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Environmental Justice and Safety Element Updates to the General Plan

The County of Sonoma is updating its Environmental Justice and Safety Element policies to incorporate into the current General Plan 2020. The project will develop policies to protect the public from unreasonable hazard risks and to prioritize the needs of environmentally burdened communities.  

Background on the General Plan  

A General Plan is a comprehensive, long-term community vision that guides land use, physical development, and public action within a city or county through a set of objectives and policies.  

Senate Bill 1000, signed into law in 2016, mandates that local agencies designate low-income communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental burdens (“disadvantaged communities”), and adopt environmental justice goals, objectives, and policies into the General Plan to address the unique or compounded health risks in these areas. The County is preparing environmental justice policies simultaneously with the Safety Element update. 

All jurisdictions in California are required to have a Safety Element as part of their General Plan. Sonoma County’s current Public Safety Element was adopted in 2014 and addresses protection from geologic hazards, flood hazards, wildland fire, and hazardous materials. The Safety Element update will incorporate and build upon the findings of the recently updated Sonoma County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan to identify known hazards, assess vulnerability, and develop goals, policies, and strategies to protect people and property.  

What will the Safety and Environmental Justice General Plan Updates do? 

Safety Element  

  • Identify known hazards and risks in the County, and assess vulnerability to hazards; 
  • Evaluate the County’s vulnerability to climate change and propose strategies for climate resilience, with a special focus on adaptation for disadvantaged communities; 
  • Evaluate the capacity, safety, and viability of potential evacuation routes and locations under a range of emergency scenarios; 
  • Identify residential developments that do not have at least two emergency evacuation routes;  
  • Create policies for equitable community safety; and 
  • Comply with all State law requirements for safety elements. 

 Environmental Justice  

  • Identify disadvantaged communities;  
  • Assess vulnerability to pollution and other environmental burdens in those communities;  
  • Create policies to invest in the health, safety, and resilience of disadvantaged communities;  
  • Create policies to strengthen meaningful civic engagement in the planning process;  
  • Comply with all State law requirements for environmental justice elements.  

What is environmental justice? 

The State defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of people of all races, cultures, incomes, and national origins, with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” (Government Code § 65040.12(e)).  

What are disadvantaged communities? 

State environmental agencies designate certain areas of California as “disadvantaged communities” using CalEnviroScreen, a mapping tool that depicts the census tracts in California that are most affected by pollution and other health risks. Census tracts receiving the highest 25 percent of overall scores in CalEnviroScreen and all lands under the control of federally recognized Tribes are designated as disadvantaged. In the unincorporated area of Sonoma County, three areas are State-designated disadvantaged communities:  

  • The Stewarts Point Rancheria. 
  • The Dry Creek Rancheria.  
  • Census Tract 6097153200 (unincorporated southwest Santa Rosa). 

For a map of these areas, please visit the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) website.  

The County recognizes that the State’s designation of disadvantaged communities may not fully represent the environmental and socioeconomic vulnerability of communities in Sonoma County. Based on public input obtained throughout the community engagement process, the County’s designation of disadvantaged communities is expected to be refined. 

How can I participate in the update process? 

Diverse public input is crucial to ensure the policies and programs resulting from the update process reflect the priorities and values of Sonoma County’s residents and workers. 

Here are some ways to get involved: 

Permit Sonoma is assembling an Equity Working Committee (EWC) composed of community members and led by County staff to help shape the General Plan environmental justice policies and Permit Sonoma’s various risk reduction planning projects for wildfire and other hazards. The goal is to center the experience of under-resourced and under-represented communities to foster more equitable community resilience. Members of the EWC will advise staff, review draft concepts, serve as community ambassadors to help publicize engagement events, and participate in the planning effort. While the committee is not a decision-making body, members’ experiences and expertise will support a more inclusive process that elevates voices most impacted by environmental justice.  

Upcoming Events 

Please register for email updates and check this space for any upcoming meetings or engagement events. 

Resources 

Current General Plan Public Safety Element (2014) 

Read the County’s current Public Safety Element.   

Sonoma County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan (2021) 

Review the County’s most recent Hazard Mitigation Plan, which includes hazard information and maps, and a list of potential mitigation strategies. 

Project Team 

Katrina Braehmer, Project Manager