Recently, Conservation partnered with California’s Strategic Growth Council on a Housing as a Climate Strategy field tour of four projects that told the story of how environmental- and people-centered land use bring California closer to its climate goals.
Why Yolo County?
With a population just over 200,000, Yolo County is a heavily agricultural piece of the Greater Sacramento metropolitan area. It’s also home to West Sacramento and City of Davis, two of Yolo County’s four cities demonstrating thoughtful land use decision-making to connect rural and urban landscapes and support sustainable communities.
This progressive approach to urban land use is bolstered by Yolo County’s strong agriculture land conservation policies and support of that industry.
Designing sustainable communities while conserving open land is increasingly important in California, which is tackling the dual issues of homelessness and climate change.
Governor Newsom proposed ~$1 billion affordable housing investment to accelerate development of housing near places Californians need to be every day — schools, jobs, transportation, and other amenities and services.
Focusing housing closer to existing infrastructure better utilizes expensive infrastructure and services and can help reduce urban edge sprawl.
There is a climate benefit of reduced reliance on routine personal vehicle use, resulting in fewer vehicle miles traveled and fewer greenhouse gas emissions than associated with sprawl.
While the state aims to build 2.5 million housing units over the next eight years, Yolo County’s agricultural land must also be kept in use to feed the region, sustain the local economy, and ensure the food security of the state.
The Yolo County Tour
Cannery Urban Farm: A Rural-Urban Connection
Repurposed from a tomato canning operation of yore, the Cannery checks the box for infill development and efficient use of infrastructure right off the bat.
The story gets better as the site’s good mix of 550 housing units creates opportunities for a range of incomes and relatively high density compared with most new developments.
Moreover, it’s 7.6 acres of working land hosts an urban farm and same-scale food hub. The farm feeds the community, including providing fresh local produce for nearby schools.
Initiated by the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL), the Cannery was the first (of only two!) urban farms in the nation to receive a Healthy Soils Program grant from the California Food and Agriculture Department. This grant paid for experts to remediate the soil, which had been heavily compacted under concrete for decades, restoring balanced growing conditions.
CLBL also trains first generation farmers through this project; propping up family farms that will manage the land for years to come.
Two graduates from the CLBL farmer training program – the California Farm Academy — now run the Cannery Farm and food hub, called Spork.
Conservation Director David Shabazian spoke at this stop. He addressed the urban and rural bridge of the Cannery, which creates a sustainable community balancing food, climate resilience, housing availability, and outdoor access.
“It’s a linchpin between rural production and urban markets,” Shabazian explained. “As well as between our agricultural heritage and our future needs for healthy food supply. “
Diverse land use is critical in addressing climate change.
Gill Ranch Conservation Easement: Protecting Farmland in Perpetuity
Looking to protect the value of farming for future generations, the Gill Family sought a permanent conservation easement of their almond and pistachio orchards just outside the city limits of Davis. So, the City of Davis purchased the property with the help of funds from our Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation (SALC) Program.
A program of the SGC, SALC is a component of SGC’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC), and is administered by DOC.
SALC is a useful tool for protecting California’s working lands to address regional and statewide needs for food production and a reliable food supply chain while playing a part in conserving our natural resources and reducing carbon emissions that would result from development.
At this property, Director Shabazian supported community partners in emphasizing the importance of local policy to allow for growth while maintaining a viable agricultural economy.
“City policy is really strong here,” explained Shabazian. “Not that many jurisdictions in California have an ag land mitigation requirement.”
The City of Davis has a 2-to-1 mitigation policy meaning for every acre of ag land converted to urban use, two acres must be conserved in perpetuity. Coupled with Yolo County’s strong ag land conservation practices, the ag industry has assurances that policy and other efforts help support the industry, which can reduce their risk of making investments in land for future production.
Ag land mitigation creates buffer space between the urban edge and working lands to give farmers and their equipment enough space to tend their crops.
Conservation easements like Gill Ranch also preserve the cultural sense of place for the areas such as Davis, which has a strong farming and ag history.
Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot attended this final stop of the daylong tour.
“Sometimes people feel like our grant programs are siloed or disconnected. Like, ‘why do you have urban affordable housing but rural land conservation?’ and today is a perfect example of why we have that,” Secretary Crowfoot remarked, while standing amid the almond trees.
“We want to support local leaders building their communities to be inclusive, to be sustainable, to be affordable. It’s fun to see it all together. “
Conservation was represented by (left to right): Deputy Director Gabe Tiffany, Land Conservation Programs Manager Shanna Atherton-Bauer, Director David Shabazian, Grant Manager Melinda Kelley, Natural and Working Lands Policy Advisor Elizabeth Betancourt, and Staci Morrison from Public Affairs.