County’s Farmland Mitigation Program Requiring Purchase of Conservation Easement is Valid
In Building Industry Association of Central California (BIA) v. County of Stanislaus, the court of appeal rejected a challenge brought by the BIA against the county’s Farmland Mitigation Program (FMP). The FMP guidelines, to mitigate the loss of farmland, require each developer to acquire a conservation easement equal in size to the area of farmland to be converted to residential use.
The trial court had declared the FMP invalid. On appeal, many organization, including the National Association of Home Builders, the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties filed amicus briefs on behalf of the parties.
The court of appeal reversed, concluding first that the FMP bears a reasonable relationship to the goals of mitigating the burdens caused by the transformation of agricultural uses of land to residential uses, and specifically finding that the rough proportionality requirement was met.
The court also found that the FMP does not facially conflict with state law. The plain language of Civil Code section 815.3, the court observed, prohibits local governments from conditioning the issuance of entitlements on the applicant’s granting of a conservation easement. Such a requirement, the court said, would amount to an unreasonable taking of property rights. Where a developer is required to purchase such an easement from a willing seller, however, the statute is not violated.
Although few counties have agriculture industries that match the size of Stanislaus County’s, the Court’s clarification that Civil Code section 815.3 does not prohibit the type of mitigation condition at issue in this case is a significant victory for local governments because it recognizes the viability of an important mitigation tool for the protection of agricultural land.ShareThis