The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, Los Angeles: Urban Food Policy Snapshot

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act

Location: Los Angeles, California

Population: 3,976,322 (July 1, 2016)

Size: 503 square miles

Program/Policy Initiated:

  • In 2013, the California Legislature approved the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, allowing landowners to receive property tax benefits if they agree to utilize their land for urban agriculture in order to promote farming in low-income areas
  • Los Angeles City Council members Curren Price and Felipe Fuentes introduced the initiative in October 2014
  • The ordinance was approved June 13, 2017

Progress to date:

Since the passage of the state legislation, cities and counties like San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento Long Beach and Santa Clara have established local laws for urban agriculture incentive zones. On June 13, a 10-0 vote in the Los Angeles City Council tentatively passed the ordinance into effect, implementing the UAIZ Act in Los Angeles. On June 20th, the policy was officially approved by the full City Council.

Very few property owners have taken advantage of this urban agriculture incentive, but this will hopefully change as more cities see the benefits the UAIZ Act brings. For example – in San Francisco – only one property was under contract as of January 2017 and the property is a total of 0.11 acres, according to SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. In 2019, the ordinance expires and any new property tax deduction will not be allowed unless the legislature votes to extend the programs. AB 465 is currently being considered in the California state legislature to extend Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones to 2029.

Food policy category:

Sustainable diets and nutrition

Social and economic equity

Program goals:

  • Implement the state’s ordinance, the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, in Los Angeles
  • Encourage and incentivize urban farming on empty or unused plots of land in Los Angeles
  • Promote healthier living and a greater sense of community in urban areas
  • Create more open spaces in urban areas for outdoor recreation
  • Use urban farms to educate communities on food production and healthy food choices

How it works:

Property owners of eligible vacant properties can apply for and agree into voluntary contracts with the city. By doing so, the property owners receive benefits of reduced property tax in exchange for allowing their property to be used for agricultural purposes for a minimum of five years. For lots to be eligible, they must be abide by certain guidelines, some of which include being vacant and having no habitable buildings on site, and property owners agreeing to a minimum of five years of urban agriculture service.

Why it is important:

Urban agriculture works to promote community building, more pleasant living areas, education on healthier living and benefits of fresh food, and easier access to these healthier food choices, according to the Los Angeles Department of City Planning. The ordinance also promotes the Plan for Healthy Los Angeles, a part of the city’s General Plan centered around Health and Wellness. The UAIZ Act will allow many citizens to gain better knowledge of food production itself and the upsides of healthy food consumption.

Encouraging agriculture on these small urban lots prevents the intrusion of large urbanization corporations. It also has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by growing plants on lots that would otherwise be empty. Moreover, it would foster the sale of local produce, which lowers the greenhouse gases emitted via long distance produce transportation.

Evaluation:

The loss in property tax revenue for the cities and counties where the UAIZ Act has been implemented has thus far been very small, but this could be attributed to the fact that few landowners have yet to take advantage of this ordinance.

Community food projects supported by the USDA have provided around 2,300 jobs. Research presented by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council has shown that 1,900 community gardens in Newark produced $4 million worth of food in four years. An estimated 8,600 lots in Los Angeles would be eligible to partake in the UAIZ Act. The UAIZ Act in Los Angeles has the potential to create hundreds of jobs and produce much more local food. Urban farming also saves money for low income families; studies show that $1 invested into an urban garden yields about $6 worth of produce.

Learn more:

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln–urban-farming-20141008-story.html

https://planning.lacity.org/ordinances/docs/UrbanAgriculture/StaffReport.pdf

http://www.spur.org/news/2017-05-01/urban-agriculture-incentive-zones-four-years

Point of Contact:

Breanna Morrison Hawkins, Policy Director with the LA Food Policy Council: bmorrison@goodfoodla.org

Similar practices:

In recent years, Louisiana, Missouri, Utah, and Kansas have enacted – or are in the process of enacting – very similar laws to the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act.

This information has been provided and confirmed by http://www.ncsl.org/research/agriculture-and-rural-development/urban-agriculture-state-legislation.aspx

References:

https://planning.lacity.org/ordinances/docs/UrbanAgriculture/StaffReport.pdf

http://goodfoodla.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/AB551-Fact-Sheet-2-pager-020122014.pdf

https://planning.lacity.org/ordinances/docs/UrbanAgriculture/StaffReport.pdf

Photo credit: Andrew Douglas

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