Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

The Humboldt County board of supervisors unanimously approved a local family's proposal to combine two agricultural preserves in the Petrolia area. The new preserve will encompass a total of 1,329 acres of grazing land and 307 acres of timber production land on eight separate parcels. As per the requirements of the Williamson Act, the land will continue to be used for the production of commercial agricultural commodities.

The Shanahan Petrolia North and Petrolia South Agricultural Preserves were established under the Williamson Act and approved by the board in 2011. They will now be known as the Shanahan Petrolia Combined Agricultural Preserve.

Each of the eight parcels included was found to consist of 160 acres or more, according to a staff report from the planning department, and further division of the parcels involved is prohibited by contract and zoning. The new, larger preserve established is believed to be in accordance with the required findings of the Williamson Act, more formally known as the California Land Conservation Act.

This piece of California land law was passed by the legislature in 1965 to discourage the unnecessary conversion of agricultural and open space lands for urban uses. It also allows the owners of commercial agricultural land to lower the tax liability associated with that property.

This issue has been in the local news in recent years due to Humboldt County's lawsuit against Robert McKee involving the Tooby Ranch area. McKee was ordered to pay $200,000 by the Superior Court, but the county spent more than $3 million as plaintiffs in the case. McKee recently announced intentions to appeal that decision in another round of legal action. (Bob McKee plans to appeal $200,000 fine, Redwood Times Dec. 3, 2013.)

The Shanahan Petrolia Combined Agricultural Preserve's approval was reportedly recommended by the Williamson Committee and the office of the agricultural commissioner. The planning commission also recommended the proposal's approval after finding it to be in accordance with the General Plan as well as county guidelines on agriculture preserves.

The Humboldt County board of supervisors voted unanimously to support the formation of the new preserve. First District supervisor Rex Bohn, who represents the Petrolia area, made the motion to vote and it was seconded by Third District supervisor Mark Lovelace.

Greg Shanahan, who acted as applicant on behalf of the Shanahan Family Trust, was not immediately available for comment.