The urban growth boundary (UGB) movement came about in the 1990s to contain sprawl and encourage infill development. Sonoma has had a UGB for the last 20 years which expires in December of 2020. This expiration brings a political aspect as to who and how the next ordinance will be shaped. Whoever frames the UGB, it will be decided by voter ballot initiative that cannot be changed except by another ballot initiative.
City UGB public hearings, as a basic land use step for the next General Plan, were supposed to start this last January. In the meantime, there has been a strong, behind the scenes paid lobbying effort by Greenbelt Alliance, where anyone who has an open mind about the current UGB is vilified as being against the UGB. The absence of timely hearings has forestalled potential for a reasonable public policy discussion and turned the tide to a typical Sonoma zero-sum game fight.
There is gossip that the city may want to extend the current UGB by two or three years, maybe for the above-stated General Plan reasons. This is likely to cause Greenbelt Alliance to force a ballot measure by 12/20, to keep the same UGB ordinance in place, for 20 more years or longer
In one scenario, if the current UGB expires and none takes its pace, the council will have discretion to make UGB modifications, which could favor developer’s interests. The current council majority is hardly likely to sell out to developers on 1/1/21. Such a scenario could also allow time to integrate a thoughtfully updated UGB into the new General Plan process, and maybe favor a broad vision of lower valley social equity and integration.
There will be a joint city council/ Planning Commission UGB hearing in July, and the public will finally have an opportunity to discuss the issue and related lower valley future development (housing), and what the various merits are of a UGB or the UGB might be. The use of the words a and the are critical here.
A UGB means the public gets to talk about new options, for example, land use planning that connects the dots along the axis of the combined lower valley urban service area, i.e. the areas with or very close to water and sewer utilities. New options may be desirable to serve more Affordable Housing as well as steer towards a future of enfranchising under-represented lower valley locals in the Springs. New options could have inclusive goals for less segregation of wealthy Sonoma from poor Springs DACs (disadvantaged communities). What are the potential consequences for DAC people in the Springs who will not get to vote on the UGB issue in any case? A UGB has a chance to have a regional, forward-looking focus.
The UGB means locking in the same UGB and its same provisions for 20 more years. Current provisions allow the boundary’s edge be pushed (20 acres max for 20 years) for low, and very low income housing. As David Goodson pointedly noted, some of these provisions and are “impossible to satisfy”; I see a few of these provisions as indeed rising to the level of being poison pills (section 4.2, 3 and 4). With land costs a primary deterrent to one of the main Affordable Housing options, high density, deed-restricted projects, why cut off access to process and land that might cost less and actually produce needed housing? If citizens fight high density infill at every step, they may not want to be for a repeat of the current UGB. The UGB is an exclusive city-only process that leaves tens of thousands of locals unable to have a voice in regional planning.
UGB policy discussion is complex enough that the regular public will never master all the fine points. Popular UGB discussion is subject to simple slogans, reductions and buzzwords. UGB policy in general has a lot of merit. Like much of land use policy, the fight is over where to draw lines and limits.
A reasonable ask is to have an open-minded public policy discussion and process where the full merits and options are fairly vetted and the end result is not already decided, by decision makers and staff. Let the chips fall where they may in a fair, neutral process. Electeds’ job is to perform due diligence in a public forum context, not to be lobbied and decide ahead of time and behind the scenes.
I urge city staff, council, and Planning Commission members to get the UGB public process going ASAP, and to keep an open mind, and not go into this process with particular policy futures already decided. For local land use, the public deserves a strong, open-minded process, not more zero-sum game fights. I have my preferences and views, number one of which is for a neutral, fair process. Number two, I see land use along the combined lower valley urban service area-axis as infill, not sprawl,
A UGB ballot initiative will happen, one either designed by a local city public process, or by Greenbelt Alliance, and this will provide the basis for Sonoma and lower valley land use planning for the next 20 years. Will the same UGB from the last 20 years serve the lower valley well for the next 20 years?