Next week we have the chance to advance the most important greenbelt policy protections in Sonoma County in decades.

Longstanding voter protections for community separators are set to expire this year, so the County of Sonoma is proposing to renew them for another 30 years and to add designations to lands that remain at risk of inappropriate development.

This includes land proposed by the Sonoma Ecology Center in the Sonoma Valley wildlife corridor, the hills above Sonoma, and farm lands along Arnold Drive southwest of town.

As a recent Sonoma Index-Tribune editorial cartoon illustrated, community separators are green buffers between our towns and cities. They include public and private open space, rural lands and agricultural land.

The Glen Ellen-Agua Caliente Community Separator is one of eight community separators designated in Sonoma County that can’t be turned into housing tracts or shopping malls. It contains 1,400 acres of oak woodlands, vineyards, organic farms, parks and nature preserves along scenic Highway 12 – including Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

The purpose of community separators is three-fold – they serve as green buffers between cities and towns, contain urban development, and preserve the rural charm of our landscape. The county’s eight existing community separators cover 17,000 acres of natural and agricultural lands. These policies complement the cities’ urban growth boundaries by safeguarding adjacent unincorporated lands.

The proposed Community Separator additions will protect as many as 50,000 additional acres of green buffers and farmlands from subdivision and sprawl.

When it comes to the housing crisis, we don’t need to build in our greenbelts or farmlands. It is far better for people and the environment for most of us to live and work within the boundaries of our cities, towns and priority development areas. In fact, in Sonoma County more than 10,000 units of housing have been approved but never built, due to a number of market factors – not because of greenbelt protection.

Now is the time to speak out for maintaining what we have and preserving our legacy of open space protection.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will review and finalize the community separators renewal and expansion on Tuesday, July 19. The item is expected to come up at 2:30 p.m.

We need to let the Board of Supervisors know that we support the community separators renewal and additions. Then we will all get the chance to vote on community separators in the November 2016 general election.

Teri Shore is the North Bay regional director of the Greenbelt Alliance.