Climate Action Plan - Measure T-1.2

Acquire Agricultural Easements

The Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program promotes the long-term preservation of agriculture within the unincorporated county. Willing agricultural property owners place an easement on their property to preserve the land for agriculture use and thereby eliminate future residential, commercial, or industrial development potential. The County purchases the easement to provide compensation to the landowner, making continued agricultural use more viable.  
  • 2020 Target: 443 acres by 2020 
  • 2030 Target: 4,873 acres by 2030

Cumulative Total Agricultural Land Conserved

How are we doing?

Since 2014, the County has placed a total 2,135 acres of agricultural easements in the unincorporated county. The PACE Program began placing agricultural easements on properties in 2013.
On March 3, 2021, the County’s Board of Supervisors adopted (Item 10) the PACE Program Update, which included new eligibility criteria to provide this opportunity to a larger group of agricultural landowners, and an update to the ranking criteria used for easement selection.
In order to meet the eligibility requirements for the expanded program, properties must meet the following criteria:
  1. Active agriculture for at least two years immediately prior to application
  2. Property must be zoned A70 – Limited Agriculture, A72 – General Agriculture, RR – Rural Residential, S90 – Holding Area, or S92 – General Rural
To determine property Zoning and program eligibility, a Property Summary Report may be generated using the County’s Self-Service portal.
As a supporting effort for this CAP Measure, the County collaborates with regional partners to promote carbon farming methods and other sustainable, climate-beneficial practices on agriculture lands and rangelands. Access to local, healthy food is an important component of this measure. In 2019, through a collaboration with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), the County developed a website that provides online tools and funding sources for climate resilient agriculture practices. UCCE also supported the Carbon Sink Farming Convergence and Field Tours.
Supporting efforts for this CAP Measure seek to provide for all residents to have access to fresh, healthy food. As part of this work, the Live Well San Diego Food System Initiative published the State of the Food System for the San Diego Region 2019 Report which provides an in-depth look at our local food system and the role it plays in people’s health and well-being, and its effect on environmental sustainability and the economic welfare of society. The Health and Human Services Agency assists schools in identifying opportunities to promote local, healthy, seasonal foods and avoid waste food. The County also invites the public to practice their skills in growing and harvesting fresh produce.
In July 2019, the County opened a community garden at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park. This is the fourth public garden project, joining the gardens at Los Peñasquitos Canyon County Preserve, Rancho Guajome Adobe, and Tijuana River Valley Regional Park.
In 2022, the PACE Program received a National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award (NACo Category: Planning) for its efforts to promote the long-term preservation of agricultural land in the unincorporated area. 

How is this measured?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions for this measure are quantified based on the reduced development potential associated with the preservation of agricultural lands. Agricultural easements placed by the County under the PACE program reduces GHG emissions through the preservation of land that otherwise could be developed. GHG emissions reductions are realized by avoiding the transportation, energy use, waste, and water consumption emissions associated with urbanization.
Conserving 443 acres of agricultural land is equal to avoiding emissions from 18 dwelling units annually. Conserving an additional 4,430 acres of agricultural land by 2030 amounts to avoiding emissions from 198 dwelling units annually.

Why is this important?

Agriculture is the 5th largest component of the county’s economy. San Diego agriculture feeds families, supports livelihoods, and stores carbon in the soil. According to the 2021 Crop Report, the top ten crops in the region include: bedding plants and perennials; ornamental trees and shrubs; indoor flowering and foliage plants; vegetables; avocados; lemons; livestock and poultry products; oranges; cut flowers and bulbs; and fruit trees. Preserving land for agriculture in the unincorporated county ensures that food and crops can continue to be viable and supports a healthy food system.

Where are we going?

The goal for 2030 is to place easements on 4,873 acres of agricultural land by 2030. Preserving agricultural property for agriculture supports the local economy and protects our natural resources. By supporting small-scale farmers and sustainable farming practices, the County helps to increase access to healthy and affordable food.
State of the Food System in the San Diego Region                        
Opening of the Community Garden at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park