application through the County where land is located.

For further information:

California Department of Conservation

Division of Land Resource Protection

801 K Street, MS 13-71

Sacramento, CA 95814-3528


Phone: (916) 324-0850

Fax: (916) 327-3430

Email: dlrp@consrv.ca.gov



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