The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District was created by the visionary Sonoma County voters in 1990 to ensure that Sonoma County retained its rural way of life – including farming and ranching lands that produce local food and support our economy, community separators that maintain each city’s unique identity and sense of place, and ecosystems that support a rich diversity of plants, wildlife and habitats.
The community also wished to see more opportunities for outdoor recreation. Realizing that we needed to protect Sonoma County from becoming the next San Jose or Los Angeles given our proximity to the rapidly urbanizing Bay Area, the visionary founders of the District – a diverse group of people representing agriculture, business and the environment – placed a measure on the ballot to fund agricultural and open space preservation by means of a quarter-cent sales tax.
The District was formed in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006 with over 76 percent support by the local community. The District and its partners are now responsible for protecting 111,000 acres of natural, agricultural, scenic and recreational lands from future subdivision and development, and have done so by leveraging local sales tax dollars with substantial outside funding. According to a recent study, the County’s agricultural and scenic open space lands are a top draw for people who come to visit Sonoma County. These tourists spend money, resulting in over 25 percent of the sales tax revenue to the District and other sales tax-funded organizations.
We are now fully realizing the benefits of the community’s vision to protect what we love about Sonoma County – clean and abundant water filtered by our forested watersheds, scenic beauty, local food, places for all people to exercise and experience nature, increased revenues from tourism, vibrant communities, and views of our mountaintops. I am especially proud of what we have accomplished in terms of natural resource protection and access to recreational lands for all of our citizens.
During my tenure on the Board, the District has opened up the 98-acre Montini Open Space Preserve right on the edge of Sonoma’s downtown for public recreation and enjoyment, and in doing so, preserved the iconic backdrop to the city. The District has also added 29 additional acres to Sonoma Valley Regional Park and opened the 819-acre North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, which connects to Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.
I was also particularly fortunate to have joined in the celebration of the opening of the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, a special 1.2 mile segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail connecting to Jack London State Historic Park made possible by the hard work of private and public landowners, funders, NGOs, and the public. I was deeply honored to stand next to the late Pat Eliot and her husband Ted, who were instrumental in making the trail a reality, to cut the ribbon on the trail’s opening day.
I look forward to working with our community and District staff to open Calabazas Creek Open Space Preserve to the public, inviting residents to enjoy its wild and pristine 1,290 acres of creeks and ferns, oaks and redwoods, wildflowers and grasslands. The District’s protection of this magnificent property ensures that it will remain as healthy, functioning habitat for the plants and wildlife who call it home, as well as a beautiful and serene place for us to enjoy too. I am also eager to get to work on improvements and restoration enhancements at Maxwell Farms Regional Park in Sonoma with funding help from the District’s matching grant program.
The beauty of land conservation is that it has multiple benefits: it can provide iconic backdrops to our cities, preserve our agricultural heritage, protect native plants and wildlife, and safeguard watersheds that sequester carbon and contribute to our water supply. Further, access to hiking, biking and riding trails helps to combat obesity, diabetes, and other mental and physical ailments, making us a healthier community all around.
With this great foundation of success, our Board has directed the District to embark on a comprehensive planning process to guide its work through 2031 and beyond. The planning process – entitled the Sonoma County Vital Lands Initiative – needs your input.
The Board will be leading a series of community meetings to gather input on your priorities and ideas for agricultural and open space protection and the work of the Ag & Open Space District moving forward. On March 30, a meeting will be held at Finnish American Heritage Hall, in Sonoma. For more information, visit the Sonomaopenspace.org/vital-lands.