New city ordinance will allow urban farming zones

LOS ANGELES — The City Council tentatively approved an ordinance June 13 to grant tax relief to city farmers and encourage them to transform empty lots into urban farms.

The vote was 10-0 on first reading, two votes short of the number needed for immediate approval. A second vote will be taken next week.

Under the Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act, cities may establish agricultural zones where property owners who allow their land to be used for agricultural purposes for a minimum of five years can receive a property tax adjustment and be reassessed at the average statewide irrigated agriculture land rate.

“Creating urban agricultural zones is much more than what you see on paper,” said Councilman Curren Price, who introduced the motion to create the ordinance with former Councilman Felipe Fuentes.

“Urban ag zones will transform unsightly underutilized lots, promote a greater sense of community amongst those who participate in agricultural activities at the sites and provide ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables for everyone.”

The county Board of Supervisors adopted the Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act in 2016, which cleared the way for any of the 88 cities in the county to create incentive zones.

“We see [urban agricultural zones] as a restorative measure to advance equity and justice in the city of L.A. by repurposing vacant properties in historically disenfranchised and divested communities and repurposing them towards being able to grow food, promote economic enterprises, promote economic development and support social cohesion in communities,” said Breanna Hawkins, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s policy director.

One possible beneficiary of the new ordinance comes from Price’s district in South Los Angeles.

Crystal Gonzalez, program director of Roots for Peace (a program of American Friends Service Committee), is partnering with an affordable housing developer and All People’s Christian Church to create a new community garden.

“Our Food Growers Network residents … have had their eyes on empty lots for the use of farming for over three years,” Gonzalez said. “The new policy encouraged a local developer to lease to us to make this dream a reality. The land is near the company’s affordable housing site and adjacent to our existing garden. It’s an exciting opportunity for everyone involved.”

Lack of access to affordable land is a barrier to successful garden and farming programs in Los Angeles. The new program could also support the economic viability of farming businesses, using land that is difficult to develop.

Price said his 9th Council District had more than 3,000 vacant lots.

“I can grow food in small and odd-shaped lots that could never be used for anything else,” said Andrew Douglas, operating director for Collaborative for Urban Agroecology Los Angeles and co-chair of the Urban Agriculture Working Group of the LA Food Policy Council.

“The issue is access. We expect this policy will make farming in L.A. more economically feasible, which is good for communities and the environment.”