California is the sixth-fastest developing state in the nation. Much of this recent growth has taken place in the Bay Area, in the form of development that extends farther and farther from existing urban boundaries, sprawling suburban-style subdivisions, "ranchettes" or rural estates, and related construction. This poorly planned development has led to loss of productive farmland and open space, destruction of wetlands and other important wildlife habitats, and endangerment of plants and animals. In addition, it has caused people to drive more -- leading not only to the traffic jams that increasingly torment Bay Area residents, but also adding more and more pollutants to the air.
In all Bay Area counties except San Francisco, significant areas of unprotected open space are now threatened by potential development -- in many cases, urgently. High-risk areas are found in every county (though San Francisco has by far the smallest acreage) and include such major "hot spots" as the Tri-Valley area that straddles Alameda and Contra Costa counties, San Jose's Coyote Valley, and southern Napa County. If even half of the 490,525 acres of open land now at risk is lost to sprawling development, the result will be extensive, Los Angeles-style urbanization of the region, construction on most of the remaining flatlands and large portions of the scenic hillsides and croplands, increased traffic congestion, and further loss of wetlands and other habitat for local wildlife.
As population in the region continues to grow, development pressure will increase and open space will likely be both more valued and more valuable. It is critical, therefore, that we use all tools available to protect open space and reduce development pressures.
Significant acreage has already received permanent protection. These parks and other protected areas are critical to the Bay Area's property values and economic growth, and they provide scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, and recreational amenities. Additional open lands must be permanently protected in order to guarantee that they are kept in trust for future generations.
Moreover, growth does not have to equal sprawl. Smart planning offers many promising alternatives, some of which are already in use here as well as in other areas around the country, such as establishing urban growth boundaries, concentrating development where schools, roads, and sewer lines are already in place and near public transit, and reinvesting in urban communities.