By Teri Shore | Special to The Sun
The City of Sonoma recently took the first step toward planning for the next generation. The Planning Commission discussed the need to review and revise the blueprint for how the town looks and feels, known as the General Plan — now more than 20 years old.
Planning Director David Goodison laid out the framework for a comprehensive update of the General Plan over the next few years, most likely his last official appearance at the Planning Commission before he retires.
I was there to highlight the importance of a keystone component of the city’s General Plan: the voter-approved Urban Growth Boundary As a 30-year resident of Sonoma Valley, I remember when the voters of Sonoma approved the UGB by 64 percent in November 2000. Voter protections expire in December 31, 2020. So now is the time to get ready to renew!
The UGB is a line beyond which urban development will not be allowed, except for public schools and public parks. It protects surrounding open space and farm land from unhealthy sprawl. The voters of all nine cities in Sonoma County adopted UGBs 20 or more years ago.
Due to their success and support, these UGBs have been renewed without controversy with a ballot measure placed by the City Council for a vote of the people with the same boundaries and for longer periods of 25 to 30 years. The City of Sonoma is next in line (along with Rohnert Park).
UGBs have not caused the housing crunch. Most of the Bay Area is dominated by sprawl where affordable homes are even more scarce and pricier than in Sonoma County. Plan Bay Area, our regional blueprint for land-use and transportation planning, clearly shows we have enough space within our existing cities and towns to accommodate 100 percent of the region’s future growth through 2040 and beyond.
Having lived in Sonoma Valley so long, I think it is safe to say that Sonoma residents strongly support the preservation of open space, agriculture and a community with livable neighborhoods and an exceptionally fine quality of life. The UGB has successfully maintained this vision while allowing growth within its boundaries.
Extending the UGB with a vote of the people will maintain the strength and intention of the UGB. If the voters approve the UGB, then only a vote of the people can change the UGB.
Renewing with a vote of the people results in a UGB supported by a majority of the residents of the City, and takes the City Council out of the position being subject to receiving pressure to expand out or weaken it as development pressures increase.
By updating the vision for how the city grows within our Urban Growth Boundary, the residents of the city of Sonoma can craft a revised General Plan that provides for walkable, bike-friendly neighborhoods that are affordable across the income spectrum.
Let’s work together to ensure that the City Council places a UGB renewal measure on the ballot before it lapses in 2020 and, in parallel, to update the General Plan to reflect a climate-smart vision for the City of Sonoma for the next generation and beyond.
Teri Shore is the Regional Director, North Bay, of Greenbelt Alliance.