Sonoma County

harminder dhesi photography via flickr

Sonoma County is one of the nation’s best examples of how a county and its cities can work together to preserve open spaces and promote smart growth. But without careful watch, it could all unravel.

One of Sonoma County’s strategies to protect their open spaces has been for voters and elected leaders to put in place an impressive set of land conservation policies. With Greenbelt Alliance’s leadership, voters in each of Sonoma County’s nine incorporated communities have approved urban growth boundaries (UGBs), drawing distinct lines where communities can and cannot grow. To protect lands outside of urban boundaries, we also led cities and voters countywide in the placement of what are called “community separator policies” which limit the ability of county leaders to approve inappropriate development in 16,600 acres of key open spaces—mostly comprised of farms, ranches, and wildlife habitat.

Together, UGBs and community separator policies protect the places in Sonoma County most likely to be targeted by sprawl developers and encourage growth to occur within urban boundaries.

These policies have been a great success thus far, but voter approval of all eight of Sonoma County’s community separator policies will sunset in 2016 and 2018. Once this approval expires, a vote from just three of five members of the board of supervisors can permit inappropriate development on these lands.

With the expiration of voter approval approaching, we are working to gather support and to safeguard these policies now. We are also helping to improve the policies so that they better protect Sonoma County’s landscape for years to come.


  • ensure that Sonoma County’s community separators remain in place as a key tool to protect the county’s landscapes
  • expand the existing community separators to cover a broader landscape; for example, the community separators could be extended to cover important watershed lands
  • strengthen the community separator policy to increase protection of natural and agricultural lands; for example, the sunset date could be extended to keep the community separators in effect for a longer period of time

Maps of Sonoma County Community Separators


Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sierra Club

Staff Contact: Teri Shore

photo:Harminder Dhesi Photography via Flickr

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