California Environment


California Environment Essay, Research Paper


key environmental challenge not only in the Central Valley but also in all of

California is how to protect and preserve both the regions agricultural

resources and its coastal boundaries. California is a unique state; we are

basically a bunch of states/separate regions that are all encompassed under one

defined boundary. We have a large coastline, industry, agriculture, mountains,

forests, deserts, valleys, large and small cities, and major interstate trade

and transportation systems. Two things distinguish our agricultural resources

from others: our coastline, and our states geographic diversity in regards to

other states. As the state grows the question of where to put things is brought

up. The pressures of urban sprawl in California have been evident for many

years. The combination of California’s growing environmental awareness, and its

refocus on agricultural importance have prompted many policy tools to protect

not only agriculture, but our coastlines as well. Over the years, many policy

tools have been proposed; some have been accepted and others for various reasons

(political, economic, and other) have not. Two existing tools for protecting

agricultural lands and our coastlines are; The Williamson Act/Land Conservation

Act and the California Coastal Act. Each are intended to protect California’s

resources. To combat the pressures of urban sprawl on California’s agricultural

lands, the California Land Conservation Act was passed in 1965. It was nicknamed

the Williamson Act for its writer, Assemblyman John Williamson of Bakersfield

(Mayer, Fence 2). The law was originally designed to keep agricultural lands in

agriculture. This was proposed by offering property tax breaks for farmers and

ranchers through a ten-year contract. This idea of protecting privately owned

farmland from development for ten years through an agreement between the

farmers, the county and the state, appealed to many. The popularity of this act

is evident throughout California. In Kern County there is more than 1.6 million

acres of agricultural related land (valley, foothills, mountains) currently

under contract. "Kern county represents grow, by 2020 population in the

county is expected to double" (Zapata 1). Kern County is important because

it is a key agricultural area in California. Los Angeles and Fresno/San Joaguin

Vallies grow closer each day. The area is a major supplier of oil and

agriculture. The Williamson Act appealed to many farmers, addressing the issue

of raising property taxes, letting them continue to farm. Property taxes were a

major concern to the farmers who were feeling the effects of sprawl, especially

the smaller farmers. Under the Williamson Act, landowners tax savings could

range anywhere from 30-70% depending on what their land is being used for and

what commodities it produces. The Act saves farmers a lot of money, in Kern

County a total of about 15 million a year. Under the agreement the state then

reimburses the counties some of this revenue, about 5 million in Kern County

(Mayer, Williamson 2). All of the agricultural lands in California are eligible

for the Williamson Act. It does not matter if the land is in the path of

development or not. It does not matter what the land is being used for (farming

or grazing). The Act’s objective is to protect agricultural lands on both the

urban fringe and those elsewhere that may be the product of leapfrog

development. The ten-year agreement between the landowners and the state renews

itself each year automatically. Landowners have two options out of the

agreement, cancellation and non-renewal, both of which impose stiff penalties.

The penalties amount to a predetermined percentage of the lands total market

value. The main objective of the Williamson Act is to slow urbanization. The Act

was not created to stop it; it was made to delay the inevitable. The Williamson

Act is both good and bad. It does indeed slow urbanization, but the areas that

need the most attention (urban fringe) are not really impacted. The Act saves

farmers money in the form of property taxes and it does compensate the counties,

but this compensation does not balance what is lost. In Kern County the

difference is 10 million dollars, money the county is simply out of. Another

thing, a ten-year agreement may sound like a long time for the preservation of

land but it is not. "Is ten years to short? It probably is if the goal is

the preservation of farmland" (Mayer, Williamson 2). Some landowners even

find ways to actually benefit from the act. A developmental powerhouse may

receive the tax break for their ten years and when they fulfill their obligation

they develop the land anyway. This of course is not the ideal situation but the

act has done its job, slowing urbanization. There have been attempts to fix this

problem of having it both ways. One such attempt is the recently passed Senate

Bill 1182, nicknamed the Williamson Plus Act. This bill ads more tax breaks, up

to an additional 35% if the landowner agrees to a twenty-year commitment. This

would then also make the land off limits in the future to developers. Some

counties adopted the policy before it was passed. "Is farmland being

converted? Yes," said Kern County planning director Ted James. "Is

farmland an important economic resource for counties? Very definitely"

(Mayer, Fence 1). The Williamson Act does not stop the farmers from selling

their land, because considering ones future usually takes precedent in the end.

The act does enable farmers the ability to keep in business while saving our

agricultural lands. The Williamson Act conserves agricultural space by

addressing the issue with a temporary solution. In dealing with California’s

coastlines a more permanent solution was needed. Combating the pressures of both

the preservation of California’s coastline and the growing environmental

awareness of California was and is still a major challenge. One area that

focussed on this fact was the California Coastal Act. The California Coastal Act

(California Public resources Code Sections 30000 et seq.) was first established

by voters in 1972, and passed by state legislature in 1976 ("Q and A"

1). The main objective of the act is to provide long tern protection for

California’s 1,100-mile coastline. The Act is a partnership between the state

(California Coastal Commission) and the local governments (15 coastal and 58

cities) to regulate both the conservation and the development of coastal

resources through planning and regulatory programs ("Permanent" 1).

This act stemmed from a coastal protection program that was passed on a

temporary basis by California voters through initiative in November 1972,

Proposition 20-The Coastal Conservation Initiative ("Who We Are" 1).

The Coastal Acts policies and structure are based on input from the California

Coastal Plan that was called for through Prop.20 and adopted by the Coastal

Commission in 1975. Some of the major policies that influence the acts main

objectives include; 1. The protection, enhancement, and restoration of

environmentally sensitive habitats. 2. The protection of productive agricultural

lands, commercial fisheries, and archeological resources. 3. The establishment,

to the extent possible, or urban-rural boundaries and directing new housing and

other developments into areas with adequate services to avoid wasteful urban

sprawl and urban development ("Permanent" 2). These policies and a few

others must be included into each Local Coast Program ("Q and A" 2).

Local Coast Programs (LCD’s) are the planning tools that coordinate the efforts

of both the state and the local government. LCP’s are required to identify all

aspects for coastal zones along the waterways. They are also required to include

a land use plan and implementing measure (i.e. zoning). The LCP’s reflect the

imagination of the individual coastal communities as well as the structure of

the Coastal Act and its policies. The coastal Act ensures its objectives are met

or at least addressed with the Coastal Commission reviewing final LCP’s. This

whole process is a major system of checks and balances, neseccary red tape.

Since the act was passed on a permanent basis in 1976, coastal development has

continued, but it has been much more structured. This act has been a complete

success. A great majority of coastal permit applications are approved, but many

include stipulations to bring applications up to code with the regulations of

the act itself. The act has prompted 70% of local coastal governments to have

fully certified LCP’s. ("Q and A" 3). This has also resulted in the

fact that now almost all-coastal permits are issued locally. The act has

achieved what it had proposed to do and so much more. Before the foundation to

the act was established in 1972, the coast was vulnerable to unplanned

development and environmental negligence. Now development is planned much

better, more efficient and promotes themes and ideas in a long-term sense. More

important are the unseen benefits from the act. Unseen achievements include:

wetlands not being filled, coastal views not being lost to new homes, and

coastal agricultural lands not being converted to other unnecessary uses. The

Coastal Act stays important because California coastline is an important issue.

It cannot just be saved; it needs to be constantly watched, protected, and

addressed. After looking at the government’s reaction to both protecting the

states agricultural resources and its coastline, I am pleased with the overall

efforts. I think that in terms of the Williamson Act, there are definitely

changes that need to be made. The Williamson Plus Act, which contains a

twenty-year commitment, is a much better idea in regards to preserving

agricultural lands and resources. I think that the original breaks on property

tax need to be in effect, but something needs to be done to help counties make

up for lost property tax revenue. There also needs to be stricter penalties in

place to keep landowners from straying from their commitments. I feel the most

important factor in the Williamson Plus is the fact that it then makes land off

limits to development in the future. All in all, the original Williamson Act is

a good foundation for the newer, stricter, more balanced version of the act.

This is similar to what the Coastal Act was successful in doing. It was created

and adapted from an earlier temporary initiative. Its policies and structure are

drawn from prop 20’s foundation and its development. The Coastal Act is an

example of what the Williamson Act could eventually be. I think that the

government is trying, but I think that the problem lies in Californians

themselves. The Coastal Act works for the most part because it not only

addresses one of California’s most important features (the coastline) but the

idea behind it is so Californian in thought. The Williamson Act addresses two

very important issues, agriculture and the environment. The Williamson Act also

deals with the California farmer’s dilemma of keeping their farms or selling

them and then crying all the way to the bank. The California Coastal Commission

deals solely with the issue of the environment, a widely accepted policy issue

here in California. I do think that the government is trying, and I think that

these bills/laws are definitely more of a benefit than a hindrance. "I hope

that 25 years from now I’ll be able to say? we worked hard for our

environment? I hope I won’t have to hang my head in shame because we stood by

and did nothing" (Zapata 4). After all, without these acts our Central

Valley could look like a big subdivision, and our coastline could look like the

New Jersey shoreline.

Brown, Flavin, and Hilary French. State of the World. New York: Norton &

Company, 1999. —. "Permanent Responsibilities of the California Coastal

Commission." California Environmental Resource Evaluation System. 15 Nov.


—. "Who We Are." California Environmental Resource Evaluation

System. 15 Nov. 1999. 17 June 1999.

—. "Questions and Answers About the California Coastal Act."

California Environmental Resource Evaluation System. 15 Nov. 1999

Mayer, Steven. "Don’t Fence Me In." The Bakersfield Californian. 1998.

Mayer, Steven. "Williamson Act: Does it really preserve farmland?" The

Bakersfield Californian. 1998.

Nebal, Richard T. Wright. Environmental Science: Seventh Edition. New Jersey:

Prentice Hall, 2000. Zapata, Denise. "Life As We Grow It." The

Bakersfield Californian. 1998.

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