Protecting Sonoma County Open Space
Saving Land & Provding Public Access
In recent weeks two major landscapes have been added to the tens of thousands of acres which are protected by conservation easements in our county. Permanent conservation easements have been placed on portions of the Bohemia Ranch protecting several hundred acres of sensitive serpentine environment as well as a much loved, wonderful waterfall on Bohemian Hwy between Occidental and Monte Rio. Just this past week, the Board of Supervisors approved acquisition of a permanent conservation easement on a 500 acre property known as the Bordessa Ranch - on Coast Highway One near the Estero Americano between Valley Ford and the town of Bodega. Offering incredible vistas as well as priority habitat protection opportunities, these two actions were achieved using a combination of public and private funding and conservation strategies. Bohemia was protected without the use of public funds, and Bordessa with local and state funds. In combination, these two projects illustrate our continuing efforts to use funds available through the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag and Open Space District) to leverage state funding sources such as the California Coastal Conservancy and also to encourage private donor participation in land conservation.
The foundation of our Sonoma County General Plan is the protection of open space, agricultural land and sensitive biological features and habitat and the direction of future development into the city boundaries. Protecting agricultural lands and wildlife habitat areas provides community benefits almost too numerous to list. The most obvious benefits include preventing suburban sprawl which results from conversion of farmland to residential or other uses. Our General Plan prohibits this practice. Another strategic priority set out in the General Plan is the maintenance of community separators so that each community retains its own identity and character. It is so important that places like Graton and Forestville and other similar small towns throughout the county retain their individual personalities. This approach benefits our natural environment and encourages biological diversity.
The use of conservation easements to implement General Plan policies is central to our community commitment to the environment and to a healthy local agricultural economy. The primary vehicle for these transactions is our publicly financed Ag and Open Space District. As a result of the current economic recession, the amount of money available to the Ag and Open Space District has fallen short of earlier projections and hopes. The District’s funding through local sales tax revenues has fallen dramatically as a result of the sluggish economy and resultant impacts on retail sales.
Compounding the reduced revenue available to the Ag and Open Space District, the state budget has also been hard hit by the recession. This has put additional budget pressure on the state park system and has threatened closure of numerous important state parks in our county. These budget and economic realities present many challenges. One such dilemma is answering the question of how we will find the funds to keep existing parks open while we add the costs of new parklands and recreational trails and facilities. While the Ag and Open Space District will incur costs associated with conservation easement compliance monitoring and enforcement, other costs will be borne by our strained Regional Parks Department.
Our new Director of Regional Parks, Caryl Hart, has embraced these budget challenges with ambitious efforts to fund raise, increase community involvement and also to find operating efficiencies within the department which stretch the value of each available tax dollar. Her new energy has resulted in some popular new events in our parks - which are worth checking out – and she has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars from large donors as well.
The task of balancing these economic and budget pressures and challenges so that we keep parks open, so that we continue the important work of the Ag and Open Space District protecting habitat and agricultural land, all within the environmental values reflected in our General Plan, is a challenge I welcome.
In the nearly four years that I’ve been in office I’ve learned that people throughout our 5th District all want the same basic things…a healthy community, safe neighborhoods, a healthy environment and a promising future for the children of our county. My commitment to you continues to be to work hard and be accessible. I will continue to do my very best to understand the needs and interests of our entire District - so that we can meet our challenges and work together to find our way to a healthy, happy future.