Policy Framework

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Key Planning Documents

The City’s long-term, land-use vision, as described in the 2001 General Plan Update, calls for a “cohesive, compact, university-oriented community surrounded by and containing farmland, greenbelts, natural habitats, and natural resources.”  This vision was further refined in the City's 2002 Davis Open Space Acquisition and Management Plan (the "2002 A&M Plan").  The 2002 A&M Plan identified land acquisition categories and set criteria to guide open space acquisitions by the City.  In 2007, the City updated its acquisition priorities with information from the 1989 Davis Greenway Plan. Thus, the long-term vision of the City’s open-space program is rooted in 25 years of planning for open space conservation by the community.

Recent Public Workshop.  The City, in partnership with the Open Space and Habitat Commission, held a public workshop on the City’s Open Space Program on March 9, 2016.  One of the primary goals of the workshop was to solicit input from the community about how it would like open space dollars spent over the next 15 years, including identifying acquisition priorities and public accessibility improvements. The City also gathered feedback through an on-line survey and focus groups. To read a report summarizing the results from this outreach effort, click here.  The results will be used by City staff and the Open Space and Habitat Commission to inform recommendations to the City Council for updating the 2002 A&M Plan, which will occur later in 2016. 

For more information about these key planning documents, please refer to the 2013 “Progress in Protecting Open Space” report produced by the City of Davis and the Open Space and Habitat Commission.

Key City Ordinance

In 1995, the City Council approved the Right to Farm and Farmland Preservation Ordinance (Ordinance 1823).  The first municipal ordinance of its kind, the City’s ground-breaking work has spawned similar farmland protection efforts in California and in other states.  The main goals of the ordinance are to:

  • preserve and encourage agricultural land use and operations within the Davis Planning Area,
  • reduce the occurrence of conflicts between agricultural and non-agricultural land uses, and
  • reduce the loss of agricultural resources by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be deemed a nuisance.

To achieve the ordinance's objectives, the City Council included two key requirements that developers must comply with if they are proposing to convert land from agricultural uses to non-agricultural uses, and their project is adjacent to agricultural land.  These requirements (which were updated by the City Council in 2007) are:

  • Required Agricultural Buffer.  The developer must provide an agricultural buffer (i.e., an agricultural transition area, greenbelt or habitat area) that is at least 150 feet wide between their project and the adjacent agricultural uses.  
  • Required Agricultural Mitigation.  Developers also must secure (through fee title or easement) at least two acres of agricultural land elsewhere within the Davis Planning Area to “mitigate” for every acre of agricultural land lost due to their project (excluding the required agricultural buffer mentioned above).  Mitigation lands are first directed to the newly created agricultural edge of the development project (i.e., the non-urbanized edge) to create a permanent edge of the City.  This non-urbanized edge conservation area must be of a size that is economically viable as farmland (a minimum 1/4 mile in width).  If additional mitigation acreage is required after the non-urbanized edge is secured, the developer is incentivized to secure lands that have been prioritized by the City for permanent protection.  For example, if a project results in the permanent loss of 100 acres of agricultural land and the establishment of the non-urbanized edge requires 75 acres, the developer has the option to locate the remaining mitigation acreage anywhere in the Davis Planning Area with credit determined by where the remainder acreage is located.  If the remainder acreage is located in a priority acquisition area, less acreage is required; if the remainder acreage is located in a non-priority area, more acreage is required. More information about the City's agriculture mitigation requirements can be found in this May 2016 staff report.

The developer is not required to mitigate for the agricultural buffer mentioned above (i.e., the agricultural buffer is subtracted from the total acreage the developer is required to mitigate).  At the same time, the developer cannot count the agricultural buffer toward the acreage the developer is required to mitigate.

The City of Davis' 1995 Agricultural Preservation Program report provided the basis for requiring agricultural mitigation.  This report includes the text of the Right to Farm and Farmland Preservation Ordinance, a staff report on this ordinance, and the report titled "Nexus Study and Evaluation of the Right to Farm and Farmland Preservation Ordinance." The nexus study (i) analyzed the fiscal implications of the ordinance on the farm and development community, the City, and the public, and (ii) addressed the relationship or “nexus” between the ordinance requirements and the impacts of development.

For more information about this key City Ordinance, please refer to the 2013 “Progress in Protecting Open Space” report  produced by the City of Davis and the Open Space and Habitat Commission.

Key Voter Initiatives

Two voter initiatives are key to the policy framework for the Open Space Program.  One of these voter initiatives was designed to preserve agricultural land, and the other was designed to provide a stable, reliable funding source for the acquisition and management of open space around the City.  Each of these voter initiatives is described briefly below:

Citizens’ Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands

Measure J, the Citizens’ Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands Ordinance, was first passed by Davis voters in 2000.  Measure J was included on the City of Davis’ June 2010 ballot as Measure R and was approved for renewal, which extended the sunset date to December 31, 2020.  Measure J is currently known as Measure R and is codified in the Davis Municipal Code as Article 41.01.

Measure R requires an affirmative citizen vote for General Plan Amendments that re-designate land from agricultural or open space to urban uses.  After completion of environmental review and public hearings, the City Council may choose to put a proposed land use change on the ballot for voter consideration.  The Measure R process also includes identification of “Baseline Project Features” which may not be changed without subsequent voter approval.

Measure O – The Open Space Protection Special Tax Fund

The City’s Open Space Protection Special Tax Fund is a stable source of long-term local funding to protect open space lands in the Davis Planning Area.  Approved as Measure O in November 2000 by 70% of Davis voters, the parcel tax allows the City to acquire and maintain open space.  The 30-year tax (Ordinance 2033 of the City’s Municipal Code) began July 1, 2001 and remains in effect until June 30, 2031.  The tax can be extended or re-authorized by Davis voters prior to that date.

This parcel tax provides “revenue for the acquisition, operation, and maintenance of lands and easements for open space, habitat and agricultural uses and preservation in the areas surrounding the City.”  For the purposes of this funding source, open space is defined as “land in a predominantly natural state or altered for natural resources based uses (i.e., farming, parks), and may include, but is not limited to riparian areas, agricultural lands, watersheds, forests, floodplains, and habitat areas.”

The funds in the Open Space Protection Special Tax Fund may be used only:

  • for the acquisition in fee or easement of open space lands within the Davis Planning Area;
  • for the improvement, operation, maintenance and/or monitoring of open space lands currently owned by the City in fee easement [or] acquired by the City in the future, including but not limited to the restoration, enhancement and preservation of habitat areas, maintenance of open space lands, and monitoring of habitat and agricultural conservation easements;
  • for the acquisition, improvement, and operation of only those bicycle trails designed to connect Davis to open space areas outside the city and with other regional bicycle facilities;
  • for the construction and maintenance of facilities necessary to preserve or enhance open space properties for open space purposes (i.e., the construction [or] maintenance of water wells and irrigation systems to serve the property and land uses, the creation and/or maintenance of access facilities where appropriate to promote public education and enjoyment of the open space, etc.); and
  • for the incidental expenses incurred in the administration of this tax, including but not limited to the cost of elections, and the cost of collection.  Revenues may be used to operate, maintain and monitor properties owned in fee or easement jointly by the City and other public agencies and/or land trusts whose mission includes the preservation of open space lands within the Davis Planning Area.

For more information about how Measure O funds have been used since 2000, and the 2,833 open space acres that have been protected since 2000, please see a December 1, 2015 staff report on the Measure O Fund.  You can also refer to the 2013 “Progress in Protecting Open Space” report produced by the City of Davis and the Open Space and Habitat Commission for additional information.

Open Space and Habitat Commission

Realizing that open space was more than just recreational parks and that it included agricultural, natural, and semi-natural lands within and around the City, the City Council unanimously passed in 1996 a resolution establishing the Open Space and Habitat Commission.  The new Commission was directed to:

  • advise the City Council and staff on all open space issues, programs, and projects;
  • monitor and facilitate the implementation of the City’s open space objectives and identify solutions to implementation problems;
  • serve as a focal point for the community and City government for open space projects and issues;
  • identify implementation opportunities;
  • generate public support through education and promotion;
  • monitor implementation for consistency with the Open Space Element;
  • facilitate volunteer activities and cooperative ventures; and
  • monitor problems and identify solutions.

For information about the Commission, meeting times, and meeting agendas and minutes, please visit the Commission's homepage.  The Final Commission 2015-16 Goals and Work Plan provides a list of current projects the Commission is working on over the next two fiscal years.  Some key initiatives include:

For more information about the policy framework, and the land and habitat conservation work of the City and the Open Space and Habitat Commission, please refer to the 2013 “Progress in Protecting Open Space” report produced by the City of Davis and the Open Space and Habitat Commission.