Bring Open Space-Lafferty deal to a vote

Last June, the Petaluma City Council formally requested the Board of Supervisors to support a request that the Sonoma County Open Space District purchase the development rights for Lafferty Ranch in order to move forward the long-delayed opening of the proposed public wilderness park.

South county Supervisor Mike Kerns said before he was re-elected last month that he supports the request and agreed to bring the proposal to a vote of the board. Now it appears that the plan has the necessary support of three of the five supervisors. But the window of opportunity is closing, as one of them -- Sonoma Valley Supervisor Mike Cale -- will be retiring soon due to health reasons.

We were pleased to hear Kerns' pre-election commitment supporting the opening of Lafferty to the public -- and the purchase of development rights by the OSD to help the city in its efforts to open the park. Kerns, who is currently chairman of the board, now has a golden opportunity to follow through on that commitment. If the issue is not agendized for next week's board meeting, the long-overdue opening of Lafferty could be delayed even further.

The purchase of development rights would not only facilitate the opening of this 270-acre city-owned property, but it would help to rectify the woeful lack of publicly accessible open space in the south county. It would give Petaluma residents something to show for the more than $13 million they have contributed to the Open Space District fund (through a quarter-cent sales tax) over the past 10 years. And it would send a message to the mountain landowners that it's time to discontinue their legal opposition and start working with the city in its efforts to open Lafferty to the public.

The purchase of development rights would guarantee that even if the city sold the land in the future, it would never be developed. Considering the city's current financial straits, it's possible that a future council could decide they have to sell the property. This move would discourage that from ever happening. It is the best way to preserve Lafferty as both open space and for passive recreational use.

Lafferty has long been designated as a park site in county and city plans. Its meadows, forests and panoramic views make it prime recreational property in an area sorely lacking in public nature parks. Lafferty has a completed EIR and a volunteer organization ready to pitch in with their support. With the help of the Open Space District and the support of the supervisors, Lafferty could be opened for the public to enjoy.

We support Mike Kerns' commitment to bring forward the application for the Open Space District to purchase the development rights for the city's Lafferty Ranch property. And we urge the Open Space District staff to complete the necessary documents so that this important matter can be brought to the Board of Supervisors for a vote this month.

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