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My Open Space

Many people worry about California becoming “overdeveloped” with sprawling communities of houses built almost on top of each other. We’re committed to NOT letting that happen.

We believe – and many residents, home builders and public agencies do too – that communities that balance human habitats with natural habitats are both vital and valuable.

We include this section as a resource so that you will be able to recognize, enjoy and, if necessary, advocate for open space in your community.

What is Open Space?

“Open space" is a designation commonly used throughout California (as well as other states). Typically open space is defined as a parcel of land in a predominantly open and undeveloped condition that is suitable for any/all of the following:
  • Natural areas
  • Wildlife and native plant habitat
  • Important wetlands or watershed lands
  • Stream corridors
  • Passive, low-impact activities
  • Little or no land disturbance
  • Trails for non-motorized activities

Open space lands may be preserved, enhanced and restored in order to maintain or improve the natural, scenic, ecological, cultural, hydrological, or geological values of the property.

Sites may qualify as “open space” based on any number of criteria. Below we have outlined some typical examples.

  • Natural Resources
  • Archaeological/Historical Resources
  • Passive Recreational and Trails Resources

Natural Resources

Significant sites may include, but are not limited to the following:
  • 1. Community Types
    groups of plants that grow together in recognizable units and are characteristic of different habitats such as riparian areas.
  • 2. Ecological Features
    Unique, underrepresented, or interesting interdependent living systems that exist because of specific limiting factors such as the soils and nutrients, availability of water, climate, etc.
  • 3. Ecosystems Currently Underrepresented in the System
  • 4. Geologic Features
  • 5. Rare or Endangered Species
    Animals and/or plants whose existence is threatened, as defined by State or Federal agencies.
  • 6. Riparian Areas
    Ecological communities existing along river banks, streams, springs, lakes or wetlands that contain unique vegetation and wildlife habitat due to their association with bodies of water.
  • 7. Watersheds
    Watersheds are entire regions in which the precipitation collects and flows into various tributaries or waterways, with each tributary eventually draining into the mainstream of a river.
  • 8. Waterways
    Open water, such as lakes and ponds, riparian areas. Waterways can also relate to the banks of a natural watercourse, rivers, intermittent streams and canals.

Archeological / Historical Resource:

Significant sites must meet certain age criteria (e.g., 75 years, 100 years old) and represent the historical antecedents of the region.

Passive Recreational and Trails Resources:

Sites may include but are not limited to:
  • 1. Existing historical trails
  • 2. Non-motorized activities
  • 3. Rare pieces of remaining land in a community that may be used for community definition
  • 4. Parcels of land that directly contribute to the trail backbone or the primary trail system

What are the rules?

The exact definition of what constitutes “open space” and what lands can be developed varies widely from city to city -- even cities that are within a few miles of each other. What's allowed or included in the “open space zone” of a particular community closely reflects that city/town's history and the goals/values of its residents.

For example, a city with an agricultural heritage may define “open space” as land designated for the cultivation of livestock and agricultural businesses. This city might require a special-use permit to build public parks or golf courses.

A neighboring city may have the same total amount of "open space" in its ecological resource/parks/open space zone. However, it is not agricultural land because that city is not agricultural. Instead, open space there might consist of "passive ecological areas" and "active recreation areas."

To familiarize yourself with the open space element in California State Law governing city/county general plans visit http://www.sonomatrails.org/docs/cagenpln.htm

What can I do?

A good first step is to find out when your city’s open space and conservation plan was adopted or last modified.
Some communities have current open space plans, whereas several were implemented in the 1990s, 1980s and even the 1970s.

You can find out by calling your city’s planning director directly. For his/her contact information go to:
www.calpin.ca.gov/directory/default.asp

The Planner’s Book of Lists is also an excellent resource:  http://www.calpin.ca.gov/archives/

The other thing you can do is visit communities that feature open space elements.
Our web site includes links to open space communities RR has worked on as well as home builders that CARE about the natural/human balance.

Once you see what a difference open space makes to overall quality of life, we know you’ll want to join the crusade!