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Sonoma County Gazette
Open Space

Vital Lands Initiative


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Sonoma County Ag & Open Space District asks for Public Input on
Land Conservation Goals, Objectives, and Strategies

Sep 27, 2017


By Amy Ricard

In 1990, through the foresight of community leaders and thoughtful citizens, Sonoma County voters approved the creation of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and a quarter-cent sales tax that provides funding for land conservation, including planning, acquisition, and stewardship of the region’s working, natural, and scenic open space lands. Over two and a half decades later, the District is one of the leading farmland and open space preservation programs in the nation with a mission to preserve the best of Sonoma County’s agricultural and natural resources. In 2015, the District celebrated 25 years of preserving the region’s agricultural heritage by protecting working farms and ranches, and maintaining the health and beauty of the county through the conservation of scenic hillsides, greenbelts, and natural resource lands.

General Manager Bill Keene has been with the District for nine years. “While we are proud of our accomplishments to date, our most important successes are yet to come,” says Keene. “As we look ahead to the next 15 years, we face exceptional challenges — population growth, escalating land values, drought, increased pressure on farmland, open space, and wildlife habitat, and the growing impacts of climate change.”

Blueprint for a Green Future

With these multiple challenges in mind, the District began work earlier this year on the Vital Lands Initiative, a comprehensive plan that will guide the organization’s work for the next 15 years. The Vital Lands Initiative uses the best available science, data and technical information to identify strategies for prioritizing conservation of our agricultural and natural lands, scenic views and greenbelt areas, as well as protecting land for recreation, education, and urban open space within communities. 

The Vital Lands Initiative also relies heavily upon community input and involvement gathered through public meetings, technical workshops, stakeholder interviews, polling, community events, and online outreach. The District hosted a series of public scoping meetings in March of this year and is now asking the community to weigh in on the plan’s draft goals, objectives, and strategies before taking a full draft plan to its Board of Directors in December.

 The District invites the community to provide input at the following public meetings:

NEW Schedule as soon as we have the details

  • Thursday, October 12 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm | Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building, 1094 Petaluma Blvd S, Petaluma

  • Saturday, October 14 | 10:00am – 12:00pm | Community Church of Sebastopol, 1000 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol*

  • Monday, October 16 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm | Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave, Santa Rosa

  • Tuesday, October 17 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm | Villa Chanticleer, 900 Chanticleer Way, Healdsburg

  • Wednesday, October 18 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm | Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building, 126 1st St W, Sonoma

*Note this meeting will be held on a Saturday morning.

“Over the past several months, we have engaged with hundreds of community members and groups through public meetings, workshops, and discussions with local leaders, partners, and technical experts,” said Keene. “Now we’re ready to share what we heard. We look forward to hearing from the community about whether the Vital Lands Initiative reflects their vision for land conservation in Sonoma County.”

 Healthy Lands, Thriving Communities

As a result of the District’s work, the Sonoma County community can take pride in its vision for conservation and its investments in over 112,000 acres of working lands and natural areas. The District has helped to provide nearly 12,000 acres of protected land open for public recreation, including helping to create 32 new parks, preserves, and public spaces. The District has also purchased 7,350 acres of land that has been added to existing State and Regional Parks. Moreover, the District has protected nearly every mountain adjacent to the county’s major urban centers, including Fitch Mountain (Healdsburg), Taylor Mountain (Santa Rosa), and Montini Open Space Preserve (Sonoma) — offering opportunities for residents to get outdoors and experience the region’s natural beauty.

The District has protected thousands of acres of land that contribute to healthy watersheds, ecosystems, and groundwater basins that provide clean, abundant drinking water for our community, and critical habitats for sensitive, threatened and endangered plant and animal species. Further, by working with farmers and ranchers to safeguard their land from the threat of subdivision and development, the District contributes to a thriving $650 million agricultural economy that features artisanal cheeses and dairy products, free-range meat and poultry, organic produce, world-class wine, and more.

For more information on the Vital Lands Initiative, please



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