Land Trust Seeks $4.3 Million Grant

Land Trust Seeks $4.3 Million Grant

Officials with the California Strategic Growth Council will decide on Tuesday whether to award Salinas-based nonprofit Ag Land Trust more than $4.34 million in grants to buy the development rights on 1,257 acres of farmland in Monterey County.

The grants are part of $37.78 million in grant money available this fiscal year through the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program, intended to help reduce greenhouse emissions in the state.

This is the second year the grants are being awarded.

In this case, the money is earmarked mostly for projects to buy conservation land easements on 20 parcels of working farms, ranchland and rangeland in 15 counties in the central and northern parts of California totaling just under 19,000 acres.

“Basically, you are buying the developmental rights” to construct homes or businesses on the land, while the owners retain the right to farm, ranch or graze cattle on the land, explained Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Conservation, which is advising the council on which groups to award grants.

Ag Monday: Darington is farmland conservation's gatekeeper

Ag Land Trust is requesting five grants ranging from $473,150 to more than $1.6 million to buy the easements — three in the Salinas area and the other two in the Soledad and King City areas — totaling 1,357 acres.

Besides being paid for the easements, farmers and ranchers who enter these deals get tax breaks, Drysdale said.

“It prevents leapfrog development” — building away from cities and other developed areas — he added, noting that this type of development tends to encourage more development to fill the gaps between the leapfrog projects and the already-developed areas.

Reducing development in outlying areas reduces the need to drive to those areas, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, Drysdale explained.

“Protecting critical agricultural lands from conversion to urban or rural residential development promotes smart growth within existing jurisdictions, ensures open space remains available and supports a healthy agricultural economy and resulting food security,” states the guidelines for the grant application. “A healthy and resilient agricultural sector is becoming increasingly important in meeting the challenges occurring and anticipated as a result of climate change.”

In the case of the largest of the five proposed easements in Monterey County — 571 acres just south of Soledad — the farm is adjacent to both the city limits of Soledad and Highway 101, states a report for the Sustainable Growth Council’s meeting next week in Sacramento.

“Protecting the subject property would redirect growth of Soledad towards the foothills to the east. The property also contains part of the Salinas River basin, which will be protected under the easement at no cost to the SALC Program.”

Another proposed easement is for a 129-acre farm just outside the Salinas city limits off Castroville Road and is “some of the most productive and desirable land in the Valley, if not the entire country, with several other agricultural easements surrounding it,” the report states.

“Protecting the subject property will add to the growing volume of easements west of Salinas, protecting the farmland beyond these properties and further solidifying the agricultural use of the area.”

Carr Lake acquisition gets $2.5M grant

A representative at the Ag Land Trust contacted on Tuesday didn’t respond to an interview request.

If the requested grants are rewarded, the trusts, conservancies, county agencies and other organizations receiving them would have to provide 25 percent in matching funds.

Besides the grant money, the Strategic Growth Council also can award “Strategy and Outcome,” grants, which can be used by cities and counties to to determine in what farming areas new development should be discouraged.

This year, only two counties applied for those grants, and just one of those — Monterey County — met the criteria to qualify.

The county is seeking $182,336, which could be used for, among other things, to hire a consultant to advise the county on how to direct growth to protect farmland.

County officials didn’t respond Tuesday on a request to comment on how the money would be used, if it’s awarded, but the Strategic Growth Council’s report states that the county Resource Management Agency would use the money to implement the Agricultural Land Mitigation Program adopted as part of Monterey County’s 2010 General Plan update.

Monterey County RMA also has teamed up with Ag Land Trust to apply for for the grant to purchase the easement on the 129 acres near Salinas. That project “will contribute to a farmland perimeter and greenbelt west of Salinas,” the report states.

Source: The Californian