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Sonoma County Ag+Open Space


Bill Hocker | Nov 21, 2018 on: Sonoma County

Napa Vision 2050 has just sent out an email which among other concerns cites this article from the Sonoma Press Democrat: Report: Sonoma Countyís natural resources worth billions

The report was a product of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preserve + Open Space District.The Ag+Open Space District webpage devoted to the report is here
The report itself is here

As usual, I was quite unaware of the situation in the county next door. It was a revelation that Sonoma's Ag+Open Space District, created by voters in 1990, seems to represent a wholistic approach to natural resource value and protection that has eluded Napa with its company-town mentality toward the wine industry. By comparison to the lofty and often ignored visions of the Napa County General Plan, and the feeble efforts of the County to mitigate but not challenge the development goals of the wine/tourism industries in the face of public resistance and potential resource depletion, Sonoma's Ag+Open Space District seems to place a "highest and best" value on Sonoma's "natural capital" beyond just its use as cropland or a scenic stage set for tourism.

While the District seems to embody the characteristics and purposes of Napa's Land Trust in its effort to preserve the natural character of the county through acquisition and conservation easements, the Ag+Open Space District is, in fact, an agency of the Sonoma County Government, with a substantial staff, overseen by the Board of Supervisors, giving the County a broader view when advancing the regulation of agricultural and tourism development. Unlike the Napa Land Trust, which pointedly refrains from any political controversy over land use (particularly over Measure C), the Ag+Open Space District is an adjunct to that political process and its concern in maintaining the natural character of the county should act as a counterweight to the desire for unregulated agricultural and tourism development.

As other posts on the SCR Sonoma County page attest, Sonoma also has its share of community resistance to the aggressive expansion of the wine/tourism industries parallel to that happening in Napa. The Ag+Open Space District isn't a panacea. But as this report shows, the county has the means through the District to concern itself with bigger issues than just the success of one industry - unlike the focused concern on the health of the wine industry which so occupies the Napa County government.

The report itself, which places a monetary value on things intrinsically hard to value, natural beauty, carbon sequestration, water quality, pollination (a lot!) and of course recreation and tourism, seems like it would be open to claims of biased discretion in making an economic case for natural land protection. There are case studies tied to the report with the numerical analyses used to produce expert opinions as to the valuations. As I have ranted about elsewhere, reality and expert opinion are not the same thing. But, hopefully, the valuations that this report has produced will stand the test of competition from experts with even more money to tout the economic benefits of urbanization. It is a shame that no government body and its citizenry, in this capitalist nation, is simply willing to decide that protecting the natural environment of a place is simply a moral imperative, a blessing to the human soul, regardless of the economic loss or benefit. A report with a dollar value is necessary.

What was illuminating to me about the report is that Sonoma County has a governmental body that looks at land use beyond just the economic interest of particular industries, and that agriculture is not defined as the highest and best use of the land, but that instead the natural capital of the county, Godís own creation unspoiled by human exploitation, may have a higher value. The report is a collaboration with two other Bay Area Counties, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. Napa County should endeavor to be a partner in the next update.