If you’ve ever driven down the Peninsula along Highway 101 from San Francisco to San Jose, you’ve seen firsthand what urban sprawl can do to a region. Cities such as San Mateo, Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale have developed into each other, creating one long urban corridor without much unique character.

Now, compare that to Sonoma County, where you can travel from Petaluma to Healdsburg, stopping at cities with individual charm surrounded by undeveloped open space.

This is no accident.

Two decades ago, Sonoma County voters passed a greenbelt measure that prohibits most development on certain county parcels, ensuring the land between cities remains pastoral. Residents did not want the North Bay to resemble the rest of the Bay Area, Orange County or the greater Sacramento area.

As the original land protection measure is set to expire, these so-called urban separators are on the ballot this November as Measure K. We encourage voters to pass the measure and renew the fight against sprawl.

Environmentalists warn that, without continued protections, the land between cities could be opened up for development. On the face of it, the notion of surrounding our cities with agricultural land is something that speaks to the very core of Sonoma County values. We take pride in our individual cities and the character of the county as a whole.

Voting to renew urban separators is important to preserve this unique identity. In other parts of the state, where community separators do not exist, cities bleed into one another in a solid block of urban space. We surely do not want Sonoma County to resemble those regions, and the way to achieve this is to renew the policy of urban separators at the ballot box.

Indeed, there are other forces at play in this debate, including a housing crisis that has created a severe shortage of affordable homes in the North Bay. Some housing advocates would argue that county land between cities should be opened up for the development of affordable housing.

But community separators, combined with urban growth boundaries, like the voter-passed limits in Petaluma and other Sonoma County cities, are intended to encourage infill development. Such policies will create new housing on appropriately-zoned, often blighted parcels within the city limits, while at the same time preserving the viewshed and rural landscape outside of town.

This November, as voters sift through a raft of issues and information, remember that a vote in favor of urban separators is a vote to preserve Sonoma County’s unique character and agricultural heritage. We encourage a ‘yes’ vote on Measure K.