Agricultural mitigation is a method by which the loss of important agricultural land is offset to reduce physical impacts to the environment, and it is typically used for projects that require the removal of large amounts of agricultural land. In such cases, the developer is required to compensate for the destruction of agricultural land to receive project approval. The California courts have upheld legal challenges to these agricultural mitigation programs over the past decade.

At least eight cities and three counties in California, including San Benito County, require agricultural land mitigation at a ratio of one acre preserved for each acre of farmland converted, or a 1:1 ratio. Other California jurisdictions, such as Butte County, Yolo County, City of Davis, and City of Hughson, have adopted a 2:1 ratio. A higher mitigation ratio preserves more farmland but can also increase development costs.

The City of Hollister does not currently have an agricultural land mitigation policy in place. Hollister is part of a larger agricultural region, which contributes to Hollister’s economy and cultural heritage. The 2005 General Plan calls for the development of an agricultural land mitigation program, and the recent Chappell Road Pre-Zone Project EIR called for 1:1 mitigation for the development project. Given the continued development of agricultural and open space land in Hollister, the City will need to identify an agricultural mitigation strategy, in accordance with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Jurisdictions can define what type of agricultural land warrants mitigation upon conversion. Jurisdictions with existing agricultural mitigation programs have typically defined the eligible land in one of two ways:

- Classified as Prime Farmland, Unique Farmland, or Farmland of Statewide Importance by the California Natural Resources Agency. This option would align with the CEQA standards of significance.
- Has an existing agricultural land use designation.

A local jurisdiction establishes the agricultural land mitigation program through local ordinance or policy, which authorizes power to administer the program. The local jurisdiction must establish the mitigation ratio and specify various ways an applicant can meet the program requirements (i.e., conservation easement dedication, purchase of fee title, management requirements, in-lieu fees, etc.). All mitigation options established by the local jurisdiction must be feasible, adequate, and effective to withstand legal scrutiny.

Local jurisdictions often lack the resources and technical expertise to undertake the long-term stewardship responsibilities of holding, preserving, protecting, and managing agricultural lands. Therefore, jurisdictions typically assign power of program enforcement to a conservation organization, rather than administering the program internally. The enforcing agency, often a land trust, has the experience and capacity to enforce and monitor protected agricultural land. This third-party agency serves as the technical expert for agricultural land mitigation and acts as the liaison between the local government project applicant, and landowners willing to sell land or development rights to the mitigation program.

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* 1. Should the General Plan establish an agricultural land mitigation program to offset the loss of agricultural land? (Choose one.)

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* 2. What should be the City’s role in developing and administering an agricultural land mitigation program?  (Choose one.)

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* 3. How should the General Plan define the types of agricultural land that warrant mitigation upon conversion? (Choose one or more.)

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