The Community Separator policy was passed by voter approval in Sonoma County 20 years ago. This policy came at a time when the county was trying to avoid the massive expansion and sprawl that had already overtaken areas such as San Jose and Santa Clara. Sonoma County Conservation Action was one of the organizations leading that fight. We saw them as a valuable companion policy to Urban Growth Boundaries, which we had worked to see passed in each city and town in the county. Since then, Community Separators have lived up to their purpose and helped Sonoma County retain its natural landscape.
The Community Separators policy (or greenbelts) ensured the land between Sonoma County’s many unique towns and cities remained pastoral. This measure is set to expire in 2017, so voters and environmentalists have placed a measure to renew this greenbelt ordinance on the Nov., 2016 ballot. That measure is Measure K. Measure K will renew and extend the the county’s current Community Separators for another 20 years.
What they do
Community Separators, otherwise referred to as Greenbelts, are protected portions of open space and farmland that separate city and towns within Sonoma County. Each continuous portion of protected land is referred to as a separate community separator, of which Sonoma County currently has ten. Passed by voter approval 20 years ago, these Greenbelts provide three critical functions.
- They act as buffers between cities and towns, which in turn prevent excess sprawl and identity overlap.
- They help ensure infill development by re-enforcing urban growth boundaries and other artificial community boundaries. By extension, this helps promote higher density development and transit oriented growth.
- They help preserve the natural landscape of the larger community.
- They complement the cities’ urban growth boundaries by safeguarding adjacent unincorporated lands.
Community Separators do not affect the underlying land use designation. This means, for example, that a piece of a land that is zoned for farming can still be used as such after becoming part of a Community Separator. What a Community Separator does do is prevent that same piece of land from being re-zoned for a development that it can’t reasonably accommodate.
Why they matter
If approved by a countywide majority in November, the Community Separator Protection Ordinance will extend the current size of greenbelts designated as community separators. The ordinance ensures our current greenbelts never become sub/urban sprawl.
Community separators do not exacerbate the housing crisis. In fact they:
- They protect land that would have otherwise never have been zoned or equipped to properly support affordable housing.
- They support already existing city urban growth boundaries which work to ensure Smart Growth and transit oriented development. Smart Growth focuses on high density development which insures less sprawl and more units per acre. This type of development in turn creates better conditions for increased affordable housing when pared with existing city and county ordinances.
Community separators, combined with Sonoma County’s urban growth boundaries encourage infill development. These policies will support the construction of new housing in appropriately-zoned city limits and preserve rural landscape in between Sonoma County’s many unique towns,