California is home to the largest food and agricultural economy in the nation. The critical component of that agricultural industry is the Great Central Valley. It has been called the single most important agricultural resource in the United States and, arguably, the world.

However, the Central Valley is facing significant changes in its land use and population. Prime farmland is being converted to urban uses at an alarming rate. The population is expected to triple in the next forty years. People and tract housing are replacing crops as the Valley’s most important products.

Local government and those concerned with protecting California’s agricultural economy have adopted policies and regulations in an attempt to preserve existing farmland. Despite these efforts, a new technique has arisen where landowners can circumvent all of the policies and regulations protecting farmland. This then allows landowners to convert their property to urban uses without any local government review, drastically increasing property values overnight.

This conversion technique involves a two-step process. First, property owners use obscure documents called certificates of compliance to legalize “historic parcels” underlying their property title, which effectively establishes a subdivision of the property without the usual planning procedures. Next, using a procedure known as “lot line adjustment,” property owners rearrange the historic parcels like puzzle pieces to form a more marketable layout.

This process has already been used to drive up land values on ranching and open space lands on California’s Central Coast. Is it only a matter of time before such technique upsets the tension between farmland preservation efforts and growth demands to help spark a Central Valley megalopolis?

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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