The Deal of the Decade: OSD Support for Lafferty Park

Petaluma’s proposal to sell the development rights for the 270 acre Lafferty Ranch property, in order to secure funds for opening the park, presents a tremendous opportunity for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District. With a preliminary decision by the Board of Supervisors imminent, Friends of Lafferty Park wants District officials and staff to understand the very powerful case for approval of that application.

Lafferty Park is a uniquely valuable land. It offers unmatched mountaintop panoramas of the North Bay, the year-round waters of Adobe creek, and wonderful topographic and botanic diversity. Hiking trails will weave throughout, including a half-mile wheelchair accessible trail to a vista point 1200 feet above the Petaluma Valley.

Lafferty Park is supported by current County Plans. Since 1964, the County (and City) General Plans have proposed a nature park at the Lafferty location. Lafferty is in the middle of the OSD's largest priority greenbelt and priority recreation zones. A 1974 County Recreation Report said “the character of the site would invite county-wide use."

Lafferty Park will be a Sonoma County treasure Lafferty lies within a short drive of Sonoma County’s major cities. It's no further from downtown Santa Rosa than Hood Mountain Regional Park, and as close to Cotati as to west Petaluma. Think of it this way: Petaluma, with OSD help, is creating a park for the whole County.

The County, especially the South County, is short of open space parklands. County studies presented in the Draft Outdoor Recreation Plan show the South County/Petaluma area with the county's largest deficit in open space park acreage (1,782 acres needed by the year 2010, out of a total countywide deficit of 4,843 acres.) The need for more parks like Lafferty has been indicated in every independent and unbiased public opinion poll.

Lafferty is a turnkey park project. It has a completed EIR and Management Plan, access from an existing two-lane County road, support from its management agency, and a large, enthusiastic volunteer support group.

Lafferty Park is an extremely cost-effective project. On an aquisition dollar per acre basis, it’s 20% the cost of the Galvin Ranch offer, and 2% the cost of the Paulin Creek project. That’s because it’s already public land!

The District has already purchased development rights on public-owned property. In one case, it bought development rights on a portion of the State of California’s 290 acre Sonoma Development Center, with the laudable goal of opening that land to public enjoyment for the first time. In another, it purchased them from the Bodega Bay Fire District. And no public agency has been asked by the OSD to donate rights anywhere near the $700,000 to $1 million value of Lafferty's development rights.

Lafferty Park is not already protected, and will not open to the people of Sonoma County without this purchase. The City, with over $700,000 into the project, has exhausted its resources. Without OSD funding, there’s no money to open the park. Without a park, there’s little reason for the City to keep the property. A simple majority of a cash-strapped Petaluma City Council could at any time sell Lafferty for development of four estate homes.

Failure to approve this purchase, and letting Lafferty Park die, sets a dangerous precedent. First, it validates and will thus encourage the “SMC strategy” for preventing new rural parks. Petaluma’s EIR consultant warned that other jurisdictions are worried that defeat of Lafferty Park would have a “chilling effect” on rural open space park projects statewide.

Second, it reinforces a public perception that the District puts the desires of elite landowners over the needs of the vast majority of taxpayers. To date, 2nd District residents have paid over $23 million into the OSD, with less than $.5 million going toward projects with recreation potential. Denial of the City’s application in this, the most visible of OSD controversies, will more than any other District decision put voter re-authorization of the District at risk.

In summary, it’s hard to imagine a better use of OSD funds. Given the need and historic support for, and the great value of Lafferty Park, approval of the City’s application should be given fast track status. Funding the Lafferty Park development rights purchase, together with County support for right-of-way issues and traffic calming measures on Sonoma Mountain Road, will enable the citizens of Sonoma County to soon enjoy this wonderful treasure.

Friends of Lafferty Park -- April 2, 2002 -- -- 707.793.2244

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