ABAG Sharpens Process to Identify Open Space Preservation

The ABAG executive committee has approved some new language that is expected to make it easier to undertake regional conservation planning.

Meeting on July 17, the committee unanimously established a typology by which to judge the merits of priority conservation areas (PCAs) in the nine-county Bay Area. Currently, there are 101 PCAs. All but a handful were placed in the first such plan in 2008.

These areas were agreed on by local governments, park districts and open space districts. ABAG does not make any determinations concerning which areas should be included on the PCA list. It’s all up to local government, said Mark Shorett, a regional planner with ABAG.

Melissa Hippard, a project manager for Greenbelt Alliance, said that the ABAG action now creates four categories aimed at open space preservation: natural lands, working lands, regional recreation and urban greening.

The urban greening applies to greenways, such as trails, that go through the highly dense urban areas, such as Oakland. The other three are found in the Valley.

Natural lands include wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and biodiversity. “They are the lands we rely on for ecosystem services, or nature’s benefits,” said Hippard.

Working lands include ranch lands and farms. Regional recreation includes regional trail systems.

All four of the categories are tied to a Geographical Information System (GIS), which records land data. For example, there are four types of farm land, as classified by the state. In the GIS model, all four types of farmland can be tied to data sources, “so that when you look at a map, you can make a really clear statement (about the land under discussion.)

“With the database, you can say, ‘This land is really important farmland, and should be protected for farming,'” said Hippard.

Having that database enables people in the community to know better what is involved in the dialogue about preservation. “Now we can have a conversation more broadly with community members about why some lands can be identified as conservation areas,” said Hippard.

The communication is only one part of the effort. As with any program to protect a resource, it costs money. Much of the money will come from grants that are funneled through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), said Hippard.

As part of the state’s requirements for local communities to have plans for being sustainable, MTC has been working with ABAG to be supportive of transportation projects that tie in with community sustainability, said Hippard.

It’s too soon to say what lies ahead in funding. This is the first year of a four-year planning cycle for MTC and ABAG, with the deadline in 2017, when the second Bay Area One plan would be adopted.

Currently, though, the North Bay counties have $5 million they can spend on PCAs, and the remaining counties another $5 million, all from a One Bay Area grant. That is a tiny fraction of the amount of money that passes through MTC, so significant money from MTC would make a big difference, said Hippard.

Larry Tong, environmental program manager at EBRPD, follows ABAG planning for open space in East County, since so much of the open space in the area is part of the park district. He said that ideally he would like to see 5 percent of MTC grants set aside for open space acquisition in the Bay Area.

Valley locations listed on ABAG’s PCA map are North Livermore, South Livermore, Chain of Lakes, Cedar Mountain, Duarte Canyon, and Tesla Park, which EBRPD recognizes, but the state which has purchased it for use as an off-road vehicle park, does not.

MTC funding is not the only possibility for paying for open space. Hippard referred to potential multiple sources for money. Farms could be over a groundwater basin. If the farm could be preserved, it would allow for water to go into the underground basin. That might provide grant money to preserve farm land, said Hippard.

This article was originally published by The Independent.

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