Plans Would Save Farms From Sprawl

From Associated Press

The government should provide more incentives to let farmers protect their land from urban development, an agriculture spokesman says. John R. Gamper, taxation and land use expert for the California Farm Bureau Federation, offered several proposals during a forum on farmland preservation at the annual AgFresno farm equipment show.

* Gamper proposed "substantial tax relief to farmers and ranchers if they agree to either donate an agricultural conservation easement on their property or enter into a 30-year contract similar to those offered under the Williamson Act." That act, enacted in the early 1960s, taxes property at farmland values if the farmer agrees not to develop the land for 10 years.

* Gamper said the California Legislature should work with Congress to modify Individual Retirement Accounts so they can include cash equity in land owned by elderly farmers and ranchers.

* He said Congress should pass the Family-owned Business Act to correct "the cruelty of inheritance tax laws" that critics contend make it hard to keep farms in families and still pay inheritance taxes.

* Local school boards should be forced to locate new schools in line with local planning and zoning rules because, Gamper said, putting them wherever the trustees want is "growth-inducing" and contributes to urban sprawl.

"It's outrageous that schools can just blow off the general plans," he added.

A building industry spokesman said part of the problem with urban sprawl is that two-thirds of the urban land is not devoted to housing. "It's streets, parks, parking space, schools, government buildings--uses that are not residential," said Jeff Harris, chief executive officer of the Building Industry Assn. of the San Joaquin Valley. Harris said farmers and ranchers should feel threatened by "wider streets and larger school sites."

He added that Central California, the heart of the state's farmland, will continue to attract refugees from the San Francisco Bay Area because home prices are much cheaper.

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