Sonoma County residents have a history of debating what this region should look like here in terms of housing, business and other development. But there’s remarkably little disagreement over what we don’t want to look like.
We don’t want to become San Mateo County or Santa Clara County, which appears — at least to drivers on Highway 101 — to be one solid block of urbanized living, without break or clear distinction between cities.
That is largely the reason why the county more than 25 years ago began taking a series of steps to create and preserve open space and agriculture buffers between communities.
These steps included the adoption of the 1989 county general plan, which called for city-centered growth and established the need for community separators of open space and agriculture lands that protect the unique identities of each city and town. A year later, Sonoma County voters gave further support by establishing the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which uses revenues from a quarter-cent sales tax to permanently protect these green spaces. In addition, cities began establishing urban growth boundaries which dovetailed with these separators by prohibiting encroachment from within city limits.
And in 1996, voters took these protections a step further by approving an ordinance that requires voter approval if revisions or other attempts were made to change or break these community separators.
On Nov. 8, Sonoma County voters are being asked to renew this important “anti-urban sprawl” tool for another 20 years. They should.
These land-use protections have helped protect more than 17,000 acres of open space and farm lands from development over the years. In addition, the Board of Supervisors have approved the addition of 37,700 acres of largely undeveloped county land to these separators. (Maps of the community separators are posted in the voter pamphlet.)
Measure K would not stop all development in these areas. But it would require that any project that increases the density or intensity of use on these sites would have to go to a public vote.
It’s one more protection against the construction of shopping centers, large housing complexes and resort hotels in areas where such projects have already been determined, by the general plan, to be off limits.
Residents and visitors alike benefit from the wisdom of Sonoma County’s past land-use decisions, which have helped preserve the area’s natural beauty. But as land continues to grow in value and the region becomes more of a destination for tourists, the temptations and pressures to infringe on these separators will only increase. That’s why it’s all the more important to have protections like these in place. It’s also one reason there is such unified support for Measure K among community groups and no organized opposition.
Finding balance is as much a struggle for communities as it is for individuals. In either case, it begins with protecting the margins of our lives. Sonoma County started to do this with the establishment of these separators. Extending the protections of these green spaces will go far in helping us maintain that balance.
The Press Democrat encourages a yes vote on Measure K.