By William W. Abbott
Readers may remember our earlier account of the first State of California planned community, Durham, in Butte County, started in 1913. Apparently pleased with the perceived success in Durham, the State Land Settlement Board embraced a more ambitious goal, this time an 8,000 acre community to be located in the community of Delhi, in Merced County. On the heels of World War I, the legislature expanded the program to specifically serve returning veterans.
The soil quality at Delhi did not match that of Durham. Like Durham, the State installed critical improvements such as roads and water systems. On average the State paid $96.00 per acre, and after adding the improvement costs, and sold the land for $296.00 per acre. Delhi included a variety of parcels, from the Delhi townsite of small lots to working 2 acre parcels, designed as a parcel for a laborer to build a house and maintain a garden while working for others, on up to larger parcels. The community soon included homes, a lumberyard, a concrete pipe factory, (a building which still stands today), a community building and a plant nursery for planting new crops. As with Durham, the State financed the acquisition for the buyers and played a significant oversight role in advising and training the purchasers in agricultural practices. Although soils were less then ideal, improved agricultural practices over time improved yields. A number of the Delhi parcels were acquired by veterans, however, the settlement did not sell out as originally planned.
By 1931, the State of California decided to exit the settlement business. Falling agricultural prices had adversely affected the residents of Durham and Delhi. As is common with many developers, the State shifted strategies during the downturn, and sold many parcels without the restrictions that would otherwise be in place. Without the State backup, the farmers were left on their own and over time, the more successful farmers prevailed. By the end of World War II, agriculture in Delhi and Durham was similar to surrounding areas.
California’s land settlement experiment resulted in a loss of around $2,500,000 to the State taxpayers.
For more information, see the following resources:
- Helping Men Own Farms: A practical discussion of governmental aid in land settlement; Elwood Mead
- What has happened to Durham and Delhi?: Adon Poli, Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics, Vol. 22, No. 2 (1946)
- Photographs of Delhi can be viewed at http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf4k4007qw
William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.
The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.