Category Archives: Land Use

Water regulator to deny Dutra permit

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

In its letter to the company, the water board said that Dutra did not properly study alternative sites for the asphalt plant.

“After review of the Alternatives Analysis, we have determined that the Applicant has not yet demonstrated that the proposed Project constitutes the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” the board wrote in the letter. “As such, the Alternatives Analysis is inadequate.”

A regional water regulator intends to deny a permit for the Dutra Group, dealing a serious setback to the company’s contentious plans to build an asphalt plant along the Petaluma River just south of the city.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter on Nov. 1 telling the company that its application is incomplete.

“We’ve told them of our intention to deny their permit,” said Fred Hetzel, an environmental scientist who is working on the Dutra permit for the water board. “(The denial) will come within the month.”

The water board permit is a key approval that the company needs before it can start construction on the long planned asphalt plant on 38 acres of land at Haystack Landing. The company also needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bay Area Air Quality District and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at: Water regulator to deny Dutra permit

Filed under Air, Land Use, Water

Windsor voters approve 22-year extension of urban growth boundary

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor voters overwhelmingly approved a 22-year extension to the town’s urban growth boundary, endorsing a plan established in the 1990s to limit sprawl and focus development inside core areas.

Measure H won with 74.8 percent of the ballots cast in Tuesday’s election, which was conducted entirely by mail.

The measure expanded the area for development, adding three parcels totaling 22.5 acres and zoned for light industrial use. The additional parcels will allow existing businesses to expand their operations within the boundary, said Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge.

“This vote means that the boundary for Windsor will remain for the next 22 years,” Fudge said.

Fudge said the urban growth boundary is a necessary tool to protect local agriculture and to maintain the region’s rural quality, which she said gives Sonoma County its high quality of life.

“The last thing people up here want is to become another Silicon Valley, where the cities run into each other without any green spaces,” she said.

Read more at: Windsor voters approve 22-year extension of urban growth boundary

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

After fires, Sonoma County speeds sale of Santa Rosa property eyed for new apartments

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County has for several years wanted to sell a vacant building complex it owns in west Santa Rosa, but with the devastating October wildfires having intensified the region’s housing crisis, local officials now hope to get the property in the hands of a private developer faster than originally planned.

The county’s Community Development Commission this week released a request for developers to show their qualifications and interest in building new housing at 2150 W. College Ave. Prospective applicants have until 3 p.m. Monday to respond, and county supervisors could decide to move forward in some fashion the next day.

“We already had a housing shortage, and so every development that can be expedited and we can get out of the way in government to make stuff happen — I think that’s the order of the day,” said Margaret Van Vliet, the commission’s executive director.

County officials previously estimated the 7.5-acre site could support 170 apartments. Van Vliet thinks the property could ultimately house closer to 200 units.

The commission bought the property, which was formerly the headquarters of the county Water Agency, for $4.2 million this summer and then kicked off a process to select an apartment developer. But after the fires last month wiped out 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock, along with thousands of other homes outside city limits, the county decided it needed to speed up the process as much as possible.

Read more at: After fires, Sonoma County speeds sale of Santa Rosa property eyed for new apartments

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Blazing speed: UGB’s come up for a vote and post-fire rebuild plans come into focus

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

It would be inaccurate to say that the fire-limiting qualities of so-called urban growth boundaries and community separators were vindicated in the North Bay fires.

After all, as Teri Shore notes, the catastrophic Tubbs fire swept through the Fountaingrove neighborhood, crossed the community separator there, jumped into Santa Rosa’s urban growth boundary (UGB) and then burned it up.

Shore, regional director at the Greenbelt Alliance, has embraced UGBs and community separators. Urban growth boundaries took root decades ago in places like San Jose, Boulder, Colo., and Sonoma County as part of a new urbanism vernacular of “livable cities,” “walkable cities,” “resilient cities” and other sobriquets to indicate a civic emphasis on high-density development in order to keep the surrounding lands pristine in their agricultural and biodiverse glory—as they set out to reduce sprawl, not for fire protection per se, but to save farms and communities and local cultures. The community separators indicate the area between developed areas which comprise the urban growth boundary.

It would be a “huge leap to say that the community separator or urban growth boundary could have prevented [the fires],” Shore says. “On the other hand, it could have been worse if we had built more outside of the city boundaries.”

In other words, the regional UGBs may have played a role in the fires akin to the “chicken soup rule” when you’re sick: in the event of a catastrophic fire, UGBs can’t hurt, and they might even help limit the damage to property.

“We’re thinking through it,” says Shore of the relationship between preventing fires and the rebuilding path forward, and the role of greenbelts in the rebuild.

“I don’t know if there’s a correlation,” she says, “but clearly keeping our growth within the town and cities, instead of sprawling out, potentially reduces the impact from wildfires.”

Read more at: Blazing Speed | News | North Bay Bohemian

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized

Fire-scorched Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa focal point of debate over rebuilding

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As Santa Rosa sets its sights on rebuilding following the deadly wildfires this month, the city has sent homeowners a clear message that it will not stand in their way.

Anyone who owned a home in the city has a right to rebuild it in the same place, as long as modern building codes are followed, officials have said.But some are asking whether it’s wise to let one neighborhood in particular — the hillside enclave of Fountaingrove — be rebuilt as it was, given that it has now burned to the ground twice in 53 years and wasn’t built according to city rules to begin with.

The Tubbs fire, which roared over the hills from Calistoga on Oct. 8, claimed hundreds of homes in the upscale neighborhood.

“I hesitate to even suggest this,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, a former Fountaingrove resident who lost her Oakmont home in the Nuns fire to the south. “But many people are starting to say, why are we — and this is in the city’s realm — why are we thinking about permitting the rebuilding of Fountaingrove?”

The question is not an idle one. The cleanup of debris left by the destruction of 2,900 homes citywide in the Tubbs and Nuns fires is already underway. If it goes according to plan, homesites could be ready to rebuild in a matter of a few months.

Read more at: Fire-scorched Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa focal point of debate over rebuilding | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

National Park Service considers fee hike of up to 180% for most popular parks, including Yosemite

Hugo Martin, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The National Park Service will accept public comment on the proposal until Nov. 23 at the park’s public comment website. Under the proposal, fees for commercial vehicles entering the parks would also rise. The increases could go into effect as soon as next spring.

To raise funding for maintenance and repairs, the National Park Service said Tuesday it is considering raising vehicle entrance fees by up to 180% at the nation’s most popular parks during the peak visiting season.

Under the plan to raise funding to fix roads, bridges, campgrounds and bathrooms, the federal agency is proposing a $70 fee for each private, noncommercial vehicle — up from the current fares of $25 to $30, depending on the park. The fee for a motorcycle would more than double to $50 from the current $15 to $25. Visitors on foot or bicycle would pay $30, up from the $10 to $15.

The annual pass for all federal lands would remain $80.

The increase at 17 of the nation’s most popular parks would generate an extra $70 million a year over the $200 million now collected annually from entrance fees, the parks agency estimated. The 17 parks would include Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, Zion, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Read more at: National Park Service considers fee hike of up to 180% for most popular parks, including Yosemite – LA Times

Filed under Land Use

Post-fire housing challenges

Vesta Copestakes, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

We’re about the enter a new phase in Sonoma County, one that we were trying to achieve through environmental awareness and social and political activism.

Housing and homelessness have been our challenges and nothing we were doing was fixing the problem. Compassionate, intelligent people got together to find solutions, but ideas have been making a slow transition to implementation. People looked to tiny houses in tiny villages, or ADUs (Auxiliary Dwelling Units), but they just aren’t sprouting up fast enough to solve the problem. As housing prices rise, homes have become vacation rentals taking them out of the housing circuit. Rents have increased so high, people are forced to move out of the county and commute long distances to jobs.

Fire raged through the center of our county taking out thousands of homes, wiping out businesses, scorching the earth and devastating lives. Now we have newly homeless people who were happily housed and secure until flames destroyed what they had worked so hard to achieve. Now there are less homes and more homeless.

How are we going to fix this one?

The day after we go to press, our Board of Supervisors will be proposing some expansive changes in the way things get done around here. Right now we have a very pro-active board. One of our board members, Susan Gorin, was a victim of this fire like so many others. She is now homeless. Sure, she is among those who have insurance, and eventually, her home is likely to be rebuilt. I doubt very much that she is sleeping in an evacuation shelter, but no person can go through this kind of experience without being altered in some way.

Read more at: Post-Fire HOUSING Challenges

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

How California’s most destructive wildfire spread, hour by hour 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

An analysis by The New York Times of satellite images, combined with on-the-ground surveys, provides a more complete picture of the origin, spread and devastation of the fire that killed at least 22 people in and around the city.

The Tubbs fire destroyed at least 5,200 homes and structures, shown on the map below, making it the most destructive wildfire in state history, as well as one of the deadliest. The Times analysis also shows how quickly the fire spread in the crucial initial hours.

Read more at: How California’s Most Destructive Wildfire Spread, Hour by Hour – The New York Times

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land Use

Tubbs fire revives memory of a blaze that now haunts Santa Rosa 

Gaye LeBaron, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Fifty years later, I ask[ed] the readers to pause and consider that it was almost all-open land that the fire burned through on its way to the bulldozered breaks and wind change on the Chanate hill.

Three years ago, I wrote one of those anniversary pieces that columnists love so dearly. It marked 50 years since two devastating wildfires raged through Sonoma County at the same time, threatening both Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley.

The Hanly fire and the Nunn’s Canyon fire of late September 1964 were tagged in our files as the most devastating in the county’s history. The column revisited the Hanly fire and was a bit preachy in places, suggesting (as columnists do — relentlessly) that there were lessons that week might have taught us. But didn’t.

It all began early on Sept. 19, a Saturday morning, when a deer hunter dropped a cigarette on a wooded slope below Highway 29 as it winds up Mt. St. Helena from the upper Napa Valley. By 10:15 a.m., flames were seen behind Hanly’s tavern, an old, familiar stopping place on the right side of the narrow road.

The new fire was moving fast down the hill toward Calistoga, growing as it traveled.Through the weekend into the Monday that followed, firefighters and volunteers armed with garden hoses and wet gunnysacks battled to save the up-valley town, holding the damage to about 40 homes on the northeastern edge. When the winds died down on Monday morning, Calistoga gave a collective sigh of relief that echoed over the surrounding hills and valleys.

All too soon.

On Monday night, the winds returned and the fire moved west with breathtaking speed. It created its own wind as it moved at 40 mph along Porter Creek and Mark West Springs roads into Sonoma County, burning homes along Mark West Springs and Riebli roads. It roared across Wikiup and Parker Hill Road, and — within what seemed like minutes — appeared along the ridge of Montecito Heights. Startled Santa Rosans watched from the streets below.

It moved down into Rincon Valley, advanced to Parker Hill and the old Fountaingrove Ranch and headed straight for the County Hospital on Chanate. That’s where a quick-thinking fire marshal from the Santa Rosa department, who was in charge because the chief was out of town, decided he would stop it. Giving the surprising order to delay loading the very sick and very old occupants of the hospital into waiting buses, Mike Turnick commandeered a bulldozer from its operator and, using skills he had learned years before with a lumber company, cut a fire break north of the hospital, stationed fire engines along the length of it and then turned his dozer up Parker Hill and cut another break.

Read more at: Gaye LeBaron: Tubbs fire revives memory of a blaze that now haunts Santa Rosa | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use

El Diablo in Wine Country

Mike Davis, Blog, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS

In 1942 Alfred Hitchcock recruited the author of Our Town, Thornton Wilder, to write the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt, an innocence-versus-evil thriller set in an ‘idyllic American town’. After considering various candidates, Hitchcock and Wilder selected Santa Rosa, a picturesque agricultural community of 13,000 people, 55 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. The following year, Santa Rosa was introduced to millions of filmgoers in a series of establishing shots that began with aerial views of its pretty countryside and ‘all-American’ downtown. Wartime restrictions had precluded set-building and the exterior locations were all real, but it was difficult to believe that sunny Santa Rosa hadn’t been confected by Norman Rockwell on a Hollywood back lot.

Seventy-five years later, we contemplate another aerial view, this time of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighbourhood. The scene, a thousand homes incinerated to their foundations, resembles the apocalypse Kim Jong-un keeps promising to bring to America. Especially shocking to Californians, these were not homes in the combustible foothills or mountains where fire danger traditionally lurks, but on the plain, next to a freeway, schools, fast-food outlets – the kind of landscape where most of us live. Altogether, in one terrible night, Santa Rosa (population 165,000) lost more than 2800 homes and businesses to what is officially known as the Tubbs Fire. But it’s premature to cite losses or add up body counts since, as I write, twenty fires still writhe across the Wine Country, and an army of exhausted firefighters fearfully awaits the return of the Diablo winds.

Although the explosive development of this firestorm complex caught county and municipal officials off guard, fire alarms had been going off for months. Two years ago, at the height of California’s worst drought in five hundred years, the Valley Fire, ignited by faulty wiring in a hot tub, burned 76,000 acres and destroyed 1350 homes in Lake, northern Sonoma, and Napa counties. Last winter’s record precipitation, meanwhile, did not so much bust the drought as prepare its second and more dangerous reincarnation. The spring’s unforgettable profusion of wildflowers and verdant grasses was punctually followed by a scorching summer that culminated in September with pavement-melting temperatures of 41ºC in San Francisco and 43ºC on the coast at Santa Cruz. Luxuriant green vegetation quickly turned into parched brown fire-starter.

Read more at: El Diablo in Wine Country « LRB blog

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living