NR 2004-21
July 1, 2004

Contact: Anita Gore
Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


SACRAMENTO – Low-density rural development occupies a larger area than previously documented in Sonoma County, according to a new map released by the California Department of Conservation, while urbanization and vineyard development rates slowed.

Urban land increased by more than 2,700 acres between 2000 and 2002, while irrigated farmland increased by slightly more than 1,000 acres. Grazing and rangeland experienced a net decrease of more than 20,000 acres, primarily due to more detailed mapping of rural “ranchettes” throughout the county. While some of the low-density uses were new, a significant portion had been developed in previous years and is now visible using high-resolution digital photography.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, documents land-use conversion on 45.8 million acres of California’s private and public land every two years. The maps and statistics are designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions. The 2002 analysis is nearly complete statewide, while 2004 mapping is underway.

“This information helps counties and cities see the patterns and make informed choices about how they want to direct growth in the future,” Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young said. “The population of California will continue to grow, and it’s vital that we ensure there’s enough room for people and agriculture.”

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program classifies land as either farmland (prime being the best of four types of farmland), grazing land, urban land, other land or water. The “other” category includes low-density "ranchettes," wetlands, and brush or timberlands unsuitable for grazing.

In Sonoma County, according to the most recent FMMP report, 2,711 acres were urbanized. Since the 1990 FMMP survey, the county has gained 12,592 urban acres. The irrigated farmland acreage increase of 1,052 acres in 2000-2002 – primarily due to vineyard planting – is significantly smaller than the increases noted in the late 1990s. As of 2002, irrigated acreage in Sonoma County occupied 19,632 acres more than it did in 1990.

Looking to the future, cities within Sonoma County reported that nearly 900 acres have been committed to future non-agricultural use due to the approval of subdivision maps, the sale of bonds for infrastructure, or other permanent commitments.

Examples of recent urbanization in Sonoma County include the new Vintana 2 homes and new Vintage Oaks Park and homes, a total of about 45 acres in Windsor; the 110-acre Fountaingrove development in Santa Rosa; the 45-acre Broadway Business Park in Sonoma; a 40-acre addition to the Rancho de Amigos development in Cloverdale; and a 25-acre driving range in Petaluma.

The agricultural land in Sonoma County will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects that the county’s population will increase from about 465,000 in 2000 to more than 628,000 by 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of Sonoma County’s agricultural production was more than $568 million in 2002, ranking it 16th among California’s 58 counties.

The maps have been sent to county planning officials and organizations such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, city planners, irrigation districts and county resource conservation districts. Printed copies, enlargements, or digital versions of the maps are available to the public. Call (916) 324-0859 or email for more information.

The latest statewide study by the FMMP, Farmland Conversion Report 1998-2000, was released last June. More than 91,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state – a 30-percent increase from the 1996-98 mapping cycle – and 27 percent of that total came from irrigated farmland.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use. The California Farmland Conservancy

Program makes grants available to local governments, land trusts or resource conservation districts to purchase permanent agricultural conservation easements from willing landowners. These easements prohibit future development. Farmland Security Zone and Williamson Act contracts provide potential tax benefits to landowners who commit to keeping their land in agricultural use for periods of 20 or 10 years, respectively.