Property owners who commit their land to agricultural use could qualify for sizable tax breaks under a plan up for discussion Tuesday at the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The proposal by Supervisor Ken Yeager would reduce property taxes for private owners who dedicate blighted or empty lots as urban farms for five years.
Santa Clara Valley has a rich agriculture history but has lost more than 45 percent of its farmland since 1984. The past several years, however, have seen an uptick in urban farms, including Veggielution, Garden to Table and Valley Verde.
"[This] could really accelerate current efforts to create a sustainable local food system," said Zach Lewis, executive director of Garden to Table. "Access to land is a persistent barrier and [this incentive] will eliminate that obstacle, making it easier for budding entrepreneurs to figure out how to make urban agriculture more financially sustainable."
These city farms, like Lewis', lie on smaller lots, in densely developed neighborhoods. They offer nutrition and gardening classes for low-income families, harvest produce for local restaurants and food banks and offer educational opportunities for students. Metro featured several of these nonprofits in a report last spring.
In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law enabling counties to create Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones. The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2014, allows property owners who use their land as urban farms to pay the agricultural rate instead of market-rate property tax.
County officials hope the incentive will encourage more people to start community gardens and urban farms, which raise nearby property values and give neighborhoods increased access to healthy food.
The county would take a loss, though. If every single one of the 91 eligible parcels applied for the incentive, the county would lose $762,000 in property tax revenue over a five-year period. That would subtract from $106,000 from the county budget, $505,000 from public schools and $151,000 from special districts. But that's only if every single eligible property owner applies for the incentive.
"Thus, the resulting loss of tax revenue to the county and other governments would not be large," Yeager's office wrote in a memo. "While the decrease in property tax payments to the county is expected to be small in terms of its overall budget, the value is significant to organizations looking for new urban agriculture sites and to a Santa Clara County community in need of fresh, local and healthy food."
Lewis said a long-term payoff is a healthier community.
"In a few short years, we could see a very different landscape for public health as a result," said Lewis, whose farm would save about $6,000 a year under the incentive. "Exciting times."
- The board will adjourn in memory of Jose Montes de Oca, co-founder and director of the Alum Rock Counseling Center, who died Jan. 28 from liver cancer at the age of 61. The East Side San Jose community leader spent decades working with troubled kids.
- It could take two hours for an ambulance to get someone from certain unincorporated parts of the county to a hospital. The county contract requires first responders to arrive in 22 minutes 90 percent of the time—near impossible for the most remote parts of the county, like the area east of Mt. Hamilton. County officials are drumming up a plan to improve emergency services to the San Antonio Valley, some 300,000 acres east of San Jose, where 702 people live in some 250 homes scattered about in difficult-to-access areas.
- After state prison reform in 2011 pushed more inmates into local jails, the county needs more max-security and medium-high-security beds, more mental health care and more medical services overall. There's a long-term plan to build a new tower to replace the Main Jail in downtown San Jose, which would add 480 beds.
- Psychology screening for prospective law enforcement hires costs the county $100,000 a year.
WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001