The Williamson Act, also known as the California Land Conservation Act, was passed by our California Legislature in 1965 in order to encourage rural & agricultural lands to remain undeveloped longer. When land owners enter into a contract under the act, they benefit from lower property taxes, which are based on the property’s current use, rather than paying market value based tax rates. In exchange, the property is to remain undeveloped and continue to function the same way for the duration of that contract. The contracts run for 10 years and are automatically renewed unless the farmer or rancher cancels it.
Why does the Williamson Act matter?
According to the Committee for Green Foothills, there are 362,000 acres of land in Santa Clara County under the Williamson Act (that article appears to have been written in 2003, so the numbers may have changed a little since then). Much of it is in the east foothills of east San Jose and the south county areas near Morgan Hill and Gilroy, but there are patches of it in Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Almaden Valley, Blossom Valley and throughout Silicon Valley. The tax breaks make it possible for many farmers and ranchers to stay in business and not feel forced to sell their land for development. If they were paying “market rate” taxes, it would not be long before most or all of our rural and agricultural uses gave way to housing and other development.