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An urban growth boundary (UGB)
An urban growth boundary (UGB) separates urban areas from the surrounding natural and agricultural lands, or greenbelts. Photo:greenbelt.org

Climate Healthy Communities
start with Urban Growth Boundaries

Jan 9, 2020
by Teri Shore, Greenbelt Alliance

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By Teri Shore

The best way to ensure climate-healthy, wildfire-safe, diverse and affordable communities is with voter-approved Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB). A UGB is simply a line around a city beyond which urban development is not allowed without the approval of the voters. 

As we decide how to face climate change, extreme weather and a housing crunch, we need to double down on climate-smart growth near jobs and transit and protection of natural land and water. The Urban Growth Boundary is a proven and critical tool for doing so.

Yet pressure to sprawl is mounting from developers, some housing advocates, and a few elected officials who say that we must choose between protecting natural lands and building housing. It is an outdated and false choice.  We can and must do both in climate-smart ways.

The State of California is certainly on our side. The governor and legislature are pushing for climate-smart growth across the state with more funding for affordable homes and mandates to develop neighborhoods close to transit, jobs, and schools. Sprawl into the greenbelts is nowhere in the policy mix, yet it many places it continues to spread. That’s why local activists are gearing up to defend UGBs city-by-city and county-by-county and gathering signatures to put new UGBs before the voters.

Crane Creek Regional Park features rolling grasslands and beautiful oaks east of Rohnert Park. The 128-acre park has 3.5 miles of trails and an 18-hole disc golf course.The people of Rohnert Park chose to renew the city’s Urban Growth Boundary by an outstanding 90%. Photo:greenbelt.org

Climate Healthy UGBs: The climate and environmental benefits of UGBs are clear. By focusing growth inside existing towns and cities, a UGB reduces driving and greenhouse gas emissions; saves money on water, sewer, parks, and roads; protects the environment; reduces wildfire risk, and allows for many types of housing across the income spectrum. And it costs taxpayers nothing.

Cities and towns with distinct boundaries and thriving downtowns, rather than sprawling development, tend to be less dependent on cars, which is good for the climate by reducing tailpipe emissions as well as the community’s health. It’s easier for residents to walk, bike, or take public transit, while also encouraging exercise and decreasing harmful air pollution. A well-planned city also uses less water and energy. 

UGBs and Wildfire Safety: We’ve seen firsthand during recent wildfires that communities with defined urban boundaries surrounded by greenbelts and farmland are safer and easier to defend than those sprawled out into the forests and wildlands. Firefighters were able to hold back walls of flames on the well-defined edges of Windsor and Healdsburg with UGBs by staging fire response teams and equipment in the surrounding parks, open space, and agriculture. While there are certainly exceptions, such as Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, research shows that more compact communities are more wildfire safe.

This may seem obvious but we now have the science that confirms it. Researcher Alexandra Syphard of the Conservation Biology Institute has published extensive research on risk to life and property from wildfire. She found over and over again that the lowest wildfire risk is in the urban areas. The highest wildfire risk is in medium densities, which are often seen in the wildland-urban interface—areas where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire. Upholding UGBs makes a difference.                              See: consbio.org/products/publications/housing-arrangement-and-location-determine-likelihood-housing-loss-due-wildfire

Diverse and Affordable Communities in the UGB: The UGB determines where we build, not what we build. UGBs have not caused the housing crunch. The rest of the Bay Area demonstrates that sprawl does not provide affordability.

The requirements for affordable housing are decided by local elected officials and city staff based on General Plans and zoning code requirements. The current housing crisis across the nation has resulted due to multiple factors over decades including loss of state and federal funding, stagnant wages for most workers, and the high costs of labor and materials. There is no simple fix, but building inside the UGB offers a climate-smart solution.

When it comes to the price of homes even in small cities like Sonoma, a UGB does not inflate the cost. Market research from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area governments shows that home prices follow the real estate market and is not correlated with UGBs. Check your city’s or county’s housing prices against the Bay Area Median over the past two decades here:  vitalsigns.mtc.ca.gov/home-prices 

Check county’s housing prices agvitalsigns.mtc.ca.gov/home-prices. ainst the Bay Area Median over the past two decades. Image: vitalsigns.mtc.ca.gov/home-prices

The main reason that developers prefer to build single-family homes on greenfields because it is more profitable. Single-family homes have been the model for development for many decades and what people wanted. General Plans and zoning codes have favored such development. However, we are now coming to grips with the result of sprawl development and its costs. Radical change is on the way to new, smaller, more sustainable homes. The UGB supports and enhances the way forward by requiring more efficient use of already developed land.

Diversity and UGBs: Urban Growth Boundaries ensure that communities are inclusive and diverse by directing the placement of homes of various types and affordability levels close to shops, services, and jobs. Pushing lower-income housing to the edge of town causes separation and more of a burden on families trying to get to work and school every day. 

Research shows that cities with and without UGBs have roughly the same ethnic balance. UGB cities actually tend to have lower per capita incomes, median home prices, and rates of ownership –meaning that renters are equally at home inside a UGB as homeowners: closup.umich.edu/files/pr-2-growthmgmt.pdf

UGB Overview and History: The first urban growth boundary in the Bay Area was established in 1996 in the city of Petaluma. Since then, voters have implemented UGBs in their own communities in 38 cities across the Bay Area, with growth control measures approved by city councils (not voter-approved) in 11 more.   

SONOMA COUNTY URBAN GROWTH BOUNDARY REWEWALS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CITY

 

UGB ESTABLISHED

VOTER APPROVAL

%

 

UGBEXPIRATION

 

UGBRENEWAL*

 

VOTER APPROVAL %

 

NEWEXPIRATION

 

 

GENERAL PLAN LIFETIME

 

 

Cloverdale

2010

65%

2030

 

 

 

2025

 

 

 

 

Cotati

 

 

1998

 

 

71%

 

 

2018

Renewed 2016 for 30 years til end of 2048**

 

 

70%

 

 

2048*

 

 

2045

 

 

Healdsburg

1996

71%

2016

2012

75%

2030

2030

 

 

Petaluma

1998

79%

2018

2010

65%

2025

2025

 

 

Rohnert Park

2000

71%

Jun-20

Nov-19

90%

Dec-40

2020 update underway

 

 

Santa Rosa

1996

59%

2016

2010

67%

2035

2035

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sebastopol

 

 

 

 

 

1996

 

 

 

 

 

66%

 

 

 

 

 

2016

 

 

Renewed 2016

for 25 years until end of 2041

Signatures gathered and City Council adopted with voter protections.

 

 

 

 

 

2041

 

 

 

 

 

2036

 

 

Sonoma

2000

64%

2020

 

 

 

2020

 

 

 

Windsor

 

1998

 

72%

 

Dec. 31,2017

Renewed 2017

for 22 years

 

73%

 

2040

 

2038

 

 

OTHER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonoma County CommunitySeparators

 

 

 

 

1996

 

 

 

 

70%

 

 

 

 

2016

Renewed and tripled in acreage for 20 years to 2036 -

Measure K

 

 

 

 

81%

 

 

 

 

2036

 

 

 

Sonoma County 2020- GP planned for 2018-19

 

 

 

Petaluma/Novato Community Separator

 

 

 

1998

 

 

 

77%

 

 

 

2018

 

Incorporated and renewed with Measure K

 

 

 

 

 

Novato UGB in

Marin County

 

1997

 

 

2017

 

2017

 

73%

 

2042

 

2035

 

 

 

 

 

 

*All UGBs renewed by voters with ballot measure placed by City Council.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Cotati Measure Q renewed UGB from expiration date of 2018 two years early.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the term is from 2018 to 2048 NOT from 2016

 

 

 

Four of the Bay Area’s nine counties have established urban growth boundaries or urban limit lines, and four others have growth regulations that serve a similar/equivalent purpose. The only county without any kind of geographic growth boundary is San Francisco – understandably. 

The UGBs were controversial and divisive the first time around, with environmentalists and communities collecting signatures and campaigning against developers and businesses who claimed that city-centered growth would kill the economy. Now more than 20 years later, UGBs are proven and accepted across the board by planners, communities and most elected officials as successful. 

All nine cities in Sonoma County adopted UGBs more than 20 years ago and most have renewed them once. Most recently voters in Rohnert Park renewed the existing UGB for another 20 years with an unprecedented 90 percent majority. The City of Sonoma is next in line to renew by the end of 2020, but the City Council is wavering due to development pressure to expand into the greenbelt. 

It is likely we will see the need for more UGBs around the state of California, and perhaps, ultimately, what we need is state legislation that requires urban growth boundaries in every jurisdiction as is the case in Washington and Oregon states.

City and County Urban Growth Boundaries in the Bay Area

Alameda County: Alameda County, Dublin, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Pleasanton

Contra Costa County:   Antioch, Contra Costa County, Danville, El Cerrito, Hercules, Martinez, Oakley, Orinda, Pinole, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, San Pablo, San Ramon, Walnut Creek

Marin County:   Marin County, Novato

Napa County:   American Canyon, Napa, St. Helena, Yountville

San Mateo County:   San Mateo 

Santa Clara County:   Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, San Jose

Solano County:    Benicia, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Vallejo, Vacaville

Sonoma County:   Cloverdale, Cotati, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Windsor

 

 

Comments:

Feb 2, 2020
This propaganda makes me sick. If the U.N. would cease the Geo engineering of our weather, via aerosol disbursement of many heavy metals and other toxins and particulates, aka- chemtrails- we wouldn't have: fake drought, wildfires, or the so called Climate Change! This is all based on false science data, provided by the United Nations, AGENDA 21/30. Please educate everyone you know about the Agenda 2130, they plan to Depopulate by 90% by 2025. We for one, DO NOT CONSENT- using our God given rights as American citizens. We have to stand up and fight for our children's future.
- Lorrie Herrell

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