Agriculture

Board Looks at Incentive Zones to Grow Urban Farms

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors planted a seed Wednesday that could one day help turn empty lots throughout the region into small farms — by directing County staff to look into creating urban agriculture incentive zones.

Board members voted unanimously to direct County staff to take three main actions. First, to create framework criteria to evaluate proposals to establish urban agriculture zones in both the unincorporated County and cities — and report that criteria within 90 days to the Board and all 18 cities in the county. Second, use the framework criteria to determine if an urban agriculture zone would work in the unincorporated County. Third, come back to the Board in 180 days with options to establish a zone in the unincorporated areas.

California legislators passed a law in late 2013 allowing counties and cities to establish urban agriculture enterprise zones. The zones were intended to give gardens and small farms the chance to sprout up even in urban neighborhoods by letting local governments give tax breaks to property owners willing to let their vacant land be used for farming and agricultural use.

San Diego County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob brought the urban agriculture zone issue to the Board for consideration Wednesday. They both said the idea seemed perfect for the County, where the Board has already taken several steps in recent years to promote agriculture.

In September, the Board unanimously approved a new ordinance that allows beekeeping hobbyists and businesses to keep bees and hives closer to roads, property lines and homes, but still far enough away to keep people safe. The Board has also streamlined permitting to promote smaller, “boutique” wineries, ease restrictions on horse stables and businesses, and is looking at ways to promote microbreweries, cheese-making and agri-tourism.

Jacob said the agriculture enterprise incentive zones were similar to the Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easement (PACE) program the County created two years ago, which has also given property owners a way to preserve agricultural land.

Roberts said the zones would be a perfect extension of County’s Live Well San Diego vision.

He said the zones could create community gardens that could provide communities with several benefits: new sources of locally-grown, healthy food; informative places to learn more about food; and potentially, ways to turn blighted lots in neighborhoods into safer, cleaner places.

 

Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact