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Sebastopol Must Renew Urban Growth Boundary


Voter Protections Expire in 2016 
Sebastopol Must Renew Urban Growth Boundary

By Denny Rosatti and Teri Shore

In 1996, Sebastopol was one of the first cities in Sonoma County, and the nation, to enact an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to protect farmland and open space on its borders from sprawl development. The UGB was locked in with voter approval by a significant majority, and had a twenty year time frame for those voter protections. The UGB expires at the end of 2016. 

The UGB is a strong planning tool that  removes the ability of the City Council to extend city services like water and sewer across the boundary without voter approval. This removes political influence from the process to push sprawl and development further from the city center. 

On January 5, 2016, the Sebastopol City Council is expected to consider how to move forward on renewing its UGB next year. Due to city timelines, the voters of Sebastopol may need to collect signatures and place a citizen’s initiative on the ballot for November 2016.

The City of Sebastopol is undergoing a General Plan update, but it is unlikely to be completed by the time the Sebastopol City Council would need to act to place the UGB back before voters in early August. The City Council is likely to be strongly in favor of renewing the UGB. But if they are not able to finish the General Plan Update and environmental review in time to place a measure on the ballot, then the voter protections for the UGB would expire.

To extend the UGB without a ballot measure, the Sebastopol City Council could pass a bridge ordinance to extend the UGB or adopt a moratorium on changes to the UGB until the General Plan update is completed.  There could be other administrative options. However, with these options, the voter protections would expire in the interim. 

Allowing the expiration of voter protections for Sebastopol’s UGB opens the door to development pressures and project approvals by the City Council with a simple majority instead of a vote of the people.

If that happens, the voter protections for the Sebastopol-Santa Rosa community separator in adjacent county lands would also expire, according to existing county ordinance. The 1,400-acre community separator protects dairy, ag and wetlands areas from commercial development and subdivisions to higher density without a countywide vote. If voter protections expire, then the supervisors could change the use or zoning with a simple majority vote.

The Dairyman Winery is proposed for inside the community separator. While the community separator designation allows agricultural operations and associated structures such as barns, a new use permit is required for changes in use, and design and other construction guidelines apply. Since the Dairyman proposal is a major change of use, it must go through the use permit and associated public process.

In order to avoid losing voter protections for both the Sebastopol UGB and the Sebastopol-Santa Rosa community separator, the voters of Sebastopol may need to step in and develop a UGB initiative and qualify it for the ballot. 

Greenbelt Alliance, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sebastopol Tomorrow, Western Sonoma County Rural Alliance, and other open space enthusiasts are watching this issue very closely, and will be ready for action when the time arrives. The Sebastopol City Council is expected to hold a study session on the UGB issue at their January 5 meeting. 

Sebastopol UGB Initiative Language from 1996