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Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones

Can we grow food, community, and the local economy all at once? Of course! Using space more creatively for food production is a big piece of the puzzle of changing our food system for the better – and it’s just what Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (UAIZ) aims to encourage.

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On Tuesday, May 10th four Long Beach City council members asked the City Manager’s office to conduct a feasibility report on adopting the policy, to be due back in 60 days. See the video, which includes some great public comment from our coalition.

On Weds, May 4th and Weds June 29th last year, we also hosted community meetings to discuss the potential challenges and benefits of such a policy, and are excited to have a diverse coalition of advocates signed up to support the effort to transform vacant lots to community gardens and urban farms.

In March of this year, we got word that the City Manager’s office had completed the report. City staff initially had sought to create a resolution that would effectively adopt the policy, but were then advised that an ordinance would be more effective. This ordinance required that the item be addressed by the Planning Commission. The commission, meeting on Thursday, May 4th (View Staff Report), will be focused on a staff report suggesting the city define urban agriculture in the city’s zoning, and permitting it in all zones – adding multi-family residential, where it’s currently not permitted. The idea is that these changes would increase the potential impact of AB551 / UAIZ, and be more in line with the city’s propose General Plan changes.

From there, we expect the item to return to city council, and for the city to designate further implementation criteria.

Below, you’ll find more background on the policy terrain of Long Beach’s urban agriculture movement. To get involved as an advocate or an implementation partner, contact us!

Urban Ag Incentive Zones

In 2013, California passed Assembly Bill 551, authored by Assembly member Phil Ting. This bill aimed to allow cities and counties to give tax breaks to property owners that allow their vacant properties of less than 3 acres to be used as community gardens or farms with a 5-year commitment. Northern California cities were quick to take advantage of this legislation, as was San Diego. Then, in 2014, Los Angeles passed a resolution to implement the policy (pending the County Board of Supervisors’ approval). Since then LA County Supervisors have voted introduce the incentive zones policy, giving cities the green light to create their own programs, while the County Assessor will figure the tax breaks.

Long Beach Urban Ag in Context

Long Beach is, and has been ready to expand urban agriculture that supports community health, as Long Beach City Council and city staff at the Office of Sustainability and the Development Services have supported urban agriculture in past policies as well. The City’s new Healthy Communities Policy, for example, has an objective to “encourage the use of temporary vacant and/or open space for urban agriculture.” Long Beach’s proposed Land Use Element (key tidbits for urban agriculture excerpted here) also provides a critical path forward for urban agriculture.

Long Beach also recently passed an ordinance that modernized the restrictions on keeping residential chickens, goats, and bees. This measure passed with a unanimous vote and lots of community support from the local health and food movements. Now more than ever, our current council members understand the importance of concepts like food justice and food sovereignty, which say that everyone has a right to grow, access, and share fresh and healthy food.

In the County’s initial report of potentially eligible parcels for AB551, over 1,000 were listed in Long Beach’s residential, business, and industrial zones. Since Long Beach doesn’t currently have agricultural zoning, and most traditional zoning policies see it as a large-scale industrial operation, we expect some zoning challenges for urban farms. That’s why other cities like Sacramento have taken to writing complete urban agriculture policies, which our city should also consider.

Still, newer laws like the Community Food Producers act have given more leeway for non-agriculturally zoned spaces to generate sales-based income for small-scale local growers who follow California’s small farm food safety guidelines. We also have very progressive policies on community gardens which would benefit greatly under AB 551.

Many are already finding creative ways to legally use land to benefit community health already in Long Beach, like Long Beach Farms, Long Beach Grows, Farm Lot 59, Long Beach Organic, and Growing Experience Urban Farm! Long Beach Fresh aims to connect our local growers, inform city staff and elected officials, and bring broader community leaders together around restoring the soil and our communities’ health – and we hope that AB 551 can take us another step forward.

 

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