Supervisor Yeager Proposes Tax Breaks for Urban Farms

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."

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for Feb. 10, 2015:

  • 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

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Translation:

    A few of our millionaire friends have properties in the hills with over 300 acres, much of which is just your usual California Chaparral. If they plant a few fruit trees, we’ll cut their taxes and call it “Urban Farming”

    When you cut David Wall a few bucks on his property taxes, I too will drink your kool-aid.

  2. The same method of tax incentives might be used to provides sites for many new housing units — movable units, possibly part or all off-grid, which could relocate after the 5-year interim-use periods.

    I’ve proposed a state bill similar to the urban-agriculture one AB551, allowing property-tax reduction if affordable housing is sited on a disused lot. It could potentially apply to many more sites than AB551, which is limited to sites between 0.1 and 3 acres, because many urban lots are smaller than that.

    Aside from providing urgently-needed housing, such disused-site units could provide owners rental income, and have benefits to the community similar to those of gardens, such as revitalization, foot traffic, and boosting surrounding properties by improving derelict sites.

    Like the urban agriculture bill, this is an opening for creative infill and organic community-building.

    Tim McCormick
    Houslets, ProtoHouse, KnightHouses projects
    San Francisco / @tmccormick

  3. What? No tax credits for women and minority owned urban farms, and no special incentives to grow cancer-fighting crops, and for using recycled water and drip irrigation? What if the lot needs environmental remediation? Who pays? What if someone finds a tiger salamander or a bay checkerspot butterfly on the proposed urban garden? Who pays for the EIR and the toxic cleanup? This proposal could keep a buncha lawyers busy for years, after the lengthy and turgid staff review and debate has concluded.

    Apparently Yeager has almost run out of bonehead ideas like banning Happy Meals and too large soft drinks, and Styrofoam cups. How about tackling and solving the big issues, Ken and Company?

    • What if someone finds a tiger salamander or a bay checkerspot butterfly on the proposed urban garden?

      Funny how the area around Silvercreek was deemed a “Wildlife preservation Habitat” Funny how that happens around all affluent areas, despite the fact that the same creatures can be found throughout the bay.

  4. Let the free market determine whether it is viable or not. I cant believe these politicians. We should be getting rid of tax breaks and instituting a fair flat tax. Sustainable farms is hip but keep the government out of our business please!!

  5. This proposal will only benefit those that have the money to buy a home with some property. How about people that live in condos? They can use a tax break more than rich landowners!

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