The Williamson Land Conservation Act as Implemented in Sacramento County

Questions and Answers

These questions and answers are offered to provide basic information about the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (also known as the Williamson Act), as amended, and certain Revenue & Taxation Code provisions that relate to the valuation of land subject to contracts under the Act.

Because the requirements of the program may be altered at any time by actions of the Board of Supervisors or the State Legislature, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided in this document. As a result, you should not rely on its content for making business decisions before carefully reviewing all current laws and regulations regarding contracts under the Williamson Act.

If you are considering contracting with the county, you should consult with your attorney, tax consultant or legal advisor prior to executing any contract.

It is an Act passed by the California legislature to preserve agricultural and other open space lands. It was originally drafted to slow the loss of prime agricultural land, regardless of soil quality. In addition, it now provides protection for wild life habitats, marshlands, salt flats and certain scenic highways.

The Act authorized local governments and property owners to commit land to specified uses of twenty years or more under a binding contract. Once committed, the land is to be valued as open space land pursuant to open space valuation laws (Revenue & Taxation Code Sections 421, et seq.) enacted pursuant to the Open Space Amendment of the California Constitution.

In Sacramento County, an agricultural preserve is an area devoted to plant and animal production for commercial purposes, and for other compatible uses. The boundaries of the preserve will be designated by resolution of the Board of Supervisors. Preserves will be regulated by rules and restrictions designated in the resolution so that the land within the preserve is maintained in an agricultural or compatible use.

The Board of Supervisors has designated certain areas of the county where the establishment of agricultural preserves is considered to be consistent with the General Plan of the county. Requests to establish preserves on land outside these areas will be considered on their merits, but since approval could involve changing the General Plan, an applicant should be prepared to justify the request on the basis of sound land-use planning principles.

The Government Code provides that an agricultural preserve shall consist of no less than 100 acres; however, in order to meet this requirement two or more parcels may be combined if they are contiguous, or if they are in a common ownership. The code also provides that smaller agricultural preserves may be established if the agricultural enterprise in the area calls for smaller agricultural units, and if the establishment of the preserve is consistent with the General Plan. Sacramento County, in implementing this program, encourages preserves of at least 100 acres. Preserves can be made up of land that is under one or more ownerships; for example, owners with less than 100 acres may combine their acreage with neighboring acreage under other ownership to meet the 100-acre minimum, provided that all the properties are contiguous. Normally, if lands under different ownership are combined to create a preserve, agricultural income data must support the request.

A land conservation contract is the legal document that contractually obligates the property owner (and his or her successors of interest) to the enforceable restrictions provided in the Act. Only land which has been put into an agricultural preserve by resolution of the Board of Supervisors is eligible for a contract.

Property owner(s) may file a request to form an agricultural preserve with the Sacramento County Planning Department. The request will be considered in light of the established criteria and the county General Plan. If, after a public hearing on the application, the preserve is established by the Board of Supervisors, the property owner will be offered a land conservation contract.

Yes! For application forms, fee schedules and instructions, contact:

Sacramento County Planning Department
827 7th Street, Room 230
Sacramento California, 95814-1284
(916) 874-6141
E-mail: sacplan@saccounty.net

Encumbrance holders of all recorded mortgages and deeds of trust must consent to the property owner's participation in the program. A "Consent to Contract" form will be provided for that purpose.

In Sacramento County, contracts will provide for a term of twenty (20) years, with an automatic, annual renewal process beginning at the end of the first ten (10) years. The automatic renewal process adds an additional year on each subsequent anniversary date of the contract, unless a notice of nonrenewal is filed.

After the initial 10 years of the contract have passed, either party has the right to nonrenew in order to prevent additional years being automatically added. Once a nonrenewal notice has been filed with the Board of Supervisors, the contract will expire 10 years after the date of the last renewal. This effectively makes the contract a minimum of 20 years. Contact the County Planning Department for additional information on nonrenewal applications.

The effect on nonrenewal filing differs depending on which party gives the notice. Keeping in mind that a notice of nonrenewal cannot be filed during the first 10 years of the contract, then:

  • a) If the owner gives notice, the property is to be valued thereafter as if the enforceable restriction has been removed from the property. Increased annual assessments during the phase-out period should be expected. Usually the greatest percentage increase occurs during the first year.
  • b) If the county gives notice and the landowner protests the county's action, the enforceable restriction continues through the first five years of nonrenewal period; i.e., it will be valued as if the notice had not been given. In the final five years of nonrenewal period, the property will be valued as if the enforceable restriction has been removed.

See Section 426 of the Revenue and Taxation Code for the valuation formula to be used in the above cases.​​

Yes. Failure to meet the conditions of the agreement may be considered a breach of contract. The county may seek legal remedies or the agreement may not be renewed.

Land use will be limited and controlled by the rules of the agricultural preserve adopted by resolution of the Board of Supervisors. The rules will prescribe the commercial agricultural and other compatible uses (if any) permitted. In addition, the property is subject to the regulations of the Zoning Ordinance. It is important to note that all limitations, rules and regulations are fully in effect throughout the nonrenewal period.

Section 423 of the Revenue & Taxation Code provides that lands that are subject to an enforceable restriction shall be valued by the capitalization of income method. The capitalization rate is not derived from sales data, but is the sum of three components, which are:

  1. An interest component
  2. A risk component and (3) a property tax component
  3. A property tax component

Whatever value might be indicated by application of the capitalization of income method, the Assessor must nonetheless annually enroll the owest of the following three possible valuation options: 

  1. The property's restricted value as calculated above
  2. Its Proposition 13 factored base year value 
  3. Or its current market value

No. In Sacramento County, all non-living improvements are excluded under the contract and therefore subject to, and valued under, the provisions of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution (i.e. Proposition13).

Yes. The Assessor will require that the owner file an income/expense questionnaire for the land in question. The questionnaires are typically mailed to all owners of Williamson Act Properties on an annual basis.

For your convenience, the Annual Agricultural Preserve Questionnaire  forms can also be found on our website as a PDF-fillable document.  Visit Assessor Forms​.  The Questionnaire is comprised of two separate documents.

Submit the completed questionnaire by mail, fax, or email it as an attachment to ASR-AgriculturalTeam@saccounty.net.

Sacramento County will require that land subject to a contract must be zoned for an agricultural use consistent with the county General Plan.

The rules of each agricultural preserve will specify the uses that will be permitted under that specific contract. Generally, any commercial agricultural use will be permitted within an agricultural preserve. For more specific information regarding allowable uses contact the County Planning Department.

Cancellation (i.e., immediate cessation of the contract) can take place by mutual agreement between the county and the owner after a public hearing and a determination by the Board of Supervisors that cancellation is in the public interest or is consistent with the purposes of the Williamson Act.

There is no right to cancel the contract. The existence of an opportunity for another use of the property is not sufficient reason for cancellation. The uneconomic character of an existing use can be considered by the Board only if the property cannot be put to a use specified in the resolution establishing the preserve on which the property is located. The county may unilaterally cancel the contract if it (or a substantial similar contract) is declared invalid or ineffective in any court adjudication that is accepted by the county as final. Details concerning cancellation can be obtained from the County Planning Department.

If a contract is to be cancelled, the Assessor shall review the assessment of the land to which cancellation applies, basing valuation on the highest and best use, free of restrictions. The owner shall pay a cancellation fee to the state in an amount equal to 12.5 percent of the current market value of the property (fee is collected by the county). Cancellation will not become effective until the cancellation fee is paid. A cancellation fee will not be levied if the cancellation comes about because the contract is declared invalid.

Upon the filing of eminent domain for condemnation, the restrictions will be removed on those portions of the land actually condemned.

In the case of a breach of contract, the county may seek a court injunction to enforce the terms of the contract. Where the breach of the contract is a violation of land use restrictions, normal zoning enforcement provisions will also apply.

Yes. Provisions of the contract are binding on all transferees of the owner and the county, except cities that protest the execution of the contracts within one of the city's boundaries.

When the contract has been both ratified and recorded, the property will be assessed under the Williamson Act effective on the first lien date (January 1) following the recording. Unfortunately, if the contract is ratified before the lien date but not recorded until after the lien date, the restricted value will not take effect until the subsequent lien date.

For example: Let’s say the contract is ratified in November 2008, but not recorded until January 25, 2009. In that case, the restricted value could not be enrolled until January 1, 2010, and would first affect a tax bill only on July 1, 2010, some 17 months after the recording!

For questions regarding timelines, fees or the recording of new contracts, contact the County Planning Department.

The State Department of Conservation maintains several web pages with information related to the Williamson Act at:

​Sacramento County Assessor
Customer Service Section - LCA Properties
3701 Power Inn Road, Suite 3000
Sacramento, Ca 95826-4329
(916) 875-0700 - E-mail: ASR-AgriculturalTeam@saccounty.net
www.assessor.saccounty.net

Sacramento County Planning & Community Development
827 7th Street, Room 230 (southwest corner, 7th & I)
Sacramento, CA 95814-1284
(916) 874-6141 - E-mail: sacplan@saccounty.net 
www.planning.saccounty.net 

State Board of Equalization
Taxpayers' Rights Advocate
450 N Street MIC-70
PO Box 942879
Sacramento, CA 94279-0070
www.boe.ca.gov

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