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Friday Review of California Bills and Laws
California Farm Bureau Federation 3/21/08

(This weeks Friday Review contains information on AB 2860 (Williamson Act), AB 2881 (right-to-farm), AB 1992 (local government associations, SB 1285 and SB 1323 (adequacy of land appraisals for conservation purposes). 

A bill to allow federally recognized Indian tribes to ignore Williamson Act contracts on land that the tribe has purchased has been introduced by Assemblymember Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia). A casino-owning tribe in Santa Ynez (Santa Barbara County) is sponsoring the bill, AB 2860. According to the author’s office, the tribe wants to build a “museum and cultural center” on six acres of Williamson Act land that they’ve acquired and they don’t want to wait for nonrenewal or ask for cancellation. It is unclear whether or not the six acres is adjacent to their casino.

Farm Bureau is opposed to AB 2860 as it would open the door to the widespread loss of agricultural land as cash-rich tribes expand their real estate holdings without regard for the land’s agricultural preserve status. California and 54 of its counties have made significant public trust investments in the conservation of agricultural land through their participation in the Williamson Act contracts. Farm Bureau has fought to protect the integrity of Williamson Act contracts from the very inception of the law in 1965. We firmly believe in the sanctity of agricultural preserves and Williamson Act contracts. AB 2860 is set for hearing in the Assembly Agriculture Committee on April 2nd.

Assembly member Lois Wolk (D-Davis) wants to strengthen the state’s right-to-farm law by requiring mandatory real estate disclosure in agricultural areas as well as the payment of attorney’s fees and court costs for prevailing defendants in right-to-farm lawsuits. Farm Bureau is in strong support of Ms. Wolk’s AB 2881 that has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the hearing date has not been set. California’s right-to-farm law has tried to protect farm and ranch operations from nuisance claims for nearly a quarter of a century. The public interest in protecting our farming enterprises, while well established, is not always effectively enforced. We believe that a significant part of the problem relates to ignorance of the law and more widespread real estate disclosure will help inform residents and purchasers of the uses by-right in agricultural zones, thus protecting agricultural land uses from incompatible non-farming uses.

Assembly member Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) is taking on local government associations that appear to be using taxpayer funds to finance their campaign again Proposition 98. His AB 1992 would prohibit taxpayer-financed organizations from funding political activities with taxpayer dollars and would provide increased transparency by forcing these organizations to form political action committees so that contributions can be adequately disclosed.

Farm Bureau recently become aware of a highly suspect technique employed by local government associations whereby so-called “non-public funds” accounts are used to engage in political campaigns in favor of, or in opposition to, statewide ballot measures. The amount of money that is essentially laundered through these accounts is staggering and taxpayers have no way of knowing whether it is their money or not. Even if the actual dollars are not the proceeds of taxes, the money is being raised on association employees, on association time with association computers, phones, and email accounts, the result is the same: taxpayer money is being spent to finance political campaigns. Congressman John Campbell has also filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and it has agreed to investigate. AB 1992 will be heard in the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee on March 25th. CFBF is in support

In response to a Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report entitled Improving the Appraisal Function in Resource Land Acquisitions, Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) and Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto) have introduced bills to address the adequacy of appraisals when land is purchased by the state for conservation purposes. Each bill would implement a portion of the LAO’s recommendations. SB 1285 (Corbett) would create uniform standards with respect to the acquisition of conservation for all state resources agencies. These standards would serve as the basis for state-funded resource acquisitions, regardless of the type of acquisition (grant or direct purchase), or the resource agency funding the acquisition. Second Senator Cogdill’s SB 1323 would implement another of the LAO’s recommendations by requiring the Department of General Services to conduct, or contract with an independent appraiser to conduct, an independent appraisal of any land proposed to be acquired for resources conservation purposes. Although Farm Bureau has not yet taken a position on these measures, we are concerned about the misuse of taxpayers’ dollars in resource land acquisitions. Whether it’s for a conservation easement or acquisition in fee, there needs to be greater oversight as to how these limited funds are being spent. SB 1285 will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on March 25th and SB 1323 has not yet been set for hearing.

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