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Improving Policies for Open Space in Sonoma County


Improving Policies for Open Space

By Dennis Rosatti

There are approximately 7 million people living in the nine county San Francisco Bay Area, leading to a premium value being placed on open space and its charming, calming allure. Sonoma County has avoided the contiguous sprawl land use pattern that has dominated other Bay Area counties, preserving the Santa Rosa plain filled with wetlands, farms, and fields, as well as framing numerous viewsheds along the rural if potholed roads we love so dearly. Voters have consistently stood up for the scenic beauty of Sonoma County by approving ballot measures that preserve the agrarian and natural backdrop while protecting farms, parklands and water supply.

Voters overwhelmingly approved an open space protection measure placed on the ballot by County Supervisors in 1996 called the Community Separator policy. The policies have prevented sprawl into the greenbelts between our cities and communities. Community Separators have been effective in preventing agriculturally important lands from being subdivided through a zoning overlay on select parcels at the edge of city Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs), which are also voter approved.

But these voter protections will expire at the end of next year unless the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors acts now. Environmental advocates have been urging county supervisors and staff to modernize the policies and to place them on the ballot for a countywide vote in November 2016. 

The Sonoma County Supervisors will take up this urgent issue at a public workshop with Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) staff on December 15th, 2015. PRMD will present options for the Supervisors for preparing a renewal ballot measure for November of 2016 would update and renew community separators.

They will also provide options to implement a robust public planning process to continue strengthening protections of significant lands between our urban communities over the next 2 – 3 years.

Options for Consideration:

• Renew community separators, maintain equal or greater protections, for at least 25 years.

• Remove the ordinance sunset or extend the sunset date.

• Extend voter approved community separators to additional unincorporated areas. 

• Along with preparing the ballot measure, initiate a public planning process to draft a General Plan amendment protecting priority greenbelts identified and mapped by the Agricultural and Open Space Preservation District as community separators

• Extend the Glen Ellen/Agua Caliente community separator to the Sonoma Developmental Center natural lands including the Sonoma Valley wildlife corridor

• Improve conditions for use permits in community separators to maintain protections.

• Implement General Plan 2020 Community Separator Priority Designations, including:

• Open Space District priority acquisition lands near cities;

• Penngrove area lands; 

• Cloverdale area lands. 

Protecting the rural character of Sonoma County by maintaining the identities of each of our cities and rural neighborhoods is critical to our economy and the well being of all our residents.

Let our County Supervisors know that you want the opportunity to vote in November of 2016 to continue protecting our Community Separators. With the recent release of the Sonoma County Conservation Action report card, it appears that a majority of Supervisors lean towards the type of moderate yet effective tool the Community Separators policy provides. If you agree that renewal of the existing lands and additional greenbelt areas should be included in a 2016 ballot measure, please contact the County Supervisors right away with no further delay. Supervisors can be contacted at:

Sonoma County Community Separators


Dennis Rosatti is Executive Director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, lives in Sebastopol, and has been working on the front lines of the environmental movement in Sonoma County for the past 13 years.


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