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Oakland Clears the Path for New Urban Agriculture

City Slicker Farms’ Community Market Farm at Union Plaza Park.  Photo by Eli Zigas.

Oakland recently made it easier for urban farmers and gardeners to start new projects. On November 18, the City Council unanimously approved changes to the city planning code that clarifies what types of urban agriculture are allowed in each part of the city and expanded the areas where residents can cultivate crops and produce honey without the requirement of attaining a special permit.

The changes are a result of an effort by the Planning and Building Department and urban agriculture advocates that began in 2011, but had been on hold for much of the past two years.

The major changes include:

  • Allowing community gardens to operate, “by right” (without a special permit), on private land in most zones of the city as long as the gardens do not include animal husbandry other than bee hives. Community gardens are defined as locations where the food grown on site is for personal consumption or donation. Home gardens are covered by separate regulations, not considered community gardens and not affected by the new ordinance.
  • Replacing the old “crop and animal raising” activity classification with two new categories of use. The first new category is “Limited Agriculture” which encompasses the growing of crops for sale and keeping up to three beehives. Limited agriculture is now permitted, by right, in many parts of the city so long as the site is less one acre in size. In most cases, people growing food on these sites will be able to sell their produce without having to apply for a special permit.
  • The second new category is “Extensive Agriculture” which can include animal husbandry, operations that involve heavy machinery and any type of agricultural activity that does not fall within the definition of limited agriculture. Extensive agriculture is permitted in many zones of the city, but only by a conditional use permit.

Generally, the revised rules make it easier to garden or farm at a small scale when the project does not involve animal husbandry. The categories are distinguished by whether food is intended for sale and whether animals are involved. This is in contrast to San Francisco and San Jose’s zoning regulations which primarily distinguish urban agriculture by size of operation, rather than whether or not they are commercial or involve animals.

With these planning code changes, Oakland has removed a major permitting obstacle to urban agriculture and provided gardeners and farmers more clarity and security in the establishment of new projects. The changes also signal Oakland’s move to embrace the growing of food within the city rather than pushing it beyond city limits.

 

>> Read the Oakland City Council ordinance updating city’s Planning Code regulations regarding urban agriculture

>> Read the Oakland Food Policy Council’s Blog for more background on the changes

>> Read coverage of the planning code changes on KQED