Caryl Hart

Caryl Hart

Former county parks director will serve while national job search is conducted

A new interim leader has been chosen by the county Board of Supervisors to take the county’s Agricultural and Open Space District into a new decade, and possibly on a slightly altered course than its previous 30 years.

Sebastopol resident Caryl Hart was announced as the interim general manager of the Sonoma County Agriculture + Open Space District Tuesday afternoon. Hart is the former director of Sonoma County Regional Parks and will be taking over as interim general manager on Dec. 1.

The board of directors of the district are expected to begin searching for a general manager in January, and are expected to be completed with the process by the end of April.

Hart is filling in following the departure of Bill Keene, who served in the position for 11 years and who announced his resignation last month. His planned departure immediately rekindled some long term debates about the land preservation priorities of the public, tax-supported agency. Some agriculture interests favor saving productive ag lands over passive landscapes or public access lands. Others argue for increasing holdings of lands that are open to public access and light recreation.

Hart served for 13 years as a member of the California State Parks Commission, including seven years as chair. In 2014, Hart was appointed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the Parks Forward Commission to assist in forming a sustainable path forward for the California State Park System. From 2010 to 2017, she served as director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

She also holds a doctorate in environmental science - policy and management from the University of California Berkeley, a law degree from the University of San Francisco Law School and received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University.

While she was director of Sonoma County Regional Parks, Hart oversaw the failed Measure J, which was proposed on the November 2016 ballot to help fund regional parks. The initiative, going from a proposed half-cent sales tax to a one-eighth cent tax, was placed back on the ballot in 2018 as Measure M and passed. Though Hart had left Regional Parks, she was a strong advocate for Measure M, dubbed the “Parks for All” measure.

Hart had previously been considered a finalist to be named to the permanent position along with Melanie Parker, the current Regional Parks deputy director and Andrea Krout, from Supervisor David Rabbitt’s staff. After further personnel talks, the supervisors have since announced a national search.

Formed in 1990 by the county voters, the Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space District has leveraged $431 million in sales tax collections to acquire the preservation rights and outright ownership of 122,000 acres. Of this total, about 30% is perennially preserved agriculture property not open to the public. In these cases, the district “purchases” the development rights from the private owner who is allowed to continue farm operations or to maintain open space and habitat.

The district employs 29 people and has an annual budget of $55 million. It currently has $65 million available for future land acquisitions. In 2006, county voters extended the life of the district to 2031.

The district is led by the five county supervisors and there is a 20-member advisory committee comprised of local elected officials, environmental advocates, farmers and ag advocates, youth representatives (currently vacant. The advisory board meets monthly. The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 20 and recommendations on how to appropriate PG&E wildfire settlement funds will be discussed along with general project updates.

Additional reporting by Zoë Strickland.


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