On a Nov. 8 ballot filled with hot button issues like legalizing marijuana, banning GMOs and outlawing certain types of lawn-tidying equipment, community separators are like the shy second cousin standing alone in the corner at the family reunion – you’re glad they’re there, but quite frankly, you’d rather talk to Uncle Leafblower.

But voters would be remiss to overlook the County’s measure to extend its law preserving green space between cities – or, “community separators” – which not only conserve open space and valuable corridors for wildlife travel, but are major factors in preventing suburban sprawl and protecting community identity.

Measure K asks voters to renew for 20 years the county provision that protects about 17,000 acres of open space between communities from County-stamped development. What that means is that, under Measure K, the county Board of Supervisors would be unable to remove the green-space protections without voter approval.

Measure K needs a simple majority to pass.

Community separators throughout the county are hardly a new concept. Preservation of this open space dates back to 1989, and the voter-approval provisions were established in the mid-1990s. But this year those provisions are set to expire, hence Measure K and the quest to renew the protections.

Sonoma County currently has eight community separators – among them is the Glen Ellen-Agua Caliente separator, composed of 1,400 acres of open space, including Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

According to Teri Shore, regional director of the Greenbelt Alliance, the prime moving force behind the Measure K campaign, the renewal is an opportunity for “maintaining what we have and preserving our legacy of open space protection.”

While opposition to Measure K hasn’t been fierce, questions have been asked about the wisdom of limiting the County’s options during a housing crisis. Keith Woods, CEO of trade group the North Coast Builders Exchange, has dismissed sprawl as a decades-old argument and that there are already enough protections for preserving open space in the county.

“We should really be focusing on what to do to get out of this housing crisis,” Woods told the Press Democrat last year.

While we agree the housing crisis is a pressing concern, we don’t see loosening the protections of open space as a reasonable solution. Housing advocates stress the importance of developing along transportation corridors, where vehicle miles and other greenhouse-gas producing actions are more limited. Spreading out into rural areas is a practice defined by 1950s and ‘60s development – a paradigm which played no small part in the launch of the environmental movement, an era of unchecked suburbanization to whom few wish to return.

It’s Sonoma County’s protection of ag land and open space that may make “sprawl” seem like a decaying concept, though many would argue it’s quite alive and well.

We think limiting sprawl and protecting our open space and agricultural heritage are key components in a myriad of issues vital to Sonoma County – curbing climate change, ensuring responsible housing development and upholding community character among them.

We recommend a Yes vote on Measure K.

– Jason Walsh, editor

– John Burns, publisher