New report finds more than 322,000 Bay Area acres at risk

Embargoed until Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jeremy Madsen, Executive Director,, (415) 543-6771
Jennifer Gennari, Communications Director,, (415) 543-6771 x318

San Francisco – The Bay Area has cause for both celebration and caution. A new report by Greenbelt Alliance finds that over 3 million acres of the region’s vital and stunning landscapes are protected. About one third of that is permanently preserved and two-thirds are protected by growth management measures. Yet more than 322,000 acres are at risk of sprawl development.

At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt 2012, the definitive research on the state of the region’s open space, shows that better managed growth combined with the down real estate market decreased the pressure to build on the greenbelt. Compared to six years ago, the amount of land at high and medium risk of development has been reduced by 20 percent, or 77,300 acres. The 322,800 acres that remain at risk—over ten times the size of San Francisco—deserve protection, and all of the region’s open spaces need stewardship and investment to thrive.

“The Bay Area has made good progress since we released our first At Risk report in 1989,” says Jeremy Madsen, Executive Director of Greenbelt Alliance. “The good news is that development patterns have been shifting from sprawl toward a smart growth future. But we still have more to do to save lands at risk and keep what makes the Bay Area special.”

Land is protected from sprawl in two ways: conservation groups can permanently preserve it by either buying land outright or buying the rights to develop it. Voters and leaders can protect it by growth management measures, such as urban growth boundaries and hillside ordinances. In the last six years, key growth management measures were renewed, such as the ones in Napa and Solano counties and cities in Sonoma County, which safeguards land for future generations.

Despite these successes, pressure to develop in the wrong places remains. For example, the Tassajara Valley in Contra Costa County faces continual development pressure; currently, a developer is proposing a 187-unit subdivision called “New Farm.” And a developer land grab in Brentwood, put to the voters in 2010, would have sacrificed 740 acres of valuable agricultural land to sprawl.

Without investment and defense against development threats, the Bay Area’s landscapes will be diminished. Agricultural land can lie fallow if farmers can’t make a living; habitats can succumb to invasive species if they are not properly stewarded; and parks can be shuttered.

“Simply protecting and preserving the landscape isn’t enough,” says Madsen. “What happens in Brentwood or Gilroy or Napa affects the whole region—and it’s in the interest of our health and economic well-being to safeguard the land that provides us food, enjoyment, and environmental benefits.”

What’s New in At Risk 2012

  • For the first time, Greenbelt Alliance has made a comprehensive inventory that evaluates the strength of growth management measures. This expert resource will help city planners and elected officials determine which policies are the best to adopt to stop sprawl.
  • The Greenbelt Mapper, a companion to this year’s report, is an interactive online map that showcases where land is zoned for development, where growth management measures are in place, and the many values open space provides. Visit for more information.
  • For detailed county-by-county statistical information and stories of people, download the full report.

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