At risk: Sprawl development persists, threatening valuable lands
The geography of the San Francisco Bay Area defines this region, with rising ridges and verdant valleys. The nine counties that ring the Bay total 4.5 million acres of land, with 788,500 acres of cities and towns.
The slide in the real estate market has had the side effect of easing pressure to build on open space and increasing opportunities to permanently protect these lands through acquisition. As a result of these factors, in combination with protection policies, the amount of land at high and medium risk of development is down by 20%, or 78,500 acres, since 2006.
Nonetheless, fertile valleys remain under threat from large urban expansion projects, and rural sprawl and high-end estate homes continue to gobble up arable land and hillsides. As a result, 322,800 acres remain at risk of development in the Bay Area. Of those acres, 77,300 are at high risk (likely to be developed within 10 years) and 245,500 are at medium risk (likely to be developed in 30 years). This threat remains highest in the flat lands and agricultural valleys of Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties and on the vast acreage of unprotected land in Sonoma County. The County pages [See left sidebar menu] highlight specific places that are at risk for sprawl development throughout the region.
Policy protection: Good measures protect lands, yet require vigilance
For a long time, buying land has not been the only way to stop sprawl. Good growth management measures protect almost 2 million more acres, with 998,100 of those acres at a high level of protection and 1,108,500 acres at a medium level of protection. These measures ensure that farmers can grow crops in fertile soil, ranchers can graze cattle, animals can live unthreatened in the natural world, and people can hike ridgelines.
Greenbelt Alliance and others have worked for decades to pass growth management measures to protect lands. In some cases, voters approved rules such as urban growth boundaries that draw a line defining where development should and should not go. Other effective policies that have slowed sprawl are agricultural protection measures that require voter approval to re-zone farms and ranches for development, and hillside ordinances that demand city review before a building permit is issued. Solano County’s 2008 renewal of its Orderly Growth Initiative protected 340,700 acres of agricultural lands. And Sonoma County now has urban growth boundaries around every city in the county, thanks to the adoption of Cloverdale’s boundary in 2010.