Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to offer tax relief to urban farmers, in a bid to get more healthy food into communities often characterized as “food deserts.”

Regional planners proposed reducing property taxes by up to $15,000 for owners who convert urban lots to agricultural use in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

Proponents said it would enhance access to fresh produce in neighborhoods with few healthy food choices.

The pastor of The Garden Church said her organization had transformed an empty lot in San Pedro into a vibrant urban farm.

“Within six weeks of our launch, we were producing food and sharing it,” said the Rev. Anna Woofenden. “Over the last year, we increased our production on a very small space to over 100 pounds of food a month, which all goes back into the local community to people who wouldn’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables otherwise.”

Children are much more likely to eat vegetables they grow themselves, Woofenden and other food policy advocates said.

Andrew Douglas of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council told the board that urban farms are one of the best responses to a drought.

“It takes exponentially more water to grow a tomato 200 to 300 miles away, package it in a petrochemical container (and) ship it here in a diesel truck,” Douglas said.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who championed the idea of an agricultural zone, said there are as many as 8,000 parcels in unincorporated areas that might be eligible for conversion and tax relief.

No one seemed to object to the idea of more vegetables, but representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals objected to a provision that allows fur-bearing animals to be raised on such urban farms.

That clause is part of state bill AB551 that allows counties to set up Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.

Christina Sewell of PETA called the provision an “open invitation to animal cruelty.” She and other PETA members cited “horrific abuse” of foxes, mink, rabbits and chinchillas on fur farms, which they said typically keep the animals in tiny cages that don’t allow the animals to move more than a step or two.

A regional planning official, however, assured the PETA members that raising fur-bearing animals would not be allowed under the county’s zoning code governing unincorporated areas, despite the provisions of the state bill.

The board’s vote was unanimous.

The ordinance will return to the board for final adoption.

When adopted, it will clear the way for any of the 88 cities within Los Angeles County to adopt similar ordinances. Los Angeles passed a motion in 2014 to create a UAIZ and estimates that there are 8,600 eligible lots in the city.

Wire reports 

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