In 1958, Dorothy Erskine (left), Jack Kent, and colleagues founded Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks, comprised of environmentally concerned people and groups that would later become Greenbelt Alliance.
Over nearly 60 years, our organization has grown and evolved through three names—Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks, People for Open Space, and Greenbelt Alliance. Our original mission was to protect parks and recreational areas in the Bay Area. One of the first campaigns we focused on was saving the San Francisco Bay from landfill and development.
During the 1960s, we worked to save Bay Area iconic places including Fort Funston and Point Reyes, while raising awareness of land-use issues through a publication called Regional Exchange. In 1969, we changed our name to People for Open Space to reflect our commitment to preserving more than just parks and recreation spaces—including farms, ranches, and wildlife preserves.
“Greenbelt Alliance has played a pivotal role in the greening of the Bay Area, because of its longevity, its regional scope, and its inspired leadership.”
—Richard Walker, author of The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area
We continued to campaign for open space throughout the 1970’s, helping to establish the Midpeninsula Open Space District (1972) and Suisun Marsh (1974). In 1976, we began leading the fight to create a permanently protected greenbelt in the Bay Area. To build support, we created Greenbelt Congress in 1984—a parallel group that fought for open space through activism and grassroots organizing. After three years of working together, we merged Greenbelt Congress and People for Open Space to become Greenbelt Alliance—bringing together the best parts of grassroots activism and science-based policy research.
During the 80’s, Greenbelt Alliance began publishing unique research reports linking land-use policies to the importance of Bay Area farming and affordable housing issues. In the mid 1980s, after years of researching the effects of affordable housing on preserving open space, Greenbelt Alliance began endorsing smart growth projects.
Greenbelt Alliance became the first Bay Area environmental group to shift the focus to not just preventing bad development, but also encouraging the right development in the right places.
This expansion in scope also meant adding more staff around the region. We opened our second office, located in the South Bay, in 1988. Then we added a third and fourth office in the East Bay and North Bay in 1995. It was, and still is today, essential for our organization to have people living and working in the communities we engage with. We are after all, a Bay Area born and raised organization. Those roots and our love for this region are the foundation for all we do.
More Famous and Recent Wins
After nearly six decades, Greenbelt Alliance remains instrumental in preserving open space and protecting the quality of life in the Bay Area through smart growth. A sampling of our major accomplishments over the past few decades include:
- In the 1990s and 2000s, Greenbelt Alliance stopped multiple irresponsible development proposals including a freeway proposal called the Mid-State Toll Road. We protected Pleasanton Ridge (1993), Bear Creek Redwoods (1999), and Cowell Ranch/John Marsh SHP (2002) as state parks and open space preserves. Pleasanton Ridge was a 20-year long campaign.
- Greenbelt Alliance was a founder of Santa Clara Open Space Authority (OSA) in 1993, which has preserved 16,000 acres of open space in the county.
- We are the leading advocate in creating and defending urban growth boundaries throughout the nine-county Bay Area beginning since the first ones were created in 1996.
- Led the effort to reinforce eight community separator policies that protect lands outside of cities and towns in Sonoma County beginning in the 1990’s.
- Won a lawsuit against the City of Oakley resulting in $6.8 million dollars to preserve farmland 2009.
- Launched Grow Smart Bay Area in 2009, which laid out a vision, backed by intensive research, for how the Bay Area can accommodate its growing population with zero sprawl.
- Secured the adoption of the Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Plan in 2012, which is a blueprint that will add more than 12,000 homes and 3,500 acres of open space to the city.
- Secured the adoption of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan in 2013, which protects 18 species, 46,000 acres of habitat, and will raise $658 million for conservation.
- Greenbelt Alliance was the leading advocate for Plan Bay Area from day one, spearheading support for its adoption in 2013 and now its update in 2017.
- We co-chaired the campaign to pass Measure Q in Santa Clara County, earmarking $118M for open space and preserving 15,000 acres of greenbelt in 2014.
- Led the advocacy for San Jose’s Diridon Station Area Plan and Oakland’s Broadway Valdez District Specific Plan which were both finalized in 2014 and will create 4,300 new homes.
- Led and won a campaign urging the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to significantly increase its investment in the first-in-the-nation Priority Conservation Area grant program by over 60% to $16.4 million and designating a total of 165 PCAs.
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