Tax Incentive To Help State Farmers Runs Into Controversy

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LODI --

The twist of the branches, freshly trimmed vine. A familiar sight in San Joaquin County.

Particularly Lodi, where tourism has boomed. But Bruce Blodgett with the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau said some vineyards are not what they seem.

“You see some event centers that get proposed from time-to-time that are trying to come into the guise of a winery,” said Blodgett, the Executive Director with the Bureau.

Blodgett claimed there are a handful of businesses in the county that call themselves vineyards but only do it for a tax break. It’s called the Williamson Act, also known as the California Land Conservation Act. It allows a farmer or rancher to sign a 10 year contract in exchange for a hefty tax break as long the land is only used for agricultural purposes.

“To sign that contract means you do give up certain rights, you give up the rights to urban development,” he explained.

That means no weddings and concerts. Which over the years, Blodgett claims he's seen some wineries do.

“What they call marketing events, which are really just concerts and weddings and those types of activities,” Blodgett said.

Lodi Mayor Mark Chandler owns vineyards and gets tax breaks under the Williamson Act, “I own vineyards, and it helps reduce the tax burden on our vineyards,” newly elected Mayor Mark Chandler said.

But he's not looking to host weddings or concerts. He told FOX40, he simply understands the benefit for wine tasting events which could be seen as "urban use."

“It's in their best interest to sell as much wine as they can direct to consumer,” the Mayor said.

For Blodgett, he just wants to ensure farmers uphold their end of the contract.

“We don’t want to lose this extremely valuable program for agriculture based on a few people that are trying to do things that are inappropriate," he said.