By Todd R. Hansen
FAIRFIELD — Nearly 10 percent of Solano County’s open lands are at risk of being developed over the next 30 years, a report by a Bay Area land conservation and urban planning group states.
The 2017 report by the Greenbelt Alliance, “At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt,” states that 293,100 acres in the Bay Area is at risk of being developed for residential, commercial and industrial uses. That total is down from 322,800 acres in the most recent report released in 2012.
This is the seventh report since 1989.
The 44,600 acres identified as at risk in Solano County is more than the 30,800 acres identified in the 2012 report.
Supervisor John Vasquez, chairman of the Solano County Board of Supervisors and a commissioner on the Local Agency Formation Commission, said the group’s 2006 report listed 93,000 acres at risk in the county.
“So it was a little more dire,” he said.
Vasquez said the report reflects the group’s mission, and at the very least gives policymakers something to think about. However, Vasquez said he believes it does not give the county and its cities credit for efforts to safeguard open lands, and said it is a simplistic look at what can be a complex issue.
“I wouldn’t say alarmist,” Vasquez said trying to describe the report, “. . . but they don’t talk about the work we do.”
Vasquez said several cities have created urban planning or urban limit lines, and the county has an ag preservation ordinance. He said about 95 percent of the county population lives in the cities – a good indication of trying to keep urban growth in the cities.
The report states that 63,500 acres in the Bay Area are considered at high risk of being developed over the next decade. Solano County’s share of that is 12,300 acres.
“Contra Costa County has the most total land at risk: about 1 out of every 5 acres of threatened land in the region is in Contra Costa. (It) also has the most land at high risk, land that could be developed in the near term,” the study states.
“The next two counties with the most land at high risk are Santa Clara and Solano counties. There, developers have put forward many proposals to build on farmland and in valleys, and cities seek to expand out into the greenbelt,” the study states.
The area around Vacaville was of primary concern in the report, which called it a “hotspot” in which farmland and ranchland to the south and east are at high risk of being developed.
“Large areas of land to the city’s northeast and southeast are at risk as well,” the report states.
“The county has proposed to meet its regional housing requirements with development scattered across grazing land,” the report states. “Though some say this is unlikely, the county has mapped projected development here, so either the county’s housing plans are not in good faith or this land is at risk . . .”
Brian Schmidt, program director for the Greenbelt Alliance, said the more ideal approach to development is to look within the urban centers of Solano County.
Vasquez said that would require higher-density planning, which is something other parts of the Bay Area have been forced to do. He said that needs to be a local decision.
About 60,700 acres in Solano County are already in urban-related uses, the report states. Fairfield is “threatening to annex rural areas in Suisun Valley and Green Valley,” the report states.
The report also notes that Solano is the only Bay Area county without a public open space district. Schmidt said the alliance is aware that the Board of Supervisors has been working in that direction, adopting a resolution in December that took that effort another step closer to a public vote.
“I think it is very promising. There seems to be a lot of support,” Schmidt said.
The alliance has submitted a letter of support and intends to join the effort to get the district established, he said.
The report also notes the 116,000-acre Suisun Marsh, but states the county has the lowest number of acres under permanent protection.
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This article was originally published by the Fairfield Daily Republic.