The Bay Area's natural beauty is world renowned. Our parks are stunningly beautiful and enjoyed by countless residents and visitors. The East Bay hills, North Bay farmlands and vineyards, and remaining open space of the South Bay are among the defining elements of our region's character. That character is being eroded, however, despite real gains in protecting open space. Significant amounts of open land in the Bay Area have already been lost to sprawl and more land is being developed right now. Today, almost 500,000 acres of open land are at risk of development.
NRDC analysts looked at published data on the amount of land developed in the last 10 years, the amount protected, the acreage currently at risk of development, and the acreage that private and public interests hope to protect over the coming decade. Most of the data were published by Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area land-conservation and urban-planning group.
Between 1990 and 1998, the amount of Bay Area land classified as urban increased from 693,000 acres to 740,000 acres. Moreover, the rate of development increased dramatically at the end of the period: from 1996 to 1998, the total area converted to urban use was 35 percent higher than the area converted in the previous two years.
On the positive side, aggressive efforts by local land trusts and open-space acquisition agencies have helped bring the current total of permanently protected lands to about 1 million acres -- almost 25 percent of the region's total acreage. The acreage already protected ranges from 5,831 acres in San Francisco to about 172,000 acres in Marin. State and local agencies have estimated that more than 1 million additional acres still need protection to counter the stresses on open space, preserve this essential element of our quality of life, and support this key component of a healthy economy. Statewide, tourism and recreation generate billions of dollars annually.
Of our remaining acres of open space, nearly half a million are currently at risk of development, according to Greenbelt Alliance, including 106,657 acres in Contra Costa County -- 22.8 percent of its total acreage, the highest percentage in the Bay Area. Almost 240,000 acres are at high risk (meaning under immediate threat of development), with Contra Costa again having the highest percentage of its acreage in that category, 12.8 percent, followed by Solano at 8 percent. In total, the combined acreage of Bay Area open lands at risk of being developed over the next 30 years is the equivalent of 16 San Franciscos.