Recently the City of Sonoma took the first step toward preparing a blueprint for the next generation. The Planning Commission discussed the need to review how the town looks and feels by launching a process to update the General Plan—now more than 20 years old.
As North Bay Director of Greenbelt Alliance, I was there to highlight the importance of a keystone component of the City’s General Plan: the voter-approved urban growth boundary (UGB). As a 30-year resident of Sonoma Valley, I remember when the voters of Sonoma approved the UGB by 64% in November 2000. Voter protections expire on December 31, 2020. That means it’s time to get ready to renew!
The UGB is a line beyond which urban development will not be allowed, except for public schools and public parks. It protects surrounding open space and farmland from unhealthy sprawl. The voters of all nine cities in Sonoma County adopted UGBs 20 or more years ago.
Due to the success of the UGBs and strong support from the community, these other cities have renewed their boundaries without controversy. Their City Councils offered ballot measures for voter approval that reaffirmed the same boundaries, extending them for longer periods of 25 to 30 years. The City of Sonoma, along with Rohnert Park, is next in line.
The UGB was new to most of the City of Sonoma Planning Commissioners who had questions about why the city needs to go to the voters for approval, and whether UGBs and greenbelt protections were fueling the housing crunch.
Why Voter Approval?
I explained that extending the UGB with a vote of the people will maintain the strength and intention of the UGB. If the voters approve the UGB, then only a vote of the people can change the UGB.
Renewal by vote also proves that a majority of residents support the UGB. This helps protects the City Council from pressure to either weaken the boundary or expand it outwards.
With three open seats on the City Council in November and a slate of candidates running, Greenbelt Alliance is making the UGB a key election issue. The winners will not only be making decisions on the renewal but will likely appoint new Planning Commissioners as well. That’s why it is essential that the new Council Members support the UGB and other smart growth policies.
UGBs are not the cause of the housing crunch. Not only are cities and towns without UGBs often dominated by sprawl, available homes and apartments are even scarcer in these areas than they are in Sonoma County. Plan Bay Area, our regional blueprint for land-use and transportation planning, clearly shows we have enough space within our existing cities and towns to accommodate 100% of the region’s future growth through 2040 and beyond.
Solving the housing crunch requires a multi-faceted approach, including making sure the updated General Plan encourages the building of more homes that people can afford near services, jobs and, transit.
By updating the vision for how the city grows within our urban growth boundary, the residents of Sonoma can ensure our revised General Plan provides for walkable, bike-friendly neighborhoods that are affordable across the income spectrum.
It may seem a long way off, but now is the time to start working together to ensure that the City Council places a UGB renewal measure on the ballot before it lapses in 2020. At the same time, we must update the General Plan to promote a climate-smart city of Sonoma for the next generation and beyond.
Photo: Jenn via Flickr