SACRAMENTO-Gov. Gray Davis has signed four bills that seek to protect farms and open space from development. The bills were authored by Assemblywomen Helen Thomson, D-Davis, and Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, as a means of maintaining agriculture and open space to conserve the state’s landscape and make farming more efficient.

Thomson’s first bill extends the prohibition against residential subdivision of Williamson Act lands to agricultural lands that are protected by other state programs, such as open space easements, agricultural land conservation easements, and other land conservation programs. The Williamson Act, one of the nation’s leading agricultural land conservation laws, encourages keeping land in active agricultural use.

Thomson’s other bill helps protect agricultural lands from suburban sprawl by making city annexation of those lands and other open spaces for potential development more difficult. Local agency formation commissions will be prohibited from approving a change to a local government’s sphere of influence that would result in annexation of lands protected by a farmland security zone or a Williamson Act contract.

Matthews’ bill requires the Department of Food and Agriculture to estimate food, fiber and livestock production and report that information to the Department of Water Resources for estimating future agricultural water usage for 20 years to meet the gap between water supply and demand. Bill Lyons, secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture, says the measure is critical to protect the state’s $27 billion agriculture industry, and that it will take three-to-five years to come up with the first water usage estimate. There have been no previous long-range estimates of water needs and usage for agriculture, unlike estimates for residential and commercial usage.

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