Long Beach Program Would Give Tax Breaks for Urban Farms Plotted on Vacant Lots

Long Beach Program Would Give Tax Breaks for Urban Farms Plotted on Vacant Lots

Long Beach Program Would Give Tax Breaks for Urban Farms Plotted on Vacant Lots

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By COURTNEY TOMPKINS | ctompkins@scng.com | Press Telegram

PUBLISHED: October 5, 2017 at 11:46 am

Urban farms may soon crop up on vacant lots following the adoption of a local program that would give tax breaks to property owners who agree to plot produce on their land for at least five years.

The City Council on Tuesday voted to enact the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone program, which would allow for the small-scale cultivation of crops, the raising of certain types of livestock, bees, dairy producing animals or poultry, and would also allow the sale of produce through field retail stands or other farm stands.

The item, introduced over the summer by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, aims to increase access to locally grown produce, create more robust local food systems along with opportunities for gardening education. It is also expected to create jobs and reduce blight associated with abandoned lots.

“We know we have vacant lots that have remained vacant for some 20 years; they are a strain on our code enforcement, a blight on our corridors and our neighborhoods,” Richardson said on Tuesday. “And we also know on the other hand urban agriculture is exciting … it really inspires people to really get involved in their neighborhoods.”

The council on Tuesday also took action on a separate but related item that authorized the creation of a vacant lot registry that will track how property owners care for their empty lots. The goal is to curb negative impacts associated with these often blighted lots by setting maintenance standards and requiring routine inspections. Officials estimate 618 lots would qualify for the registry.

A handful of large cities across the state have adopted similar programs in recent years, following the 2013 passage of Assembly Bill 551, the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act. The state law, enacted in 2014, authorized cities and counties to encourage landowners to allow small-scale farming on vacant lots. Under the program, a landowner’s property tax would be assessed on the agricultural value of the land rather than the full market value.

Long Beach began working to form a local program in 2016, shortly after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance for all unincorporated areas and authorized the county’s 88 cities to establish their own programs.

Long Beach Sustainability Coordinator Larry Rich, who helped establish the local program, said the city would not lose any property tax revenue in the process because the county law provides funding to offset the tax breaks.

If the council grants final approval next Tuesday, the ordinance would take effect mid-November, Rich said. If property owners are interested in taking advantage of the program in 2018, he said they would need to reach out as soon as possible to get the process started. Any applications would need to be approved by year end for the upcoming tax year.

“There are three different county agencies we need to check in with … so it’s worth a shot, but people will have to come talk to us on this right away,” Rich said.

Richardson said he hopes to make Long Beach the first city in Los Angeles County to implement the program and have someone take advantage of the incentives.

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