Title: Putting Action into the Open Space Element: Techniques for Preserving Open Space and Farmland

State of California

Governor's Office of Planning and Research

1400 Tenth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 445-0613

Revised November 1997



Financing Acquisition

Land Banking

Conservation and Preservation Organizations

Open Space and Conservation Easements


Organization Contacts



Each county and city in California must adopt an open space element as part of its general plan. The element is a statement of local planning policies focusing on the use of unimproved land or water for: 1) the preservation or managed production of natural resources, 2) outdoor recreation, and 3) the promotion of public health and safety. By law the document must contain an "action program" identifying specific techniques which the county or city intends to use in implementing its open space plan. The purpose of the following paper is to improve the effectiveness of local open space elements by highlighting potential action program components.

Open space zoning and Williamson Act contracts are widely used preservation techniques. These place regulatory limits on the types of uses which may be pursued in agricultural areas in order to prevent the conversion of agricultural lands to non-compatible uses. Every California county and general law city must adopt open space zoning (Government Code section 65910). Most of the agricultural counties have active Williamson Act programs offering land owners property tax incentives to keep land in agriculture. As a result, most California planners have already sampled some of the ample literature regarding agricultural preserves and zoning.

To avoid repetition, this publication focuses primarily on non-regulatory approaches which acquire open space lands or development rights. Some of the techniques discussed below may be used directly by a city or county, while others rely upon a program of cooperation with other local governments or private organizations.

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