Category Archives: Land Use

Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants 

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“When the plants go extinct, the animals that depend on them go extinct. And it’s completely ignored,” [McNamara] said. “Most biologists who are aware of this are convinced that by the end of the century, if current trends continue, we will lose half of all animals and half of all plants will be gone.”

For a onetime landscaper from California, it was a Cinderella moment — standing beneath the glass vaulted ceiling of the Edwardian Lindley Hall in London, accepting one of the world’s highest honors in horticulture.

The crowd that applauded American Bill McNamara as he accepted the prestigious Veitch Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society on Feb. 22, included finely dressed members of England’s titled gentry and some of the biggest names in the botanical realm over which Great Britain still rules.

“It was such a big honor, it was a shock,” said McNamara, now comfortably back in his bluejeans at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a refuge for rare and endangered Asian plants that he gathered himself from seed in wild and remote corners of China. In just 30 years, a mere baby in the world of botanical gardens, Quarryhill has come to be considered one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world, numbering close to 2,000 species plants in their natural form, unchanged by man through hybridization.

Read more at: Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Land Use

Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.

Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.

But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.

A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”

Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use

Proposed rule for pesticide spraying near schools revised by state agency

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation on Thursday issued a revised proposed regulation on spraying pesticides near schools, changing an earlier version to provide farmers more leeway in reporting the spraying to school officials.

Despite that change, the proposed regulation remained largely the same as that issued in September and fundamentally bans pesticide applications within a quarter-mile of schools and day care centers on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The rule has been heavily lobbied on both sides. Agricultural interests complained that it was regulatory overreach that wasn’t backed up by available science. Environmental advocacy groups argued it did not do enough to protect children and did not contain sufficient provisions for enforcement. About 500 comment letters have been filed on the plan.

Under the original proposal, farmers would have been required to notify school officials and the county agricultural commissioners of pesticide sprays made within that quarter-mile area 48 hours before they occur.

The revised rule would only require them to provide an annual notification of pesticides that they expect will be applied near the school zones. The grower must describe the pesticides likely to be used, their names and active ingredients as well as a map showing the acreage and its proximity to the school.

Read more at: Proposed rule for pesticide spraying near schools revised by state agency | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

California should take lead on wetlands protections

Op-Ed: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

When the president made good on a key campaign promise Tuesday to roll back federal environmental rules on wetlands, cheers went up across farmlands. The acronym meant little to city dwellers, but the promise to “repeal WOTUS” — a staple at Trump rallies — had secured much of the rural vote for Trump. Fearing rollbacks would weaken environmental protections for a state that has led the nation in environmental protections, Democratic legislators in Sacramento preemptively introduced a suite of legislation to “preserve” California.

WOTUS, or “waters of the U.S.,” refers to a rule intended to clarify the scope of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, which tries to keep pollutants out of drinking water and wetlands wet. The rule was developed after years of public comment and a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the rule, which defined the extent of federal jurisdiction over small streams and tributaries.

The rule is particularly tricky to interpret in California because many streams and wetlands are ephemeral — they flow or are wet only immediately after it rains. Think arroyos in Southern California and vernal pools — seasonal ponds in small depressions with distinct plant and animal life — that dot the Central Valley.

Farmers and ranchers, of course, are not against clean water. But they object to rules that they say are impossible to interpret and that interfere with agricultural practices. The California Farm Bureau stepped in and has led the charge to roll back the rule.

The rhetoric on both sides has been escalating since long before the final rule was issued, particularly on the opposed side, after San Joaquin Valley farmer John Duarte was accused in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of damaging vernal pools when he plowed to plant wheat.

To fight the promised Trump rollback, California Democrats borrowed a move straight from the playbook of Scott Pruitt, who had sued the U.S. EPA 13 times and called for its destruction before Trump named him EPA administrator. State Senate Democratic leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles has introduced Senate Bill 49, which would use existing federal environmental law as the baseline for state law “so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.

”The California Farm Bureau welcomed the president’s executive order Wednesday as a rollback of confusing federal rules.

The chest bumping is good political theater, but California has the power to exert its authority over wetlands. The state already uses federal environmental law as a template for state law. And federal law largely leaves authority to the state.

The state needs to invest in institutional muscle at the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce rules that protect the environment from those who would fill wetlands and dump pollutants into streams or seasonal streambeds.

Californians know the value of wetlands in flood control and wildlife habitat. We all want clean water. If these are the priority state leaders say they are, the state should step up.

Source: California should take lead on wetlands protections – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Can marijuana ever be environmentally friendly?

Natasha Geiling, THINK PROGRESS (from April 20, 2016)

Another big issue that the burgeoning cannabis industry will have to confront as legalization becomes increasingly widespread is the industry’s massive environmental footprint. Cannabis is the country’s most energy-intensive crop, largely because around a third of cannabis cultivation in the United States currently takes place in indoor warehouses, a process that requires huge amounts of lighting, ventilation, cooling, and dehumidifying. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot — roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If energy consumption continues at current levels, the electricity used by indoor cannabis operations in the Northwest alone will double in the next 20 years.

One of the first things that Tyson Haworth does when we meet on his farm in rural Oregon is spread his palms out, up toward the April sunshine, and apologize. “I just applied some predatory fungus in the greenhouse,” he says, splaying his fingers and inspecting his hands. He doesn’t use any synthetic pesticides on his farm, he explains, preferring predatory bugs and bacteria and fungi instead, and before he can show me around, he excuses himself to wash his hands in his house adjacent to the farm. Between the farm and the house, on the other side of the gravel driveway that leads visitors from the winding back roads onto Haworth’s property, is a wooden play structure — a sign of Haworth’s two kids, who are the reason he moved from Portland, about thirty miles north, to Canby.

Them, and because it was getting hard to keep growing his cannabis in a garage.

Haworth started cultivating cannabis in 2007, after his wife had to undergo a second back operation. The first time around, she took opiates to manage the pain, but she didn’t want to do that again. So Haworth — who grew up around his father’s wholesale produce company and worked as a manager of a wholesale organic distribution company himself — started growing cannabis, medically, both for his wife and for Oregon’s decades-old medical market. For years, Haworth cultivated cannabis on the side, not able to make enough profits from the medical market to become a full-time cannabis grower. Then, in 2013, Oregon’s medical marijuana market shifted, allowing, for the first time, a legitimate retail component.

And so Haworth put his organic produce job on hold and jumped feet first into cannabis cultivation, moving SoFresh Farms to Canby in 2014. But he didn’t want to completely eschew the decades of knowledge he had gained working in the organic produce industry. And so Haworth decided to do something that not many cannabis farmers were doing at the time: create an organic, sustainable cannabis farm, a place without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, a place that sequesters carbon and helps repopulate native flora. A place that grows cannabis and leaves the environment better for it.

“It’s not enough to not be bad,” Haworth said. “We want to be good. It’s not enough to not be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.”

Read more at: Can Marijuana Ever Be Environmentally Friendly?

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water

Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Open space planning public meetings – All meetings are 6-8 p.m.

March 14: Healdsburg Community Center, Healdsburg

March 15: El Molino High School library, Forestville

March 21: Petaluma Community Center, Petaluma

March 29: Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building dining room, Santa Rosa

March 30: Finnish American Home Association – Heritage Hall, Sonoma

More information: sonomaopenspace.org/vital-lands

Hoping to set a commanding agenda for conserving its landscapes, Sonoma County’s taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is launching its broadest, most extensive planning effort ever to guide its work for the next 15 years.

The open space district on Tuesday will mark the start of its so-called Vital Lands Initiative. Community outreach will include five public meetings throughout the county this month as officials gather input on how best to steward the county’s preserved farmland and natural spaces.

It’s the district’s most ambitious planning project in more than a decade — and likely its most wide-ranging such undertaking ever, according to general manager Bill Keene.

“It’s in all aspects of our work in protecting agricultural land, greenbelts, scenic hillsides, recreation, natural resources and watersheds,” Keene said. “It’s really going to cover everything we do.

Read more at: Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations

SMART to build second commuter rail station in Petaluma

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A deal stuck last month between commuter and freight rail agencies could lead to the development of an east Petaluma rail station and a downtown mixed use project.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority, which is preparing to launch commuter train service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael later this year, reached the deal with the North Coast Railroad Authority, which operates freight trains on the same stretch of tracks.

As part of the sweeping operating agreement, the NCRA agreed to vacate the downtown rail yard adjacent to the train station on Lakeville Street. NCRA had an easement to park freight trains on the property, complicating SMART’s efforts to develop the land.

“It’s a positive step and a victory for Petaluma,”said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member. “It does clear the way for things to move forward.”

With NCRA ceding its interest in the property, SMART is now free to pursue a deal with a developer to sell the downtown land in exchange for construction of a second Petaluma commuter rail platform at Corona Road. The long envisioned second station was promised to voters who approved the commuter rail agency in 2008, but was removed from the initial plans as the agency faced budget uncertainty during the recession.

Read more at: SMART deal could lead to second Petaluma station | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.

But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.

Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.

“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”

So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.

With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.

The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.

One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.

“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”

Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Restaurants in bucolic Valley Ford serve up local seafood and farm-raised beef. But don’t ask for local water.

Anything that makes it to the table in one of this town’s several eateries is trucked in from Petaluma because water from Valley Ford’s main well has been deemed unfit to drink.

That could soon change. Officials in the town of about 125 people near the Sonoma Coast hope to complete a multiyear effort this fall to pipe in clean water from a new well. It will put an end to mounting transportation costs and delivery problems connected to winter storms.

“It’s a bummer to have to truck in water,” said Geoff Diamond, manager of Estero Café on Highway 1, as he tended a small breakfast crowd Thursday morning. “It would certainly be an asset to the rest of the town to have clean water coming through.

”Some in Valley Ford — a longtime dairy town with a cluster of tourist-friendly businesses including the iconic Dinucci’s Italian restaurant — say the change can’t come soon enough. Restaurants are barred from serving well water but residents still get it when they turn on the tap.

Warnings of high nitrate levels associated with surrounding dairy ranches have prompted many to drink, cook and even bathe with bottled water. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a warning last month that pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months should not consume the well water. Additionally, the warning cautioned against boiling, freezing or filtering the water.

Read more at: Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water

Sonoma Coast’s Stewarts Point becomes part of historic agreement for coastal ranch 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Martina Morgan’s black hair whipped about as she gazed out from Stewarts Point in northwest Sonoma County this week at a stunning expanse of Pacific Ocean.

Far below her, waves crashed on a rock-strewn beach where Morgan and her great-grandfather gathered shellfish, seaweed and other dietary staples of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Leonard Marrufo is gone now, but the rope the pair relied on to rappel down the 70-foot cliff to access the beach is still there, attached to a wooden post buried deep in the bluff.

Now vice chairwoman of the Kashia tribe, Morgan said the site between Jenner and The Sea Ranch is sacred ground for the tribe’s 1,000 members, the place where they believe their creator sent down spirits with explicit instructions that they take only what they need and leave the rest.

“That’s our island,” Morgan said, pointing to a large flat-top rock she said her ancestors climbed to access the land.

The tribe’s special connection to what Morgan referred to as “the beginning place” is part of a historic new land use agreement for Stewarts Point Ranch that marries elements of cultural preservation, habitat protection, outdoor recreation and economic development through logging.

Those wide-ranging provisions comprise a $6 million conservation easement recently purchased for Stewarts Point Ranch by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and other public and private agencies.The deal encompasses 868 acres of coastal land that incorporates about a mile of coastal bluff north of Salt Point State Park and extends inland for some 2 miles across grazing lands and mountains straddled by dense forest, including 100 acres of scattered old-growth redwoods skirting more than a mile of the Gualala River.

Read more at: Sonoma Coast’s Stewarts Point becomes part of historic agreement for coastal ranch | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use