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New state law gives tax break to cultivate urban agriculture
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — California cities hoping to promote community gardens and small-scale farms in urban areas are getting a boost from a new state law recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The measure lets municipalities lower the assessed value — and property taxes — on plots of three acres or less if owners dedicate them to growing food for at least five years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The voluntary program makes it easier for cities to create "urban agriculture incentive zones" that don't rely on public land or heavy philanthropic support.

The legislation authored by Democratic San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting aims to make it easier for owners to transform eyesore parcels such as empty lots into farmable land.

"It's a huge step for urban agriculture," said Caitlyn Galloway, 32, a San Francisco famer who grows salad greens and flowers for local restaurants in what was once a weedy vacant lot.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously and garnered just six no votes in the Assembly.

Sole opposition came from the California Assessors' Association, which cited potential for abuse by corporate property owners who might cut deals with local government. The bill was later amended to curtail lot size, the Times said.

The concept for the incentive zones is a hybrid of the Wiliamson Act, which offers tax subsidies to owners of rural land maintained for agricultural purposes, and the Mills Act, under which cities may enter into contracts with private owners who receive subsidies in exchange for restoring and preserving historic buildings.

Community organizations in Los Angeles County, Oakland, East Palo Alto and San Diego have expressed support for the program.

Sacramento city officials supported the bill and have expressed interest in participating, as has San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu, who is moving forward to seek local approval.

"We simply want to create the impetus and awareness for property owners that this is a viable and productive use of land," Chiu told the Times. "This is an option many communities are excited about."