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Open space rift

Rancher Dean Marty, 82, was the first person to sell development rights to the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District 20 years ago. His 225 acres of pastureland on the Cotati Grade above Highway 101 was purchased with a voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax. (John Burgess / PD)

While farmers fault preservation district’s move away from agricultural roots, officials say land access essential for public support

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Lifelong Penngrove rancher Dean Marty isn’t prone to boasting, but the 82-year-old cowhand does like to brag that years from now, his family’s ranch off Highway 101 will look much the same as it does now, open and undeveloped.

Two decades ago, he was first in line to make a deal with Sonoma County’s brand-new, taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

He sold the district the development rights to his 225 acres along the Cotati Grade, then valued at $500,000, and in exchange got peace of mind.

“I didn’t want to have it where it was going to be split up,” he said of the ranch. “I wanted it in open space.”

Today, however, Marty is one of a number of ranchers and agricultural leaders critical of the district’s direction, worried it is shifting taxpayer dollars away from farmland conservation and putting too much money into parks and public trails.

Their concerns, which came to a head in a extraordinary split vote of the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, reflect a deepening divide over how the district carries out its mission in an era of diminished resources.

The agency’s name itself reflects a dual purpose to save both agricultural land and open space. And it has won overwhelming support from the Sonoma County voters who funded the district with a quarter-cent sales tax in 1990 and renewed the tax for another 20 years by a 3-1 margin in 2006.

That voter support was strengthened by spending over the past decade on land and easement purchases promising public access. Park and trail advocates, some elected officials and other supporters said those projects allow taxpayers to explore and enjoy lands they’ve helped protect.

“The public access piece is critical,” said Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, which acts as the board of directors for the district. “We want to keep this district viable for many years to come. And in order to do that, we need balance. We have to prove to the public that there is benefit for them.”

Yet, the agricultural community has become increasingly uneasy with the district’s direction and is advancing a different vision of how a shrinking pot of district dollars ought to be allocated.

Farm leaders say conservation of the county’s agricultural lands confers public benefits — protection of scenery, natural resources and the engine of the local economy — at a lower cost and in a way that’s more in line with what they see as the district’s original purpose.

“I look at these working landscapes that are so vital to our county — the district funds are an ideal conduit to preserve them,” said Joe Pozzi, board president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. “I’d like to see priority put on that.”

The hostility has been escalating over the past year, when the executive director of the farm bureau, according to sources, tried to engineer the ouster of the Open Space District’s general manager. And the struggle over the district’s future came into the open when the board split two weeks ago over the issue of a public trail in a deal to protect ranchland bordering the scenic Estero Americano dividing Sonoma and Marin counties.

Many in the farm community opposed the project and cited it as an example of how they believe they’ve been shortchanged by the district.

Over its 22 years, the district has spent more than $283 million in local sales tax revenues to protect 85,000 acres of private and public land. It owns about 7,500 acres.

The spending includes $43.3 million on more than 22,600 acres of agricultural land.

That 15 percent share of total spending is too little, farm leaders say, and shows a lapsed focus on what they view as the district’s key purpose. About twice as much money has gone to the 14,500 acres of recreational land, they note.

The next largest shares of district spending have gone to greenbelt properties on the outskirts of local cities, $79.6 million for just over 9,900 acres; and wildland habitats and watershed lands — $57.3 million for about 39,200 acres.

“The percent that has gone to bona fide agriculture is very small,” said Pozzi, the Farm Bureau president.

Farm Bureau Executive Director Lex McCorvey hit harder.

He said the agency has become a “sugar daddy” to fund park and recreation projects, including trails and bathrooms. “Our feeling is that was never the intent of voters,” he said.

But that view is not shared by Supervisor Valerie Brown, a longtime champion of the district.

Public access “is a big part of selling the district,” Brown said. “I think the majority of voters go to the polls with the belief they’re going to be able to walk those lands some day.”

The numbers don’t tell a complete story, district officials said. Some agricultural lands are included in other categories such as greenbelts, natural resources and recreation, said District Manager Bill Keene.

Examples include the Tierra Vegetables farm on Airport Boulevard north of Santa Rosa, which is classified as a greenbelt, or the 1,100-acre Taylor Mountain open space, which is grazed by cattle but is classified as a recreational property.

Also, the comparison on expenditures can also be misleading, Keene said. Greenbelt parcels tend to be more expensive because of the development pressure they face, while parkland can be costlier because of its vast acreages, Keene said.

“Just to look at the 22,000 acres in ag misses the point,” he said. “We have a balanced portfolio now, and moving forward we will have a balanced portfolio.”

District’s history of public access

Still, county officials acknowledge that the emphasis on public access properties is greater than at any point in the district’s past.

Until the late 1990s, the district focused mostly on protecting private agricultural lands through conservation easements. The deals typically involve sale of development rights equal to 50 to 70 percent of the total value of farm properties. Landowners commonly donate 10 to 20 percent of the easement value as part of the arrangement.

The deals can also protect scenic values, habitat and watershed, but most do not involve public access. Park and trail projects, therefore, were a rarity in the district’s early days.

“The ‘T’ word was a nasty word,” said Ted Eliot, a retired diplomat who served for 15 years on the district’s advisory committee and who has advocated for expanded public access. “The whole ag community was united. The district was not buying trail land.”

That started to change under pressure from park advocates and others, notably in 1996 with the purchase of 1,000 acres of the McCormick Ranch. Years later the property would be added to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in eastern Sonoma County.

More recreational lands came after 2000, when a Bay Area-wide study showed only 1 percent of district-protected lands in Sonoma County, which totaled 27,000 acres at the time, were open to the public.

Starting in 2007, the district began spending about $47 million in bond revenues to lock down more than 10,000 acres, a spree that included ranch easements across the county but was headlined by the large open space purchases on Taylor Mountain and Saddle Mountain in Santa Rosa, at Tolay Lake outside Petaluma and near Hood Mountain Regional Park overlooking the Valley of the Moon.

The additions thrilled access advocates, though many of the properties have faced long delays in opening to the general public. Those bonds are being repaid over 20 years with the district’s sales tax revenues.

The surge in spending led to greater public access, now offered or planned on about a quarter of the district’s 188 projects. Another share of properties participate in the district’s guided outings program through local nonprofits.

Division over Bordessa Ranch

Unease with the park and trail projects in the farm community has grown all the while.

It surfaced again two weeks ago in a 3-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors on a $1.5 million conservation deal involving private ranchland — the Bordessa Ranch — that included a proposed trail near the coast west of Valley Ford.

A diverse group of trail advocates including environmentalists and backcountry horsemen hailed the deal as partnership with a family choosing to grant the public a boots-on-the-ground experience of the county’s dairy belt, with some proximity to the Estero Americano, the tidal waterway on the county line.

But ranching interests and neighboring landowners opposed the Bordessa easement, voicing concerns about trespassing, risks to the estero ecosystem and establishing a wider precedent for deals involving public access to private land.

Supervisors’ tentative 3-2 vote in favor of the deal reflects the deep divide over how far the district should push the public-access priority.

For one side, it is the linchpin connecting people to the lands they pay to protect. They point to other examples throughout the Bay Area for evidence that access can be compatible with rural open space, including some farmland.

“If we don’t give local people the opportunity to walk or ride their bike or their horse through protected open space, or by protected farmland, we’re going to lose our constituency over time,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, the Santa Rosa-based land stewardship and outdoor-access nonprofit group.

Zane, Brown and Supervisor Efren Carrillo endorsed the Bordessa project.

Supervisors David Rabbitt and Mike McGuire opposed the Bordessa deal largely because of fiscal concerns about the trail. Rabbitt also echoed farm leaders’ concerns about layering public access on working farmlands.

Ranchers say that push represents a county overreach that ignores the district’s origins.

“The ag community put this in to start with, then they (county leaders) found they could get some of that money for other things,” said Don DeBernardi, a south county rancher and Farm Bureau board member who once leased property next to the Bordessa Ranch.

“I think they’re overstretching their boundaries by what they’re doing now. There’s so many places to walk. When they start putting paths in agricultural land, I think that’s a no-no.”

Tim Smith, whose 20 years as a Sonoma County supervisor coincided with the district’s formation and development, said he does not think the agency has strayed from its core mission.

That some say it has, and that a struggle exists over its future “shouldn’t surprise anybody,” he said.

“What a great thing that we’re in a position to even have this discussion,” he said. “Many governments and jurisdictions don’t enjoy the benefit of a district that protects land in perpetuity and can provide public access. It’s a really unique thing. I think we lose sight of that.”

The debate is expected to resume Tuesday morning, when the Bordessa deal comes back for a formal vote. Hours later, supervisors are set to weigh in on a plan intended to guide district work for the next three years.

It is the next phase of what a longtime open space adviser recently dubbed the district’s “era of austerity.”

Feeling the weight of a tough economy

After a buoyant decade marked by bond-financed spending, the district now faces a cash crunch expected to shrink funding for land deals.

The pullback is driven by two main factors. The first is diminished sales tax revenue, the main source of district income. It is down from a peak of nearly $20 million a year six years ago to less than $16 million today.

The second factor is the onset of annual bond debt payments of $7.5 million, equal to 22 percent of next year’s projected $33 million budget.

Officials have proposed to partially offset the cash crunch by tapping up to a third of the district’s $60 million fund balance over the next three years.

Still, starting in mid-2013 and extending for two years, the district has planned to decrease the amount set aside for acquisitions from nearly $13 million — about the historic average — to less than $5 million, a reduction of 60 percent.

The timing is poor because land prices have plummeted, opening up new opportunities to conserve key public and private land across the county.

State and federal funds may help somewhat, though they, too, have shrunk or are coming with ever-tighter requirements, including the provision of public access.

District officials say they don’t second-guess the high-paced spending of the past decade.

“We’ve done all this really great work,” Keene said. “Now we have to manage what we purchased, be responsible stewards of the land and at the same time find unique and creative partnerships to protect additional land. Are we going to protect it at the same rate we did in the past? Time will tell. But we’re going to try really hard to protect as much land as we can given our constraints.”

Critics claim mismanagement

The district’s most vocal critics claim those constraints are evidence of mismanagement.

“They have frittered away money. They have lost their vision and mission under which they were created,” said McCorvey, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau executive director.

In public remarks over the past year, he has taken aim at district leadership, including county supervisors. Sources say he also spearheaded a push to oust Keene, who has led the district since mid-2009.

McCorvey declined to comment on the matter. Other Farm Bureau sources denied there was an attempt to dump Keene. They confirmed that supervisors were asked to conduct a national search for candidates when Keene’s contract was up for renewal last year.

The board, however, in November extended Keene’s contract for three years. Turmoil inside the agency by that time had led to the abrupt resignation of McCorvey’s wife, Peggy Flynn, the district spokeswoman since 2009.

Keene declined to comment on the matter, except to say McCorvey “was entitled to his opinion.”

In an interview last week, the Farm Bureau director did not mention Keene by name but again slammed district leaders.

“The Farm Bureau has strong concerns about the leadership and how that leadership has deteriorated over the years,” McCorvey said. “I think the net is cast very wide. It comes down to the directors of the district and the managerial leadership of the district itself.”

As examples, he assailed two small deals 14 years ago in west Sonoma County that he called “pet projects” for supervisors and alleged that poor management has “let properties run themselves into the ground.”

Keene disputed that assessment, saying maintenance was “on par” with other public land holders.

But he acknowledged an underlying problem: many of the district’s high-profile properties still wait in limbo for the day that cash-strapped park agencies can find resources to take them on.

The delay has resulted in a management bill for the district now at about $2.5 million a year, an expense not envisioned in the agency’s formation.

“It’s a huge responsibility and we need to get that cost down,” Keene said.

Balancing spending and competing interests

There are those who say the Sonoma County’s Open Space District is a waste of tax money.

Existing zoning laws and planning documents already provide ample open space protection, they say. Many nature areas and farms purchased by the district never faced development threats, they contend.

But even the loudest critics in agriculture say they do not wish for the district’s demise.

“We really do think the district is a valuable tool for this community,” McCorvey said.

“It is very frustrating to see where it has gone,” he added. “A renewed leadership for the district, we think, would benefit everyone in the community. And we’re not going there. And we think that’s unfortunate. Taxpayers deserve better.”

Pozzi, the Farm Bureau president, would not say if the comments reflected a stance shared by the group’s board.

“Leadership ebbs and flows all the time,” he said. “I continue to work with Bill (Keene) and we will always continue to work with the district.”

Keene offered similar comments about working with Pozzi and farm leaders.

“We have a balancing act,” said Zane, the Board of Supervisors chairwoman, responding to McCorvey’s comments. “Agriculture is a critical partner. But they’re not our only partner.”

Marty, the Penngrove rancher who relishes his role in the district’s history, said he hopes the district will put equal focus on working with ranchers and farmers.

“We’re a special breed of cat,” he said. “I’m not so much for opening it up to parkland. But I guess each individual case is different.”

The tension among competing interests for public open space dollars is not unique to Sonoma County, one former district leader said.

“This is a pendulum that swings back and forth,” said Andrea Mackenzie, who managed the county’s district from 2000 to 2009 and now heads the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. “There will always be some of that differing support from year to year, decade to decade about where priorities should lie.”

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.





27 Responses to “Open space rift”

  1. Kay Tokerud says:

    Do people really think that lands being “set aside” in land trusts will forever be off limits to use by humans? I don’t. I have another theory. In fact it’s not a theory. Right now, lands are being used as collateral for debt. Removing people from conserved lands may be a condition of the loans made to our government.

    Besides being used as collateral for debt, foreign countries are using shell corporations to own or lease federal lands to extract resources. These acquisitions are supposed to be kept a secret from the American people.

    So, do I think the land will be “saved” for animals and future generations? Absolutely not. The whole conservation racket is a cover-up for the fact that our government is in collusion with foreign entities that are getting their hands on prime American lands perhaps for their future generations. And our taxpayers are footing the bill.

    The whole conservation concept is a hoax that our government really cares about animals and future generations. That’s not what Open Space is really about. It’s about getting us out of there so they can do what? When we’re out of the rural areas, then they can do what they want, extract resources, to sell or leverage that property to borrow more money. Some serious investigating needs to happen before we give, sell or leverage vast amounts of publicly owned lands to foreign entities that mask their identities. This is what going global really looks like.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Jim Bennett says:

    April Fools.
    That’s what we are if continue to allow ourselves to be placated, distracted, polarized, and lied to any longer.

    THIS is what’s going on.
    Here, now.
    READ IT, READ IT, READ IT:
    http://www.freedomadvocates.org/images/pdf/Local-The%20Ultimate%20War%20by%20Michael%20Shaw_Santa%20Rosa%20CA_08-06-2011.pdf
    You are PAYING your officials to implement this unconstitutional tyranny!

    We are about to let the history of humanity take a very wrong turn.
    We live in the epicenter.

    It is time to ask THE ICLEI QUESTION… NOW!

    What more appropriate place convene, to connect than Tuesday afternoon at SR City Council?

    It’s YOUR City’s Hall.
    They are YOUR public servants.
    YOUR taxes pay for both.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. BigDogatPlay says:

    A conservation easement where the land stays in agricultural production is one thing. When the open space district or the land trust buy up land outright, remove it from production and don’t give the public access to it…. with our tax dollars, that is flat wrong.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. @Taxpayer:

    If you want the public to have no access to open space, I have a simple $3 solution that is available for any farmer or rancher, including my small 20 acre farm.

    Instead of mooching millions from the government and offering nothing in return, except the opportunity to drive by farm property on a crumbling, unmaintained county road, I suggest each farmer get a conscience and buy a simple sign that says NO TRESPASSING.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 3

  5. @Taxpayer says:

    That’s a great soundbite, but it doesn’t actually make sense in practice. There are dozens of examples of public lands that aren’t opened to universal public access.

    Limits on access make sense for everything from courthouses to schools, to open spaces and parks. For undeveloped public lands, solid and reasoned arguments to limit public access make sense for creeks and waterways where public access would result in erosion and impact water quality or pose a public safety hazard, but also for undeveloped rural lands that are still under agricultural production via conservation easements, or are unsuitable for development.

    We’re incredibly lucky to have a bounty of local, state, and national parks in which we can hike, bike, and ride. But rational limits must sometimes be placed on access and use of lands, and that’s where the reasoned debate should stay.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 16

  6. good one says:

    @Steve,
    My point! And guess what? The generation proposing 4 lanes on hwy 12 were the one’s that prevented it. Doesn’t mean that land has to be zoned or held in perpituity. Our generation really has no idea what will be needed in the future, how land will be used, how water will be allocated. Heck, 5 years ago no one had an Ipad.Hard to imagine more than a decade into the future.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  7. taxpayer says:

    If public money is used to purchase this land,then the public should have access to it.Not just a select few.Is this unreasonable?

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 5

  8. Reality Check says:

    Money,

    If someone offers you other peoples’ money, do you apply for all you can get? There are two parties to these transactions.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  9. Money Grubber says:

    Realty Check:

    You miss the issue.

    The landowners are merely accepting what the criminal, incompetent government bureaucrats are offering.

    The GOVERNMENT created the mess yet you refuse to acknowledge that.

    Dismantle and disband as much of the monster government as possible and the problems go away.

    For example, do we really need a Dept of Motor Vehicles any longer when 1/3 of California drivers are UN-licensed and UN-insured? NOPE. The DMV is a machine to keep the government in our lives and not much more.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

  10. Reality Check says:

    Thank you “good one” for pointing out that the current generation confuses its own preferences for foresight.

    Pull out any city master plan from 30 or 50 years ago. Mostly, they got the future wrong.

    The current open space program is America’s equivalent of French farm subsidies. It’s a sweet deal for large land owners; as usual, not so sweet for taxpayers.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  11. Steve Klausner says:

    @ good one
    There were once your kind of visionaries. I saw Sonoma County’s 1960 General Plan. A 4 lane freeway up Hwy 12 connected the town of Sonoma to Santa Rosa. Hwy 1 was also a freeway serving the new mega communities of coastal Sonoma and Marin. Their water, a diversion of the entire Russian River, and powered by a nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay.

    My advise for folks that want to live like that…move to LA.

    As for the open space districts of Sonoma and Marin, I think they got more right than they got wrong. If farmers don’t want trails then don’t sell you’re development rights. But that don’t mean you can build condos instead.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 16

  12. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Can anyone point me twards the open space where we can ride our ATV’s, set up a campsite and shoot a blacktail buck this season?

    Why should we pay when the land is not availible for our families use?

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 9

  13. good one says:

    The real enemy is ourlelves and our gigantic ego thinking that we are smarter than the next generation. Why do we set aside land? Because we think everything will be forever like it is today. If Americans had this type of thinking 100 years ago, most of N Ca would be out of bounds now…Let the future generations figure out what is needed in the future. Don’t limit the use of land because we think we have all the answers for future generations.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 7

  14. Money Grubber says:

    I find it very interesting that the comments posted here increase in number quickly when Monday morning hits.

    Is it public employees on the “job” with nothing to do but play on the internet?

    Or, is it the Press Democrat staff posting fluff to keep the comments board looking busy?

    As far as the $$$ paid, I still defend the land owners. Why? Because if some government fool offered you money for land that you knew likely would not be developed, anyway, you’d be just as stupid as the government to refuse that money.

    Government is at fault. AGAIN.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 14

  15. Dan Delgado says:

    Legitimate concerns have been raised that the Open Space District has spent its money purchasing development rights on lands that had little chance of development in the first place. That being the case, the big winners would seem to be the landowners who pocket substantial sums from the District by selling easements of questionable necessity. That would seem to be true regardless if the land was labeled agricultural or recreational. It thus appears the Farm Bureau’s real complaint is that it’s member aren’t getting a big enough piece of the pie.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 6

  16. GAJ says:

    They should concentrate on land that is near the 15% of County roads that will be maintained and ignore land where the access roads are to be allowed to crumble.

    As to access, Britain sets the standard and that should be the model.

    “Most land in Britain is privately owned, even in protected areas such as national parks, but thanks to a good system of access for walkers, there are many opportunities to explore on foot away from roads, either by following footpaths and rights of way or, in many places, by enjoying public access over wider areas of countryside.”

    http://www.ramblers.org.uk/info/britain/access-for-walkers-in-britain

    In 2009 the Open Space District had almost a $2million payroll with 26 F/T employees…all who can retire at 60 and who’s pensions vest at 3%/year. No data available for 2010.

    Nice.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 2

  17. Jackson says:

    The Farm Bureau is an effective lobbying organization for corporate agriculture. They’ve won taxpayer provided subsidies and benefits to their business not given to the average Californian.

    - The Williamson Act subsidizes agricultural property taxes by $150 million per year.
    - Fuel taxes are refunded to ag producers.
    - Subsidies and price supports for a wide variety of crops and ag products.
    - Ag equipment is exempt from Sales
    and Use taxes.
    - Business expenses, yes, all those new four wheel drive trucks in the FB parking lot, are written-off in one year.

    When the public that is subsidizing production agriculture suggests putting in a trail next to ag land to see what we are helping pay for, we hear about “intrusion”.

    Maybe we should stop subsidizing agriculture and direct the savings towards open space purchases.

    Sorry, Farm Bureau. You’re out of touch and out of line. My support goes to CAFF – California Alliance of Family Farmers.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  18. Jim Bennett says:

    All this real estate aquisition lately is 100% UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development.
    Some understanding of this Agenda will make sense of it, this propaganda piece won’t.
    It’s deliberately misleading and lies to us.

    Notice ‘em playing the polarize the people card again?

    The purpose isn’t pursuant to our ability to walk those lands someday, preserve it in perpetuity.

    QUITE THE OPPOSITE IS THE TRUTH!

    The reason for:
    Conservation Easements (what a cruel extortion racket), Agricultural Land Trusts, Greenbelt Properties, a very liberal (sorry) definition of Viewsheds, Watersheds, a Waterway, Wetlands, Corridors, Buffer Zones, Potential Designated Wilderness. Or some Endandered, Sensitive, Biotic ‘overlays’. Selling OUR open space to private concerns, overreaching oppressive regulation on country, rural agricultural folks, etc., etc., the purpose
    IS TO ULTIMATELY GET US OFF OUR LAND!

    This is all part of the UN sponsored Wildlands Project:
    http://www.freedomadvocates.org/documents/doc_details/dr._michael_coffman_discusses_agenda_21_and_his_famous_biodiversity_wildlands_map/
    and..
    http://proliberty.com/observer/20091223.htm
    http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/articles2/wildlands_project_and_un_convent.htm
    Try searching Agenda 21 and Agriculture.

    Here’s the UN’s definition of ‘Wildlands’ from their convention on Biodiversity:
    “A area where the Earth and it’s community of life are untrammled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”.

    $283 million of OUR tax money, when our roads, schools, health care, public services and PARKS go away!
    Hundreds of millions (each) to blow up dams, ruining rural property ownership and productivity, plus the clean energy they provide?

    We are paying our public officials to implement a plan socially and geographically engineered to provide for our totalitarian globalist rule and containment.

    Like most all components of the Agenda,
    it serves several of their purposes;
    crashes our coffers (through expenditure and tax base reduction), denys our ownership and access to rural/open space, attacks our food and water supply.

    Yeah, they have a ‘balancing act’ alright.
    Implement as much as possible until the serfs wake up in a bad mood.
    Better wake up soon folks, ’cause this ‘Plan’ will make us an ‘unsustainable’ endangered species.

    More reason to ask THE ICLEI QUESTION.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  19. Wilson says:

    Sorry Mr. Marty but your land was never in much danger of development due to its seismic instability. You are part of the problem, not the solution. But I would die to be able to hike up there on land that you got money for out of my pocket.

    The Sonoma County Open Space District was created with the purpose of protecting sensitive and important land in danger of development PERIOD. It has done very little of that in its time. The map show all sorts of green squares, indicators of preserved agricultural land. Looking at that map makes me ill. Most of that land is in the perimeter of the county where there is no drinking water available for property development and quite far away from any cities. Little of it ever was in any danger of development. What the OSD has specialized in since its inception and the Farm Bureau wants them to continue to do is to bail out cattle ranchers (who don’t have a market for their product anymore and are unwilling to accept the truth and move forward) or owners of useless land (Tolay Creek south of Petaluma for example). The OSD is their private slush fund.

    Marin County’s Open Space District ONLY exists to purchase land for parks with full public access, unlike the shafting we get. Marin has the most amount of public park land per person in the Bay Area. Sonoma County is next to last, only in front of San Francisco.

    Anybody want to imagine what kind of park system Sonoma County would have if they had spent $283 million on one over the last 25 years? Anybody?

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  20. Joseph Donegan says:

    With the board voting to allow set aside land to be used as`a` Quarry, you have to wonder what their intent is with all this land?

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

  21. J.R. Wirth says:

    Aw, the little farmers didn’t realize the purpose of these open space districts, they thought farms were open space. Silly people. Didn’t you know that open space districts are for yuppies to peddle around their $5000 bikes? When a yuppie gets off his bike in the middle of an open space, he doesn’t want to step in sheep dip as he drinks from his Camelbak water bottle.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 16

  22. bear says:

    The voters of Sonoma County have TWICE chosen to protect ag and open space lands.

    WTF do YOU not understand about a majority vote?

    Argue about the use of these funds, but don’t question the taxpayers who voted for these measures.

    Or move somewhere else.

    Mommy’s trust fund should suffice?

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 16

  23. Up In Arms says:

    This whole thing has the smell of leftist elitism. Spandex on every path, a jogger on every turn.

    Let the farmers farm and rich 1%ers ride in the existing parks.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 14

  24. Good job PD says:

    This was a very clear and informative article.

    My support is with the Farm Bureau, ranchers, Ag community. Don DeBernardi said it best – “The ag community put this in to start with, then the county leaders found they could get some of that money for other things. I think they’re overstretching their boundaries by what they’re doing now. There’s so many places to walk. When they start putting paths in agricultural land, I think that’s a no-no.”

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 15

  25. Money Grubber says:

    Anyone who attempts to demonize the property owners or ranchers is the enemy of us all.

    The problem, as always, is the government bureaucrats sticking their dirty nose where it does not belong. Its not governments job to dictate to the rest of us who and why property is owned.

    The idiots of government “planning” made the mistake of proving their incompetence by FAILING to plan properly for a sidewalk in front of the new school.

    The government criminals operate with one thing in mind: self enrichment through continued public employment and criminally excessive public pensions.

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  26. GAJ says:

    Towards the end of the article, you will find the truth:

    “There are those who say the Sonoma County’s Open Space District is a waste of tax money.

    Existing zoning laws and planning documents already provide ample open space protection, they say. Many nature areas and farms purchased by the district never faced development threats, they contend.”

    The comments from the farmers are self serving and speak of their wanting to get money for nothing at taxpayer expense.

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  27. Kirstin says:

    The ranchers’ concerns are justified. Sonoma County needs to encourage working farms and ranches much more than it needs to add more “park” land. They are right that this has become “a ‘sugar daddy’ to fund park and recreation projects….”

    We here in Sonoma need to revisit this “taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.” We cannot afford this district, and we should not be supporting a plan which seeks to take too much of the land here and put it in public hands.

    What we do need is solid county support for the perpetuation of family-owned farms and ranches. We need to actively support the continued production of local meat, dairy, poultry, fruits, and vegetables here. There may come a day when these will be the most precious to us. In case of emergency, it is always VITAL to have local food sources to feed the populace.

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