The Sebastopol Charter School has applied to the county of Sonoma for a use permit to construct and operate a school just outside of Sebastopol’s urban growth boundary. The county Board of Zoning Adjustments held a hearing on the application in June. The review was continued pending additional studies. Subsequently, the school asked the Board of Supervisors to take jurisdiction of the use permit application, which the board has agreed to do. The Board of Supervisors, which will be taking up the issue on Oct. 25, should deny the use permit application and preserve Sebastopol’s urban growth boundary.
All of the cities in Sonoma County have urban growth boundaries, which were enacted to reduce the ability of our cities and towns to expand into the rural land that surrounds them with auto-oriented development. In addition, the county has adopted community separators to reinforce the same idea. In addition to maintaining our open spaces, urban growth boundaries encourage infill development, reducing our dependence on the automobile and greenhouse gas generation. On-road transportation is the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases in the county (53 percent, according to Climate Action 2020). Therefore, encouraging walkable places within our UGB reduces greenhouse gas generation. These two land-use tools have been effective at keeping our cities physically separated and preserving open space.
Sebastopol’s urban growth boundary was approved by a vote of the residents of Sebastopol in 1995. It was set to expire at the end of 2016. This past spring, a grassroots group of citizens conducted a petition drive to put the renewal of the urban growth boundary on the November ballot. The drive garnered nearly 1,000 signatures. Given the popularity of the boundary petition, the Sebastopol City Council renewed the city’s UGB in June for another 25 years.
As this is a boundary between our cities and the county, the county has an important role to play if these limits are to be effective. Cities do not have any regulatory authority for what happens outside of their urban growth boundary, so they depend on the county to ensure the boundaries are respected. The potential approval by the Board of Supervisors of a heavily auto-oriented project drastically weakens the entire concept of an urban growth boundary.
The proposed charter school site is 20 acres located between Hurlbut Road and Highway 116 north of the West County Trail. The project will include classrooms for 360 students plus a multipurpose facility, playing fields and other open space. The site is located on the very northern edge of town, just outside of Sebastopol’s UGB, and out of walking and biking distance for most students.
The proposed site is simply a drive-to school campus location with 600 projected car trips per day crossing the heavily used West County Trail. This is a very intensive auto-oriented use on the border of Sebastopol: the exact thing the urban growth boundary was meant to prevent.
The Sebastopol City Council has held two hearings on the proposed campus and sent two letters to the county voicing significant concerns about the project. If the Board of Supervisors approves it, the school will set a precedent for other similar projects not only in Sebastopol but developments outside any of our communities’ urban growth boundary. This is simply not acceptable.
If we are serious about preserving our open space, encouraging walkable places and reducing our greenhouse gas generation, we cannot continue to allow these auto-oriented projects on the edge of our towns to move forward.