Act never approved for use in Del Norte

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Members of the Legislative Rural Caucus sang praises last week of the California Assembly-Senate Budget Conference Committee after it voted to restore funding for the Williamson Act to counties.

The funding was targeted for elimination in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's revised May budget plan.

Also known as the California Land Conservation Act, the Williamson Act was enacted in 1965 to enable local governments to contract with landowners to restrict the use of their land to agricultural, scenic and open space purposes for a minimum of 10 years.

It gives owners of agricultural land a lower tax assessment based on their property's andquot;use valueandquot; rather than its andquot;market value,andquot; according to a press release from the Legislative Rural Caucus.

The act has never been approved for local use in Del Norte County, however.

Local dairyman Blake Alexander said the non-approval came andquot;because the tax assessor doesn't think it's necessary.andquot;

Then-Del Norte County Tax Assessor Jerry Cochran took the issue before the county's Board of Supervisors in 1972. The board is the entity that voted not to approve the measure.

andquot;There was little interest in it then,andquot; Cochran said. andquot;Del Norte doesn't have enough agricultural land for the county to benefit from it; even the landowners didn't want the Williamson Act.andquot;

At the time of the board's disinterest, agricultural land in the county was worth about $3,000 per acre. Cochran estimates it is now valued between $3,000 and $5,000 per acre.

Alexander says an agricultural industry exists here. About 20,000 acres of land in the county is used for agriculture.

andquot;We are a small county, but we have an agricultural industry - beef and dairy, mostly,andquot; Alexander said.

County Assessor Louise Wilson, who took Cochran's place when he retired, said that when the county board voted on the Williamson Act, the county's agricultural land comprised the area known as andquot;bulb landandquot; in Smith River along with land in the Fort Dick area.

andquot;If we were to present the issue again, it would go (back) to the Board of Supervisors,andquot; Wilson said.

The act, she added, is andquot;very restrictiveandquot; and prevents the lands to which it applies from being developed.