Press Release: Ag + Open Space launching re-envisioned Matching Grant Program to increase access, equity, and transparency

March 5, 2024

Posted in: Press Releases

SANTA ROSA, CA (March 5, 2024) – Today, the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors approved the re-envisioned Matching Grant Program, a two-year pilot including an updated application process and resources set to go live on March 25th.  Now known as the Community Spaces Matching Grant Program, applications during this two-year pilot phase will be accepted on a rolling basis, shifting from the previous model of only accepting applications every two years. Additional updates include technical assistance for applicants, and revised scoring and evaluation, to increase equity, access, and transparency. The Board also increased the funding for the program from $2 million to $3 million per year.

The Community Spaces Matching Grant Program centers community in open space by working with local non-profit organizations and public agencies to meet the open space needs within Sonoma County’s cities, towns, and unincorporated communities. Generally located in areas lacking open space, the program has funded projects in all nine of the County’s incorporated cities and numerous unincorporated residential areas. The program has protected over 500 acres of urban open space – including the creation and expansion of 41 parks, trails, greenways and more – and that amount of acreage will more than double when all 24 current projects are complete.

“The Matching Grant Program has already had a major impact on Sonoma County’s communities,” said the Chair of the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors David Rabbitt. “With this move to accept rolling applications, and a re-envisioned focus on supporting applicants, we look forward to seeing even more open space for residents to enjoy, especially in areas that need it most.”

By moving from a biennial application cycle to a rolling model, applicants can submit projects when they are truly ready, ideally resulting in more urban open space projects completed sooner, which provides greater benefits to the community. This rolling model is also more responsive to time-sensitive projects that may require urgent funding and are not able to wait two years for the next cycle.

The rolling application process will accept applications on a continuous basis during the two-year pilot term and will consist of a pre-application to assess eligibility and readiness, and a full application once eligibility and readiness requirements are met. Applications will be batched once a year and for review, selection, and recommendation for funding.

“Ag + Open Space was created over 30 years ago by the people of Sonoma County to ensure that our natural and working lands are conserved forever,” said Ag + Open Space General Manager Misti Arias. “Since then, our communities and the land have continued to evolve, and so our work has to evolve too. By re-envisioning this program, we’re working to better respond to the needs and wants of our communities – especially those that have been historically underserved in open space –  while also continuing to conserve the rich and diverse natural and agricultural resources of this place we all call home.”

This effort to re-envision the program was an opportunity to incorporate several grant-making best practices that focus on increasing equity. Some of the additional updates launching March 25th include:

  • Application simplification: We reduced the application length and list of required supporting documents.
  • Pre-award support: We have built out a suite of support opportunities for interested applicants, including a simple pre-application for assessing readiness and eligibility, workshops focused on a range of topics, and opportunities to work with Ag + Open Space-contracted consultants who can provide pre-award technical assistance for eligible projects.
  • Focus on equity: We will now be scoring several elements focused on equity including level of community engagement and support, location within communities lacking open space, other DEI considerations, and location within fire- and/or flood-prone areas, which disproportionately impacts underserved communities.

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About Sonoma County Ag + Open Space
Sonoma County Ag + Open Space permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. The organization is responsible for the perpetual protection of over 124,000 acres of land throughout our region. These agricultural and open space lands are protected through a quarter-cent sales tax initially approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit