Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 21, 2010

CA Appeals Court Upholds County Farmland Mitigation Program

The County Farmland Mitigation Program (FMP) was updated in 2007 to assist in mitigating the loss of farmland.  The guidelines required developers to obtain an agricultural conservation easement over an equivalent area of comparable farmland but respondent developer challenged the validity of such a requirement.  The trial court found in favor of the developer primarily citing to the County’s excessive use of police power.  The County appealed.

Here, the Court determined that the local government performs a legislative function when adopting or amending a general plan such as the FMP and stated that the Court’s authority is limited to assessing the arbitrary or capricious nature of the action.  The Court disagreed with the trial court and determined that the prevention of loss of farmland through conservation easements was reasonable in relation to residential development.  The FMP attempted to balance protecting vital farmland while also preserving the ability to develop land.

Secondly, the Court determined that the conditional issuance of land use approvals did not invalidate the FMP.  The emphasis of the FMP is on conservation easements and as such, it is subject to facial challenge pursuant to Section 815.3 (Entities Authorized to Acquire and Hold Conservation Easements).  The County asserted that the FMP did not violate the prohibition against conditioning conservation easements.  Instead, the County asserted that the FMP gave developers the option to have a third party convey an easement to a land trust and therefore, the County was not compelling involuntary creation of an easement.  Here, the Court agreed with the County and concluded that the FMP did not facially violate section 815.3.  Furthermore, the FMP promoted public policy because it did not require applicants to grant easements but instead, encouraged conveyance.  As such, the judgment was reversed.

Building Industry Assoc. v. Co. of Stanislaus, 2010 WL 5027136 (Cal.App. 5th District 11/29/2010)

The opinion can be accessed here

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