SMW Sucessfully Defends Stanislaus Farmland Mitigation Program

On November 29, 2010, the Fifth District Court of Appeal issued a unanimous decision upholding Stanislaus County’s Farmland Mitigation Program.  The program requires real estate developers to mitigate for the loss of farmland caused by residential development.  Developers must protect an area of comparable farmland equal to the area of farmland proposed to be developed.  The program anticipates that most developers will comply with the program by arranging for creation of a conservation easement over comparable farmland, to be managed by a land trust.

The Building Industry Association of Central California (BIA) filed suit challenging the program on a wide variety of grounds, and the firm defended the County in the litigation.  The California Farm Bureau Federation and Stanislaus County Farm Bureau intervened in the lawsuit on the County’s behalf.  The superior court sided with the BIA and invalidated the program based on its conclusion that it violated the state conservation easement statute and that it effected a taking. 

The firm filed an appeal on the County’s behalf.  A wide variety of groups filed amicus briefs in support of the County:  League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, California Council of Land Trusts, Sierra Club, Planning and Conservation League, and Greenbelt Alliance. 

In a sweeping decision, the Court of Appeal reversed the superior court and held that the program was fully lawful.  It found a “reasonable relationship” between the conversion of farmland to residential use and the program’s requirement of protection of an equivalent area of comparable farmland.  It further found that the program did not violate the conservation easement statute because it did not compel developers to grant conservation easements in their own property, but rather allowed them to arrange for conservation easements to be created voluntarily by third parties. 

The decision confirms the ability of local governments to protect farmland and agricultural economies. The decision will have statewide significance as more and more local governments seek to preserve agriculture from encroaching development. To read the Los Angeles Times' article about the case click here.

On February 16, 2011, the California Supreme Court denied a petition for review and request for depublication filed by BIA seeking to have the court review the court of appeal’s decision.