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San Francisco to enact law giving property owners tax break for creating urban farms

San Francisco will soon become the first city to enact a California law giving owners who turn empty lots into gardens the chance to get a tax break, a newspaper reported.

The measure lets cities and towns lower the assessed value -- and therefore the property taxes -- on parcels of land if owners dedicate them to growing food for at least five years. Among its aims is reducing urban blight.

San Francisco will be the first to put the state law into effect beginning Sept. 8 because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors already approved a local ordinance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday. Other cities, including Fresno and Sacramento, are watching how the law plays out, according to the newspaper.

"I have heard from literally hundreds of residents who would like to have the opportunity to farm, but the waiting lists for a lot of our community gardens are over two years long," said Supervisor David Chiu, who wrote the local legislation. "There is simply not enough space."

A lot must be at least one-tenth of an acre, no larger than three acres and have no permanent structures to qualify for the tax break. The property would be reassessed at the average price for irrigated farmland in California.

San Francisco's ordinance limits individual property owners' tax savings to $25,000 per year. Anything higher requires an official review.

Aaron Roland expects the annual $6,000 tax bill on his double lot-turned-demonstration garden to drop significantly.

Roland said he gets offers to buy the property but wants to hold on to it for his children. He also likes the garden.

"It's this marvelous garden in the middle of the city that's growing food," he said. "Hopefully there are other people like me that eventually might want to do some development on their land but aren't in a big rush, and meanwhile want to let it be used for this kind of public purpose."