Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever

March 7, 2017

Posted in: News Articles

Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever

J.D. Morris | The Press Democrat | March 6, 2017

Hoping to set a commanding agenda for conserving its landscapes, Sonoma County’s taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is launching its broadest, most extensive planning effort ever to guide its work for the next 15 years.

The open space district on Tuesday will mark the start of its so-called Vital Lands Initiative. Community outreach will include five public meetings throughout the county this month as officials gather input on how best to steward the county’s preserved farmland and natural spaces.

It’s the district’s most ambitious planning project in more than a decade — and likely its most wide-ranging such undertaking ever, according to general manager Bill Keene.

“It’s in all aspects of our work in protecting agricultural land, greenbelts, scenic hillsides, recreation, natural resources and watersheds,” Keene said. “It’s really going to cover everything we do.”

Since it was established by Sonoma County voters in 1990, the open space district has spent some $303 million in sales tax dollars to preserve more than 111,000 acres of land — amounting to more than 10 percent of the county’s total acreage. The lands initiative is expected to steer how the district spends its sales tax revenue in the future, using data and public input to inform a strategy to safeguard certain lands from development.

Keene said the planning effort would establish priorities for how the district spends its money. The district furthers its land-conservation goals in multiple ways, including with conservation easements, through which owners agree to permanently restrict the use of their land, and outright property purchases.

Currently, the district owns 21 properties totaling about 5,200 acres, including lands such as the coastal Wright Hill Ranch that are set to become public parks one day.

The county Board of Supervisors, which also serves as the board of directors for the open space district, will hear a presentation about the initiative today. Starting next Tuesday, officials will host community meetings in Healdsburg, Forestville, Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sonoma through the end of the month.

Also, district officials plan to hold several public workshops on themes such as agriculture, natural resources, community separators and urban open space. They’re also planning smaller meetings with agricultural groups, natural resource organizations and others.

Drawing on the public input, as well as data and technical information gathered by the district, officials expect to complete a draft of a comprehensive plan in time for a community workshop in July. A final plan will come before the Board of Supervisors for a vote sometime this fall.

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