Cows graze on grass at the Stemple Creek Ranch on April 24, 2014 in Tomales, California.

The rich agricultural lands that surround Bay Area cities make up the Bay Area greenbelt, a landscape that owes its existence to decades of conservation efforts. A report released Tuesday by the Greenbelt Alliance, a group dedicated to the protection of these lands, finds that an area almost 10 times the size of San Francisco could be developed in a generation. As Bay Area housing demand continues to grow, we’ll hear about the report and strategies to protect it from the forces of urban sprawl.

More Information:

Greenbelt Alliance website
Read the Report

Jeremy Madsen, CEO, Greenbelt Alliance
Andrea Mackenzie, general manager, Open Space Authority of Santa Clara Valley

  • wandagb

    “Smart growth” as others have noted makes as much sense championing ‘smart cancer.’
    Any discussion of “urban sprawl” in the Bay Area and California must look at the source of the population growth driving the sprawl. Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) attributes almost 100% of the state’s growth to immigrants and their children.*

    Unless immigration numbers come down there can be no solution to the sprawl problem, and we will be forced to stand by and witness the growing ugliness of what was once one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

    Greenbelt Alliance has noble intents, but its silence on this issue guarantees its long term failure.


    • Most of the “immigrants” — 95% — are other Americans moving to California for the greater opportunity and social freedom and justice that they perceive as uniquely California (and in so many ways, they are right about that). Were California more like the states they are leaving, logically they would stay put. Pray it never comes to that.

    • jskdn

      Wilful blindness to expected harm can result in criminal charges or civil liabilities. And about 99% of the elites in this state are guilty of that regarding population and the housing shortage.

  • Kevin Skipper

    Bovine herds or hipster throngs. Cow manure or horse sh*t. You choose your spoon.

  • Student

    Where&how do they propose keeping the bay area affordable to the middle class? How long should working class commutes be? Is there a practical way to add housing with minimal effect on the greenbelt?

    • Affen_Theater

      Infill redevelopment adds lots of housing with no effect on greenbelt.

      Redwood City is a great example of this with thousands of housing units recently built, under construction or in the planning pipeline:

    • Student

      Also, is this a “divide and conquer” thing? There seems to be some stuff happening nationally.

  • John

    If there were less illegal immigrants we would have a lot more affordable housing

    • Kevin Skipper

      Yeah? Who would clean them, paint them and landscape the grounds? Perhaps these communities would be interested in offering employment opportunities to domestic populations like, say, urban black males recently released from the PIC for non-violent infractions?

      • wandagb

        Right on!
        As the morally blind Southerners said in 1863, “But who will pick the cotton?” Can’t never have enough ‘cheap’ labor.
        Of course, these noble, cheap immigrants grow older and need to be replaced by even more for the ever growing population.
        Google the phrase “Ponzi Scheme”

  • Ben Rawner

    Urban sprawl? The effort to curtail building is directly responsible for the current outrageous cost of housing in the bay. It’s great that these rich people can pat each other in the back while the average Jane and Joe struggle to find quality living spaces for their families.

    • LF

      I’ve lived here my whole life and can’t afford to own, but still don’t want sprawl. I cherish the landscape and want smart growth–infill–it’s different and possible!

  • Noelle

    We need more dense housing, not sprawl. Of course NIMBYs don’t want dense housing in their neighborhoods.

  • jmbri1

    Infill development is a rational solution to address the Bay Area affordable housing issues while also protecting our greenbelt.

  • Kevin Skipper

    The challenge in Santa Clara Valley has a lot to do with sprawl from both San Jose and Santa Cruz Counties balanced against the threat of certain urban populations affecting the delicate ethnic and cultural balances in suburban agricultural regions. Seems like most of the smart growth plans favor a more centralized, high-density approach in favor of our traditional sprawling municipal build-outs.

  • Brian Sal Corral

    How are we working with tbese natturally occurring tendencies? Cities grow up or out. Upward is rental for professional out is for families.

  • Kevin Skipper

    I agree with the guest that development in response to sea-level rise is unrealistic and retroactive.

  • i_witness

    Every potential infill development will draw NIMBY. How can these denser developments benefit those who would surely oppose it?

    • Kevin Skipper

      I agree. NIMBY presumes the feasibility of the nuclear, single-family home with a lawn and a yard. If we want to enjoy the Bay Area in the future, we’re going to have to learn to share, and fast!

      • LF

        I disagree, y’all. There are plenty of places that will tolerate and even welcome infill and density. People want walkability; young people like denser cities than isolating suburban expanses. It can be done well. Right now they’re filling in with parking lots and big box stores. Nobody wants these but they’re building them anyway. Example: the old orchard by the old IBM near Cottle Road.

        • Kevin Skipper

          Right on LF. I think this crowd is pretty pro- infill.

          • i_witness

            I’m not against density or infill at all – quite the contrary. By all means, densify before sprawl. What I’m saying is that many existing residents do not see the value of density to them because they’ve got theirs and density only brings impacts, like traffic, noise, strangers, but they overlook the benefits like driving less, more retail/entertainment choices.

          • LF

            Don’t look to the Palo Altos, the Menlo Parks, but rather San Jose, maybe Fremont, Santa Clara, where there isn’t established neighborhoods with so much character.

        • Kevin Skipper

          I support the idea as well. Although no approach is perfect, increasing urban density not only has potential to limit sprawl but could also be a solution to offering more equal access to various public services and resources.

  • For once it would be useful for advocates on both sides to identify precisely the individuals pushing their respective positions, so they can be held accountable. I believe the opponents of sprawl do a good job of this. But the developers always are hiding behind spokespersons, lawyers, and public relations/lobbying firms. Always. We let Broad and the rest get away with turning L.A. into a parking lot with suburbs. After the fact, we endowed them with special premonitions. But all they did was get wealthy at the expense of the environment and communities. Had we known them personally beforehand, we — the rest of us — might have been able to cajole or prevent their predations. We didn’t on either count.

  • Pete Normandin

    We can’t continue to build out. We have to build up–but include smart transport infrastructure to get people where they need to go. With building up, we can’t build up into “The Projects”-type of tall buildings. They have to be appealing to low- medium- and high-income potential residents, include schools and rec. areas, shopping, etc. Thanks!

    • Hillary Clintub

      We could probably cover the entire surface of the earth with vertical cities in no time if we tried. Huge floating cities in the Pacific, anyone? Of course, we couldn’t allow them to dispose of their wastes anywhere on the planet, though.

  • JohanNilsenNagel

    Elephant in the room = Population Control. Time to stop promoting population growth through unfettered procreation.

    • Kevin Skipper


      So, you’re promoting the Elephant? Seems like your definition of population growth favors a certain ‘Hitlerian’ approach.

      • JohanNilsenNagel

        Sure, why not Kev. Elephants, animals, fish, the ocean, grass, rocks, trees, minus humans = Bliss. Humans are a scourge, an you know it.

        • Kevin Skipper

          Perhaps. In my view, humanity, as the collective result of all these organisms, must deal constructively with the problems that we face. Our own self-destruction does not excuse us from this cosmic responsibility. The only effective result would be a huge mess with no custodian. Life doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to leave this thing until we find a way to make it better than it was when we found it.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Those unwilling to contribute are free to try their luck terraforming Mars.

          • JohanNilsenNagel

            “A huge mess with no custodian” seems how the universe operates to me. Unless of course you believe in the Great Cosmic Custodian _____ (fill in the blank of your favorite God). Whatever makes you feel more comfortable. It’s quiet possible “humanity” is a giant accident. Something to consider. Either-way, we’re all on borrowed time here, and let’s try and be good custodians, but let’s also not confuse custodianship (looking after) with management (i.e. control).

          • Kevin Skipper

            I would fill in the blank with “consciousness” without which, the universe and it’s analogues are nothing. In consciousness, there is no accident. Only cause and effect. If our lines of causality lack the necessary connecting points, then we, through intelligence must account for that which has yet to be revealed or, perhaps, re-learned.

            I agree with your closing point. Discernment is key.

          • Hillary Clintub

            Please explain how you can have “custodianship” without management. Wouldn’t that involve a cull when population densities got too large? That’s what they do in our National Parks. Even companies have culls when they lay off employees they can’t support.

          • JohanNilsenNagel

            I’m trying to make a distinction between stewards of land versus developers. Custodianship connotes taking care of something, or guarding it, versus management, which implies active reconstruction of a site to fit a particular design or agenda. A custodian of a child isn’t their parent. Ideally, a custodian guides and suggests directions whereas a manager orders and directs. In the banking world, a legal custodian can oversee buying and selling of investments for an individual or corporation, but they don’t actually buy or sell investments without custodian’s approval. Obviously things get blurry when we’re discussing forest management, or culling of invasive species in park lands. On one extreme you have capitalist minded land developers (who will fight tooth and nail for their livelihoods at the expense of the greater common good), and on the other, the Deep Ecology Movement which does not see the earth as a resource to be exploited by humans and, so advocate varying degrees of non-human intervention. Where do you stand?

    • California has vast underpopulated regions. Were the state to promote innovative regional development in locales other than the Bay Area, L.A., and San Diego, population growth would be less of a concern, more of an asset. Judicious planning would be required to blend new development with existing environmental conditions and land uses, but this has been done throughout Canada and Europe, so it’s not as if it can’t be done. It can be done. Relying only on the market to come up with such a strategy has so far proven fruitless, however. The State of California’s official should incorporate this strategy and us if to frame all future land-use and economic policies.

      • JohanNilsenNagel

        Agreed. Government does need to lead the way. And that’s why “unfettered” anything is a disastrous economic policy in the long run. Problem is most people think short term, and of themselves only. Greenbelts and open space are hugely important for the mental and physical well-being of our communities. Vital in fact. Wherever you see overcrowding, you find misery, crime, and unhappiness. Multipronged solutions here: Regional growth outside of cities (smart growth — no more shopping malls and track homes), organic farming and grocery stores that sell local produce, environmental restrictions on polluting industries, clean energy, AND information, public support and education that not only accepts, but advocates smaller families and single people who choose not to have children. More support for elderly people too, who need to feel a part of any community for there to be a healthy community (i.e. more respect from youth towards elders). Better leadership.

    • Hillary Clintub

      Or unfettered immigration.

  • Gibarian

    Do we need to devolve into this perennial fear-mongering promoted by special interests masquerading as the general welfare? Should we ignore the acres upon acres of protected land in the Bay Area and complex land use machinery that is in place including thousand-page-long environmental assessments of future growth areas.

    Should we also not be skeptical of the conflict of interest in those who promote limited growth because it inflates their own property values through scarcity and how it at a tremendous social and economic cost to the least privileged of the “we” they claim to protect by conjuring up strawmen of unrealistic development proposals?

    And why not provide balanced journalism through critics of the report instead of regurgitating pseudo-scientific-studies promoted by whatever PR consultant hired by the money they took as a donation to save whatever was on the pity-picture who manages to charm a gullible underpaid KQED staffer looking to increase clicks?

  • DFinMA

    The problem is we have too many people and the problem is getting worse.

    • Hillary Clintub

      Nah, San Francisco doesn’t have ENOUGH people. That’s why they declared themselves a sanctuary city. They want even more people, especially non-Americans and the homeless, packed into their limited allotted area. If they used cattle prods to pack them in, I’ll bet San Francisco could get at least another thirty or forty million people in there. They could aspire to rival Beijing and Mumbai with all the quality of life those cities enjoy.

  • LF

    I often hear the same argument from our friends from the east coast or where not, as the gentleman who called in expressed it, to paraphrase: ‘I look around and see so much open space; why the concern for it?’ Their tone is incredulous, slightly dismissive. My answer is: please don’t compare us to whence you came. You’ve just caught a glimpse of the spirit of the west. We don’t want it to get to be otherwise and we’re defending it because resources are not inexhaustible!


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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