LOS ANGELES – June 13, 2017 – On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed an ordinance and program details for the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Program, an effort to encourage urban farming in the city. With the new program, some property owners can lease their land to food growers and receive tax benefits. Originally conceived in a state law passed in 2014, the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone (UAIZ) policy is meant to increase urban access to local fresh fruits and vegetables while revitalizing vacant lots that might otherwise become blighted. The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors created a similar program that administers the tax benefit through the County Assessor’s Office in April 2016.
“We are finally going to have a powerful new tool that promotes the transformation of neglected parcels of land into thriving community gardens!” said Los Angeles City Councilman Curren D. Price, Jr., who championed the legislation. “I, personally, am very excited because the Ninth District alone, which I represent, has 3,000 vacant lots.
“Our children, families and seniors will all get to benefit from the improved, ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Today, we are one step closer to building stronger, healthier communities by providing equitable food access to all.”
Urban farmers and community groups say the new policy will encourage more food growing in neighborhoods lacking in fresh food access, which is one strategy for addressing conditions advocates describe as “food apartheid.”
“UAIZ is about more than growing food,” said Breanna Hawkins, Policy Director for the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, “Through this policy, we can now repurpose more vacant, underutilized land in our city to increase healthy food access, expand green spaces, reduce blight, promote social cohesion and support economic opportunities—particularly in low-income areas and communities of color that have been divested and under-resourced for decades. Now we are one step closer to dismantling the food apartheid conditions in our food system.”
One possible beneficiary comes from Councilmember Curren Price’s district in South Central 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 in Historic South Central have had their eyes on empty lots for the use of farming for over three years. 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!” said Gonzalez
Lack of access to affordable land is a barrier to successful garden and farming programs in Los Angeles. The new UAIZ program could also support the economic viability of farming businesses, using land that is difficult to develop. Under the new rules, property owners with parcels less than 3 acres in size can apply to earn a reduction in property taxes if agricultural activities take place for a minimum of five years. Eligible properties will be reassessed according the average statewide irrigated agriculture lands rate for property tax purposes. The County estimates 57,000 vacant parcels are eligible for the program.
“I can grow food in small and odd-shaped lots that could never be used for anything else,” says 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 LA more economically feasible, which is good for communities and the environment.”
With the passage of the policy, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning will now be accepting applications, which will be sent to the County of Los Angeles for final approval. The City of Los Angeles is the fourth city in the state to fully adopt the UAIZ program, and the first city in the County of Los Angeles.