The Future is Now: Central Valley Farmland at the Tipping Point?
Executive Summary
Resumen Ejecutivo
Current Trends
     Population Growth
  Farmland Use and Development
  Quality of Farmland Developed
  Efficiency of Urban Development
  "Ranchettes" & Other Rural Development
  Agricultural Trends
Local Plans & Performance
  Analytical Method
  Sutter County
  Sacramento County
  Yolo County
  San Joaquin County
  Stanislaus County
  Merced County
  Madera County
  Fresno County
  Tulare County
  Kings County
  Kern County
Where is The Valley Heading?
Time for Change
  Ideas for Change
What You Can Do
  Rank Your County
  Local Official Contacts
  Local Organizations
  Support AFT
Methodology & Background Data
About AFT in California

Fresno County
Comparison of Plans & Performance

Basic Plan Information Highlights

Fresno County General Plan - adopted 2000. Fresno County Plan Map

City of Fresno General Plan - adopted 2002.
City of Fresno Plan Map

We are sorry that we were not able to provide planning information for every city in the county. If officials or residents of those cities provide us with relevant data and information, we will make every effort to update this web site.

The City of Fresno General Plan incorporates the “Landscape of Choice" growth strategies and the Ahwahnee Principles.  2025 Fresno General Plan Update, Purpose and Goals, p. 3.  The plan includes policies for compact growth and achieving urban infill.  Over the next 20 years, the city's population is expected to grow 65% while its sphere of influence will expand only 10%. Id., at 177-178.

[Click for a Table Summarizing County Performance Data and Rank Compared to Other Counties]

Do local plans and their implementation provide certainty by clearly and consistently (without too many changes) indicating where urban development should occur and where agriculture should remain the preferred, long-term use of land?

[Click here for an explanation of this question]
What the Plans Intend
What Is Actually Happening

“The County sees its primary role to be the protector of prime agricultural lands, open space, recreational opportunities, and environmental quality, and the coordinator of countywide efforts to promote economic development. *** The plan seeks to protect its productive agricultural land as the county’s most valuable natural resource and the historical basis of its economy through directing new urban growth to cities and existing unincorporated communities and by limiting the encroachment of incompatible development upon agricultural areas.”  Major Theme, Fresno County General Plan (FCGP), p. 8.


Percentage of urban & built-up land outside city spheres of influence: 9% (Rank 1)

Between 2000 and 2003, the FCGP was amended 3 times, resulting in the redesignation of 802 acres of agricultural land for urban uses. 762 acres of this was associated with the Copper River Ranch planned urban village. FCGP, Policy Document, p. 3.

[Click here to see a map of actual development 1990-2000]

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Do local plans and their implementation avoid development of high quality farmland in favor of less productive land?

[Click here for an explanation of this question]
What the Plans Intend
What Is Actually Happening

“The County shall maintain agriculturally–designated areas for agriculture use and shall direct growth away from valuable agricultural lands to cities, unincorporated communities, and other areas planned for such development where public facilities and infrastructure are available.”  Goal LU-A, FCGP, p. 2-11.

“While the County of Fresno retains the primary responsibility for agricultural land use policies and the protection and advancement of farming operations, the City of Fresno can be supportive of those efforts by being responsible in its growth and development policies and decisions. *** Prime farmland shall be preserved for continued agricultural use to the fullest extent feasible consistent with the protection of the environment, public safety and well-being, and the planned, orderly and efficient development of the urban areas.”City of Fresno General Plan (CFGP), p. 33

Proportion of all land developed 1990-2000 that was High Quality Farmland: 58% (Rank 5)

High Quality Farmland as a proportion of all land in county*:

* Note: This includes only the 64% of the county that has been mapped by FMMP, thus excluding undevelopable terrain.

• High Quality Farmland as a proportion of undeveloped land within city spheres of influence: 67% (Rank 5)

Land Development Quality Index:
1.07 (Rank 4)

Do local plans and their implementation protect agriculture by limiting and buffering incompatible residential development?

[Click here for an explanation of this issue]

What the Plans Intend
What Is Actually Happening

The Plan contains four land use designations for agriculture: Agriculture - Valley floor between Friant-Kern Canal and the coast ranges, 1 dwelling unit per 20 acres permitted. Irrigated Agriculture - Valley floor east of the Friant-Kern Canal, 1 dwelling per 20 acres permitted. Westside Rangeland -  Coast range foothills, 1 dwelling per 40 acres permitted. Eastside Rangeland - Foothills east of Friant-Kern Canal, 1 dwelling per 40 acres permitted. FCGP, pp. 2-6 to 2-7

“This plan prohibits the designation of new areas for rural residential development while allowing for the orderly development of existing rural residential areas.”  FCGP, at 9; and Policy LU-E.16, at 2-30.

Policies LU-A.12 to 21 further protect agricultural operations by limiting encroachment of incompatible uses, requiring buffers, implementing a right-to-farm ordinance, reducing soil erosion and protecting water resources.  FCGP, at 2-15 to 2-16.

Developed 1.5-10 ac ranchette acreage: 35,966 (Rank 11)

Ranchette acreage as a percentage of Urban & Built Up Land: 34% (Rank 9)

[View map of ranchette development in Fresno County] PDF

Fresno County has a huge amount of land where rural residential devleopment is already permitted. A total of 1,310,927 acres are included in county zones allowing development on 20-acre lots, with a potential buildout of 65,546 units. Another 29,905 acres are in a rural residential zone allowing development on 5-acre lots, with a potential buildout of another 15,000+ units.

Do local plans and their implementation promote efficient "smart" development that minimizes farmland conversion while making communities more livable and sustainable?

[Click here for an explanation of this issue]
What the Plans Intend
What Is Actually Happening

“The plan promotes compact growth by directing most new urban development to incorporated cities and existing urban communities that already have the infrastructure to accommodate such growth.  This plan assumes over 93 percent of new population growth and new job growth will occur within incorporated city spheres of influence.”  Major Theme, FCGP, at 9.

“The County shall promote development of higher-density housing in areas located along major transportation corridors and transit routes and served by the full range of urban services, including neighborhood commercial uses, community centers, and public services.”  LU-F.3, FCGP, at 2-33.

“The plan promotes compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian-oriented development within city spheres as well as in the county’s unincorporated communities.” Policies LU-F.1 to LU-F.8, FCGP, at 2-33.

FCGP includes 6 residential land use designations ranging in density from 1 dwelling unit per five acres to 14.5 dwelling units per acre.  In addition, it allows mixed uses, including residential development in a number of other land use designations, including Planned Urban Village (4-8 du/net acre); Office Commercial (5.8-14.5 du/ acre); Central Business Commercial (5.8-14.5 du/acre); Service Commercial (5.8-14.5 du/acre); and Mountain Urban (1 du per 5 acres to 14.5 du/acre).  Planned Urban Villages are located outside but contiguous to established SOIs.  FCGP, Policies LU-F.39-42, at 2-40 to 2-42.

People per urbanized acre 2000:
6.7 (Rank 4)

People per urbanized acre, new development 1990-2000:
8.7 (Rank 5)

Undeveloped land within city spheres of influence: 68,399 acres (Rank 10) as percentage of 2020 need at current efficiencies: 188% (Rank 6)

Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Household 2000:  23,909 (Rank 4)
Change from 1990: +8.8% (Rank 10)

In 2005, the City of Fresno adopted a new mixed-use development ordinance that may help increase commerical land use efficiency. (Fresno Municipal Code, Sec. 12-105-R) Its 2002 general plan aims to increase residential efficiency from about 4 units per acre to 6-7 units.

Note on Ranking: The Central Valley counties included in this report are ranked to enable a comparison of their performance in preserving farmland and encouraging "smart growth." A rank of 1 (among the 11 counties studied) indicates the best relative performance, a rank of 11 indicates the worst relative performance. Rankings are based on percentage change (where it is given), amount of change (where no percentage change is given) or the absolute number (where no change is given).

Land Development Quality Index measures how well the local jurisdictions in a county have avoided the development of High Quality Farmland (HQF) by taking advantage of the available options for encouraging development of lower productivity land. It is the ratio of the percentage of development during 1990-2000 that occurred on HQF to the percentage of all land in the county mapped by FMMP that is HQF. The latter excudes undevelopable areas such as deserts and mountains. An LDQI greater than 1.0 indicates that the county is not taking full advantage of its alternatives.

Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Household is closely correlated with efficient development patterns that minimize auto trips between home, work, schools and shopping (as well as with levels of air pollution). [Click here for more information]

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