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California Farm Bureau Federation Friday Review 5/11/07
Today's Friday Review contains the following bills:
SB 634 - Williamson Act
SRA Fees
AB 1338 - California Coastal Protection Act
AB 564 - Gestation and Farrowing Stalls
AB 493 - Clean Vehicle Incentive Program

SB 634 (Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa) was approved by the Senate Local Government Committee after a lengthy and sometimes emotional hearing. Cattlemen from Humboldt County squared off on opposite sides of the issue of whether or not large ranches under Williamson Act contract should be allowed to be subdivided for residential subdivisions. Nathan Rosasco, a cattleman from Tuolumne County, also testified on behalf of Farm Bureau in support of the bill and emphasized the importance of protecting the integrity of this vital program for farmers and ranchers.

Under existing law, the Williamson Act provides that a landowner may enter into a mutually beneficial contract to restrict the use of farm and ranch land to agricultural and compatible uses in order to conserve the limited supply of agricultural land. SB 634 would provide additional guidance to participating local governments as they attempt to deal with a growing number of applications for the subdivision of Williamson Act contracted land. This bill would also protect the integrity of the Williamson Act in light of the increased division of land for strictly residential uses. Specific findings would be required to insure that the intent of the California Constitution (Article XIII § 8) and the Williamson Act are not undermined by the creation of residential homesites with little or no commercial agricultural activity.

The bill is opposed by the California Association of Realtors, California Building Industry Association, California Business Properties Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, California Chamber of Commerce, Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California, Humboldt County Williamson Act Contract Holders Association and Resource Landowners Association. Prior to making the motion to approve the bill, the committee’s chair, Senator Gloria Negrete-McCloud, admonished the opponents by reminding them that most Legislators are from urban areas of California and know little about agriculture and they could very easily find a better way to spend the annual appropriation of $120 million needed to fund the Williamson Act. The bill will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 1338 (Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael) passed an Assembly floor vote and now moves to the Senate. The bill, called the California Coastal Protection Act, would require local coastal governments to include a nonpoint source pollution prevention element (NPS element) in their local coastal program for certification by the California Coastal Commission. Nonpoint sources are already regulated by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Regional Water Quality Control Board through various programs, and the bill would place the Coastal Commission in a position of not only potentially duplicative regulatory authority, but also into an area in which does not have appropriate expertise. Farm Bureau is in opposition.

Farm Bureau has learned that both the Senate and Assembly leadership decided not to pursue a renewed effort to impose fees on landowners in the State Responsibility Area to help finance the ballooning wildfire protection budget for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) had recommended several options to the Budget Subcommittees in an attempt to reauthorize a per-acre and/or per-house fee to raise $315M or approximately half of the CDF fire protection budget. We will continue to monitor the issue and help inform legislators and their staff about the consequences of a Draconian fee schedule on ranchers and timberland owners in California’s watershed areas. We would like to express our appreciation to Len Lindstrand, Shasta County Farm Bureau president, and Jim Little, Mendocino County Farm Bureau member, who took a day out of their schedules to travel to Sacramento last month to meet with LAO Elizabeth Hill. The meeting was very productive and educational for Liz and three of her deputy analysts.

AB 594 (Mervyn Dymally, D-Los Angeles) was heard by the Assembly Committee on Agriculture on May 9th. This bill prohibits the use of gestation and farrowing stalls, except during the seven days prior to the expected farrowing date. CFBF opposes this bill because the Legislature is not the proper venue for making decisions on animal welfare; instead the industry needs to make production decisions based on scientific evidence. The committee heard extensive testimony from the supporters and the opposition, but did not take a vote on the bill because it did not have the support necessary to pass out of committee. The committee expressed interest in holding a hearing on the issue of gestation stalls later this year in Corcoran and the author expressed willingness to amend portions of the bill relating to fines assessed upon farms that did not follow the standards dictated in the bill.

The Clean Vehicle Incentive Program would provide a rebate of up to $2,500 to a buyer of a new gasoline motor vehicle up to 10,000 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating that emits relatively low amounts of greenhouse gases. It would also impose a surcharge of up to $2,500 on a buyer of a new gasoline motor vehicle up to 10,000 GVWR that emits relatively high volumes of these gases. AB 493 (Ira Ruskin, D- Redwood City) contains an exemption that might help a number of growers; it would not be imposed if the new vehicle would be used for business purposes and has average annual gross receipts of $2.5 million or less over the previous three years.

Farms and ranches need light and medium duty trucks to safely conduct production practices. While the agricultural industry supports clean air measures that are incentive based, we do not believe penalizing one type of business owner over another is fair or equitable. We also believe it is extremely unfair to exclude the state from this measure. CFBF opposes AB 493, which is currently being held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee because its fiscal impact would be more than $150,000 per year. The determination on whether it will be approved by the committee despite these costs will be made in the next two weeks.

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