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General Plan Environmental Justice and Safety Element Updates

The County of Sonoma is updating its General Plan Public Safety Element and developing a new Environmental Justice Element. The project will develop goals and policies to protect the public from unreasonable hazard risks and to prioritize the needs of environmentally burdened and under-resourced communities.

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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 are the goals of the Safety and Environmental Justice General Plan Updates?

Safety Element Goals

  • 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.
  • Comply with all State law requirements for safety elements.

Environmental Justice Goals

  • Identify Environmental Justice (EJ) Communities (called disadvantaged communities by the State).
  • 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.

Equity Working Committee

Permit Sonoma has assembled 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.
Learn more: Equity Working Committee

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is environmental justice?

The State defines environmental justice (EJ) 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 EJ Communities (also known as 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, four areas are State-designated disadvantaged communities:

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

Map of the above areas – from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)

The County recognizes that the State’s designation of disadvantaged communities does not fully represent the environmental and socioeconomic vulnerability of communities in Sonoma County. The County project team and the Equity Working Committee developed a methodology tailored to Sonoma County to identify low income communities with disproportionate environmental burdens. These areas are considered the County’s draft Environmental Justice (EJ) Communities and are located throughout the County.

To view a map of the County’s draft EJ Communities and learn more about the methodology behind it, please review the Environmental Justice Background Report under Project Documents on this webpage.

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:

  • Sign up for General Plan project email updates.
  • Contact the project team with questions.
  • Participate in upcoming engagement opportunities such as surveys, focus groups, public meetings, or other events (dates will be announced via email and posted on this webpage).

Project Documents

Upcoming Events

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

Permit Sonoma will be at the following events in May and June. More events are expected to be added. Come learn more about the project and give us your feedback on how to make Sonoma County healthier and more resilient.

  • Wednesday, May 29, 2024 – West County Fire & Emergency / Public Safety Town Hall
    5:30 to 7:30 pm, Guerneville Elementary School, 1 4630 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville


Project Team

  • Katrina Braehmer and Claudette Diaz, Project Managers
  • Ross Markey, Comprehensive Planning Manager

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