Open Spaces and Green Spaces

Many cities and communities in Sonoma County have policies and goals toward obtaining funding and providing open spaces, green spaces and areas of protected habitat. Petaluma has not had any such policy and it’s time we did. This policy and planning generally occur in a City’s Parks and Recreation function. Our Parks and Recreation function is woefully inadequate and needs to expand and provide a path to begin to build a portfolio of open and green space conservation.

Many are excited about the new nonprofit, ReLeaf, and tree planting and increasing our tree canopy in Petaluma will be beneficial overall. However, this is only one facet of the environmental work Petaluma needs to do. Open space, green space, large and small acreage conservation, parks improvement with habitat enhancement along with public access components, and ensuring habitat connectivity via protecting wildlife corridors are all facets of an environmental policy and protocols that need to be initiated and sustained via the Parks and Recreation function of our City. Active recreation is also a key component of Parks and Recreation, it’s just not the environmental component that is so long overdue to be expanded, further developed and implemented for long-term success.

Susan brings deep experience, including longstanding relationships in conservation in Sonoma County, the Bay Area and State to support the City of Petaluma in modernizing and developing needed policies and procedures to set our City on the path of true conservation. Susan created the High Use-Low Impact Project Design for future open spaces and parks that is included in the City’s Climate Action Framework.

By initiating policy and supporting City staff to pursue open space and green space funding and requiring these efforts to be integrated into proposed residential and commercial development plans, our City Council can support the community voice and community efforts to achieve goals in less time than 12 or 15 years. As important, having clear policy and expressed priorities can lead to less competition and absence of clarity among community groups and citizens, and political lobbying over substantive, dedicated time and action, to save land, open space and green space, and protect habitat and species.

Building a portfolio of open space and green space in Petaluma will have multiple benefits – improved health and well being of our citizens, habitat protection to save the homes of wildlife, birds and species trying to survive in a challenged natural world, preserved wildlife corridors and creation of wildlife crossings. We will be able to enhance and restore habitat and utilize tree planting and grassland preservation for carhon sequestration, while carefully managing human activities through the High Use-Low Impact approach.

The Paula Lane open space project, Paula Lane Nature Preserve, is an ideal example of such practices. The nonprofit, Paula Lane Action Network, sensitive to exceptional habitat, wildlife and birds on this land and in the Paula Lane area, carefully designed and began implementation for low impact public access, habitat enhancement and restoration, sustainable agriculture, volunteer and education programs at the Paula Lane Nature Preserve.

By 2018, 80% of the project was implemented, planned to be complete by November 2019, and over $500,000 had been contributed for the required 1:1 match for the $1,000,050 grant provided by the Open Space District in the Matching Grant Program, 10 years ahead of the project budget schedule. Over 50% of this match represents in-kind volunteer contributions. Community members helping the land and giving to the community and the wild. This land, in an underserved area for open space and parks, has a residential rental component that is intended to provide under market-rate rental housing and generate revenue to sustain property maintenance and the Project.

In this way, communities can receive grant funding to acquire and conserve land when material resources are not available to community members to contribute, but dedication, innovation and the ability to volunteer in community service are.

For many years, PLAN and the City of Petaluma discussed and moved toward a title transfer from the City of Petaluma to a different entity, to partner with PLAN and ensure completion of PLAN’s innovative project and programs. PLAN and the City of Petaluma are Grantees in the Paula Lane open space Matching Grant. PLAN accepted all responsibility and did all of the work, including creating all documentation and terms of the grant agreement with the Open Space District staff. The City of Petaluma has held title to the property. A title transfer to a different public entity is needed, so PLAN can partner with a supportive partner and complete the Project, and provide planned volunteer and education programs.

PLAN has identified 3 public entities, any of whom would be appropriate to accept the property title from the City, relieve the City of responsibilities, and set forth the path to complete PLAN’s Project to provide a wonderful amenity for the community. The Nature Preserve project has long been planned as the environmental education location for Petaluma Junior High School, within walking distance of the property. The community and special protected conservation values (habitat and wildlife) deserve what has been intended and long planned.

So, the Paula Lane Nature Preserve is a model for what can be provided in neighborhoods in Petaluma on various sized lands. Understanding how ineffective the City of Petaluma has been, however, and wrong actions on the part of the City government will help inform moving in a beneficial direction – for the greater community and wildlife of Petaluma, not politics and dysfunction. The City of Petaluma has allowed and has caused much harm to the protected conservation values at the Paula Lane property. Neglect of the property’s habitat, destruction of habitat areas and causing displacement of special status wildlife are just some of the harm. The Paula Lane “case study” reflects absence of policy, inexperience, and dishonesty within Petaluma City government.  With new and appropriate leadership for all of Petaluma, we can change this.

Current issues being discussed in terms of proposed development and harm to our wetlands and habitat areas are important. And stopping harm to land and habitat, holding the City of Petaluma government accountable, and changing internal government practices are also vitally important, so a rotten core is revealed and transformation and permanent change can begin.

For open spaces and green spaces, what are lands near you where you know the threat of development or paving over open space could have devastating and detrimental impacts? In the Paula Lane area of West Petaluma, an additional 7 acres of 2 combined properties could be acquired and conserved, to expand the Paula Lane Nature Preserve to 18 acres, assuring permanent protection of habitat and what remains of the wildlife corridor in this area.

Let’s move in the direction of establishing good policy, with clear City Council direction, to save our open spaces and green spaces, and include this as a priority in residential and development proposals.