Preservation Should Focus on Rural Areas

Urban growth boundaries for both cities and counties and more funding to purchase easements or provide incentives to preserve open space are among the proposed actions in a new report titled, Golden Lands: Golden Opportunity.

The report is the culmination of  a two year research effort by hundreds of Bay Area land use leaders, working across geographic boundaries and official jurisdictions.  Led by the Bay Area Open Space Council, Greenbelt Alliance, and the Association of Bay Area Governments, with contributions from dozens of land managers, county officials, and scientists, the report is the product of a regional collaboration. The Tri-Valley Conservancy, Livermore Area Recreation and Park District, and the East Bay Regional Park District were among those involved.

The report recommends the following: ensure that the benefits of Bay Area open space are shared equally among all the region’s residents; protect and maintain vital lands through acquisition, conservation easements, and ongoing stewardship; and adopt strong policies to protect and maintain Bay Area lands.

In the Tri-Valley, the report suggests expanding focus from hills to urban parks and rural lands. “Alameda County has a long record of successful conservation efforts including protecting scenic hills and ridgelines and creating parks. Among the key needs now are preserving the  county’s rural areas, which includes a mosaic of ranchlands, vineyards and wildlife habitat, and meeting the demand for urban parks in the county’s densely populated west.

“An effort should be made to curb sprawl in the Tri-Valley, to preserve habitat for rare and endangered species, conserve working lands and protect the Livermore groundwater basin and watersheds — especially the rare alkali sink ecosystem.”

The report, released this week, highlights the importance of the region’s network of open space, its green infrastructure.

It finds that the network of open space lands provides critical public benefits. The network defines the region’s identity, attracting businesses, workers and visitors. It is a foundation for the area’s $400 billion economy and the area’s quality of life. Natural systems save money, offer security and other benefits by providing clean drinking water, sequestering greenhouse gasses, offering fresh local goods, and creating nearby places to experience the outdoors.

However, many lands are still unprotected. To secure the area’s long term economic, health and climate benefits, they need to be protected.

A section called “the secret to vibrant cities and towns” notes that more than 63 percent of Bay Area cities with unprotected greenbelts lack urban growth boundaries. In addition, they are vulnerable to county policies that allow development of open space. To protect greenbelts, the report recommends that urban growth boundaries be adopted at both the city and county levels. In addition, government should provide incentives for infill to encourage sustainable development and to protect natural areas.

The following actions are recommended:

  • Give more people access to open space by requiring that a park be located no more than 10 minutes by foot or bike from every resident’s home.
  • Make sure parks serve community needs and are well maintained and safe.
  • Put nature within reach of all residents and visitors by providing public transit from cities to beaches, forests, and other recreation areas.
  • Protect land through acquisition, conservation easements and ongoing stewardship.
  • For funding, seek new and existing bonds, local measures and budget appropriations at all levels of government.
  • Preserve privately held natural areas and agricultural lands by increasing funding for conservation easements.
  • Maximize conservation investments by aligning local initiatives, including mitigation of development impacts, with regional conservation objectives.
  • Protect natural areas and working lands with local land use policies and plans that define where development should and should not occur.
  • Preserve local food supplies and the agricultural economy by supporting strategies to improve the financial health of farms and ranches.
  • Protect water supplies and reduce flooding by promoting watershed scale planning.
  • Encourage private owners to preserve their lands’ ecological values through policies and incentive programs, and support ongoing stewardship.

Bettina Ring, Executive Director of the Bay Area Open Space Council, states, “Sonoma’s redwood forests, Brentwood’s orchards, and the slopes of Mount Hamilton provide Bay Area residents with clean water, healthy local food, and unsurpassed recreational opportunities. In this time of climate change, childhood obesity and economic uncertainty, preserving our natural systems could not be more important.

“This report helps decision-makers and anyone working to maintain the Bay Area’s quality of life understand what we can each do to bring about positive change.”

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