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San Francisco to propose tax breaks for urban farms

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - San Francisco would be the first city in California to offer property owners a tax break if they agree to make empty lots available for urban agriculture, under an ordinance to be introduced at the city's Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The measure to create an urban agriculture enterprise zone is the latest effort by U.S. cities to turn blighted properties into useful and attractive urban farms and gardens.

“The positives of urban farming go far beyond the production of locally grown, healthy sustainable food,” David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said in a statement on Monday. “Urban farming improves the environment, grows communities, creates beautiful spaces, increases food security, and advances the health of residents."

The ordinance grows out of legislation passed last year at the state level allowing cities and counties to rezone as farmland any property whose owner agrees to use it solely to grow crops or raise farm animals for at least five years.

When the land is rezoned, its value for tax purposes goes down compared with the sky-high assessments typically imposed on property in expensive cities like San Francisco.

For example, the value of irrigated California farmland in 2012 was $12,000 an acre, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By comparison, a quarter-acre lot in San Francisco's Richmond District is currently for sale for $4 million, according to the website Land and Farm.

“Our action will help expand access to healthy and fresh food by enabling people to farm in their own neighborhoods," California Assemblyman Phil Ting, whose legislation set up the tax incentive program for cities and counties, said in a statement. "We have a chance to tame the concrete jungle with green spaces that fight blight and provide a local economic boost."

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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