Healthy Communities Legislative Action Bulletin 

 October 2013                                                                                                     Vol. 1, No. 4

California Zoning in on Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture

Community gardens, smaller plots of land opened to community members to grow fruits and vegetables, are sprouting up across the United States.  According to the American Community Gardening Association, there are about 18,000 community gardens in the U.S. and Canada. However, numerous barriers, such as lack of long-term leases or water access, along with liability concerns may hamper the creation, operation and long-term sustainability of community gardens.   

The California General Assembly recently took steps to encourage use of vacant, unimproved, or blighted urban lands for small-scale agriculture. Assembly Bill 551, the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, signed into law on Sept. 28, 2013, allows cities and counties to create incentive zones in urban areas for local food production. Landowners who agree to designate their land for small-scale agricultural use for five years or more will receive a considerable property tax break. Land used for small urban farming operations, greenhouses, community gardens or the like will be assessed property tax based on the average per-acre value of irrigated cropland in California, which is generally a much lower rate than urban property tax rates.  To qualify for the lower property tax, urban agriculture parcels must be at least .10 of an acre and no larger than 3 acres.


AB 551’s sponsor, Assembly Member Phil Ting, wanted to create an incentive for the owners of undeveloped properties to utilize their land for urban agriculture to reduce blight and create green space and local food sources for communities. The Act, coauthored by Assembly Member Luis Alejo and passed with strong bipartisan support, including zero no votes in the Senate, also gives greater long-term land use certainty to urban farmers by requiring contracts of at least 5 years. A county or city with an Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones program may establish regulations for implementing and administering the program, including assessing a fee to cover the cost of the program and cancelation fees for exiting a contract early.


California has other notable community garden laws that allow the sale of produce from school gardens and the leasing of state land for gardens. Tennessee and New York are other examples of states that have enacted laws to improve the regulatory environment and provide opportunities for community gardening.


 NCSL Resources

Technical Assistance
NCSL can provide testimony to legislatures on healthy communities policy options; prevention; health promotion; reducing health disparities; access to healthy foods in communities; community design to facilitate physical activity; policies to facilitate bicyling and walking;  and other healthy communities policy topics. Contact Alise Garcia at

NCSL Resources:

NCSL Community Gardens Webpage examines state laws that encourage and support community gardens.

Food Choice Incentives LegisBrief discusses policies that provide incentives for access to nutritious food and healthier food choices.  


Other Resources:

Assembly Bill 551

LA Times article on new law

San Francisco Bay Area KQED article on law and its possible impact on community gardening