Open for business

Sacramento County officials are beginning to worry that Sacramento’s historic reluctance to protect its wild grasslands, vernal pools and farmland is bad for business.

According to a report presented by the county planning department to the Sacramento Board of Supervisors earlier this month, open space is one way to attract and keep high-paying jobs in the region.

The report says that cities such as Portland, Oregon, Austin, Texas and the Bay Area have recognized “that open space resources are a quality of life component that fuel successful economic engines.”

It goes on to say that if the county doesn’t get serious about preserving open space, it is liable to be sorely out-competed by greener cities.

Sacramento County has historically been viewed as a developer, rather than a guardian, of open space. Now officials are hoping to change that image with the announcement of a new open space vision for Sacramento County. The effort is in its very early stages, but planners have mapped several areas of the county—particularly in the south, east and the area north of North Natomas—where open space could be protected, and, more important, have identified a number of possible funding sources, including grants from the Packard Foundation and millions of dollars in park money created by Propositions 12 and 13.

Among the most difficult challenges to any open space policy will be to set aside unbroken corridors of open space that are large enough to preserve wildlife habitat, and to combat the effect that rampant speculation by developers has had on land prices, making it difficult to purchase acreage for preservation.

Open space advocates are impatient to put the brakes on suburban sprawl and preserve what’s left of Sacramento’s untrammeled acres, but many are impressed with the county’s early efforts.

“There isn’t a lot of time. But the overall interest in open space on the part of the county right now is great,” said Aimee Rutledge with the Sacramento Valley Open Space Conservancy, a private nonprofit organization that works to protect open space.