San Diego agricultural protection program “takes root”
A pilot program for Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) was successful and may become permanent.
As part of the General Plan Update adopted in 2011, and with the support of the San Diego County Farm Bureau and EHL, San Diego County initiated the PACE program for protecting agricultural land, including North County orchards and East County ranchlands. Willing sellers could sell easements that precluded future subdivision and development. The impetus was the “down-planning” of many agricultural properties as the new General Plan shifted growth toward areas with existing services and infrastructure and out of more rural locations.
A large number of farms competed for $2 million in funding from the County’s General Fund, and easements were purchased totaling close to 800 acres. Late in 2013, the Board moved to supplement left over funds in order to acquire additional properties from the original group of applicants. At the same time, the Board moved to establish a mitigation fee for agricultural land that is developed, with the revenues going to purchase more easements. It also informally endorsed moving forward to make PACE an ongoing County program, with continued General Fund allocations. San Diego is now poised to become a statewide leader in farmland preservation.
The preservation of local agriculture is a compelling public interest. Food security through local sources, a variety of consumer choices, economic diversity for the region, and “sense of place” are all tied to local agriculture. Farm and ranch lands are relatively compatible neighbors to wildlife habitat and can serve connectivity functions. As an early and consistent endorser of these ideas, we commend the County Supervisors and the Farm Bureau for the success to date.