By AMANDA BORNSTEIN and DENNIS ROSATTI
It is encouraging that the census statistics cited in The Press Democrat’s March 11 editorial (“Census 2010”) support that Sonoma County has done a good job of stopping sprawl. As the editorial states, this is due in part to our urban-growth boundaries, policy tools that guide development toward urban areas and away from open space.
These growth boundaries surround all nine cities in the county. However, it is imperative that Sonoma County residents stay engaged to ensure that we protect our open space and farmland for future generations.
It is significant that Sonoma County voters have taken land-use control as it relates to sprawl out of the hands of elected officials. By directly approving growth boundaries to preserve the “country in the city” feeling we enjoy in Sonoma County, voters have made clear that they value our open space and agricultural lands, and by so doing, Sonoma County is somewhat insulated from the common problems of sprawl.
Nevertheless, we cannot rest easy on our laurels. Urban-growth boundaries need to be renewed every 20 years. Over the next few election cycles, voters will have to say yes again to keep the valuable protections in place. In 2010, Santa Rosa and Petaluma did just that by renewing their urban-growth boundaries.
Once the recession recedes, and growth trends reappear, sprawl may become a threat again. Future development should be focused around the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train depots in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. It is critical that pedestrian-oriented development becomes the norm and that smart growth advocates work closely with developers and city leadership to craft plans that can guide development to create vibrant and great communities.
The cities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cloverdale and Healdsburg are currently doing station area planning for the neighborhoods around future SMART train stations. These plans present an important opportunity for residents to influence decision-making and ensure that the development of the future does not make the same mistakes of the past.
Public engagement in these processes will lead to a more relevant and honest assessment of the needs of the rapidly changing and increasingly diverse population.
By 2035, the nine-county Bay Area is expected to add more than 900,000 new households and 1.2 million new jobs. Some of that growth will likely occur in Sonoma County. Through community involvement and thoughtful policies, such as urban-growth boundaries, we can keep new development off open space and reinvest in existing city centers.
We can build communities with a variety of homes all residents can afford, close to parks, transportation, shopping and other necessities. And with these efforts, we can maintain the sense of place that we love about Sonoma County.
Amanda Bornstein is a field representative for Greenbelt Alliance, and Dennis Rosatti is executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action.