By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Efforts to give the public access to a stunning hillside parcel that rises from Sonoma’s downtown got a big boost Tuesday.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the transfer of the 98-acre Montini property to the city of Sonoma.
The action comes nearly eight years after the county’s Open Space and Agricultural District acquired the site from the ranching family that owned it.
When opened to the public next year, the property will provide “some of the greatest views you’ll ever see,” said Bill Keene, the district’s manager.
The long-sought deal has been overshadowed recently by the debate over whether leashed dogs should be allowed on the property and a 1.8-mile trail that the Open Space District will construct prior to giving the city of Sonoma title to the site.
Dog advocates have lobbied city and county officials for access, saying Sonoma lacks enough open space for canines to frolic and get exercise.
Opponents fear dogs would threaten the natural wildlife and vegetation on the property or that dog owners wouldn’t clean up after their pets.
The controversy erupted at last week’s meeting of the Sonoma City Council, which on a narrow 3-2 vote, approved the transfer agreement.
No dog advocates spoke during Tuesday’s brief public hearing in Santa Rosa but their concerns were well-known to supervisors.
Keene reiterated his position that the issue of whether dogs should be allowed at Montini is one best left to Sonoma city leaders.
Under the terms of the transfer agreement, the city would have to submit a request to the county to amend the management plan to allow dogs on the property.
The city also would be on the hook for an environmental study of the proposed change, which must conform to the goals of a conservation easement on the site.
Keene previously estimated such a study would cost $5,000 to $10,000.
Sonoma Valley Supervisor Susan Gorin asked Keene why the county didn’t amend the agreement “knowing that a segment of the population” favored dogs at the site.
Keene said the issue arose too late in the negotiations for that to be considered. He reiterated statements he made earlier that the Open Space District is not likely to oppose an effort to allow dogs on the property.
But he told supervisors Tuesday that Montini represents a potential “management nightmare” for Sonoma officials given that dogs are forbidden on the adjacent Overlook Trail and at Sonoma State Historic Park.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she was “frustrated” that the county is sending the issue back to the city. She said the transfer agreement should have been amended to allow dogs because doing so would have reflected the will of county voters who backed a sales tax measure that funds the Open Space District.
“We can make this simple amendment to allow leashed dogs. I think we should do that and represent the public,” she said.
Zane did not let her concerns prevent her from joining her colleagues in supporting the transfer as drafted.
The Open Space District is planning to go back to supervisors in May for approval of a contract to build the trail. Keene said the work is estimated to cost $350,000 and take up to nine months.
Bill Montini, who sold the property to the district in 2005 and still maintains roughly the same amount of acreage nearby, said after Tuesday’s hearing that he is not opposed to dogs being allowed on the trail.
“People bring their dogs up there anyway,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or Derek.firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.