Category Archives: Land Use

Pop-up parklet comes to Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square 

Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of local designers hung out all day Friday in a little pop-up parklet they created on the western side of Old Courthouse Square. The space — a carpet of sod with orange chairs and stools perched atop it — took up two of the square’s metered parking places from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, with the city’s OK, as part of a larger call to think about the way cities utilize urban space, billed internationally as Park(ing) Day.

A parklet is a pedestrian patch extending beyond a sidewalk into the street, intended to provide additional recreational amenities for people in areas typically devoid of them.

In Friday’s case, the parklet abutting Santa Rosa’s reunified square — a temporary one set up by TLCD Architecture, Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning, and MKM Associates Architects — wasn’t really in a place in need of a parklet, but that wasn’t the point.

The design firms set it up to open a conversation with passers-by about the way cities are planned — around people or cars.In Santa Rosa, the parklet producers argue, it might be the latter.

“The whole premise behind Park(ing) Day is that the majority of our open space is dedicated to the private vehicle and not to people,” said Christine Talbot, a landscape architect with Quadrica.Beyond that, the parklet’s theme was shade. Specifically, Santa Rosa’s lack of it, Talbot said.

“We came up with a concept to engage the space and talk about what we thought was important, which was shade,” she said. “I think we’re talking about public space in general, and I think in Santa Rosa there are some lovely streets with amazing trees, and then there are other streets where there is no room for trees or the trees have been stunted. Our shade canopy is not as lush as it could be.”

Read more at: Pop-up parklet comes to Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Developer drops plans for controversial Sonoma boutique hotel in favor of housing 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Faced with a lengthy approval process and unrelenting opposition from a citizens’ group, developers have dropped plans to build a boutique hotel project northeast of the Sonoma Plaza.Caymus Development Group of Sonoma said they are eliminating a proposed 30-room hotel, restaurant and bakery and will concentrate instead on building more housing than originally planned on the 3.4 acre site.

Dropping the commercial portion, they said, will allow for additional units over the 27 condominiums and five single-family homes they were proposing. Under the city’s general plan there could be as many as 70  residential units on the site, but the developer declined to say if they would seek the maximum amount.

They portrayed their decision as driven by the urgent need for housing in the region. They also downplayed opposition to the proposed hotel, in a neighborhood some call Sonoma’s “backyard” — a collection of Little League ballfields, a senior center, a veterans hall and Depot Park that offer a respite of sorts from the bustling tourist-dominated plaza.

The hotel on First Street East was dropped “because housing is a humanitarian crisis,” said Caymus executive Ed Routhier. “We need to step up and do everything we can.”

Read more at: Developer drops plans for controversial Sonoma boutique hotel in favor of housing | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Eyeing both the region’s persistent lack of affordable homes and the more recent labor shortage in its signature wine industry, Sonoma County is advancing plans for five vineyards to build housing for more than 170 farmworkers.

The Board of Supervisors will consider authorizing agreements Tuesday for two 37-bed bunkhouses that would shelter workers at vineyards in the Geyserville area. If approved, the agreements would follow similar plans supervisors signed off on last month to bring bunkhouses with nearly 100 total beds for farmworkers near Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Annapolis.

“We certainly have a labor shortage in Sonoma County, but I think that’s an effect of a housing shortage — there’s not enough affordable housing,” said Cameron Mauritson, vineyard manager for Mauritson Farms, which will host one of the bunkhouses.“

The way we saw it is we didn’t have a choice: We can’t not have people here to get the work done, but if they can’t afford to live here, then we have to figure out as a business how to make sure that we can control some housing that our employees live in.

”The bunkhouses are targeted for workers hired through the federal government’s H-2A program, which allows the agriculture industry to employ foreign guest workers for jobs that last as long as 10 months. Local grape growers have increasingly turned to the program as a way to address a short supply of available vineyard labor, hiring about 300 workers through H-2A this year, but employers have to provide housing in order to participate.

Read more at: Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Skyhawk air conditioners, new homes, overwhelm electrical grid

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A normally quiet east Santa Rosa street has been turned into a noisy power station to meet the growing power demand by large, air-conditioned homes and new development that threatened to overwhelm the area’s power grid.

Pacific Gas and & Electric set up a series of mobile power generators on Great Heron Drive in the Skyhawk neighborhood last week after power went out to 109 customers in the area Aug. 31, PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said.

Worried by a forecast that called for triple-digit temperatures over the Labor Day weekend, the utility wanted to make sure it could keep the lights and air conditioners on in the area, she said. The mercury ended up hitting a new record of 110 degrees in Santa Rosa last Saturday.

The neighborhood of mostly larger single-family homes built in the 1980s and 1990s had an undersized electric infrastructure that was stressed when people turned on their central air conditioners.

Read more at: PG&E installs temporary substation on Santa Rosa street | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use

Density helps new homes be more affordable

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A long-planned Roseland housing community designed with affordable prices in mind is moving forward in a big way, with construction poised to ramp up over the next month or so and the first crop of residents possibly moving in early next year.

At the Paseo Vista subdivision on Dutton Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa, houses in the first phase will start at $390,000 — a far cry below Sonoma County’s latest median home price of $644,000. The project keeps prices low through dense development and by having key sections of the homes built at a factory in Riverside before being shipped north for assembly in place by construction crews.

The 12.2-acre site has for about two years hosted three model homes advertising the property’s future potential. As final subdivision maps are recorded next week — they were previously approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in August — the developers expect houses to arrive in mid-October, putting the community on track to welcome its first residents sometime after the first of the year.

The project is planned to include 122 single-family townhouses for sale and 15 triplexes, each of which will include a studio, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom apartment for rent, the developers said. Among the 45 rental apartments, 32 units will be reserved for low income and very low income households, according to county officials.

Read more at: Santa Rosa developers moving forward on Roseland subdivision where homes start at $390,000 | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.

“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.

Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.

Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

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

Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections

J.D. MORRIS, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it would approve a new winery in Knights Valley, advancing a long-planned 10,000-case facility despite concerns from residents worried about how the project would impact the rural area, particularly its limited groundwater supplies.

After a nearly three-hour hearing, supervisors unanimously agreed to move the Knights Bridge Winery proposal forward, indicating the board intends to deny a request from residents who wanted the county to require another layer of environmental review.

The board directed county staff to bring the winery’s use permit back for a formal vote Sept. 19, incorporating several conditions proposed by Supervisor James Gore, who represents Knights Valley.

“There’s one thing everybody has in common, which is this beautiful place,” Gore said at the hearing’s outset. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and pristine, and it’s a place that deserves protection and deserves the highest level of review for projects, too.”

The most significant of Gore’s conditions would solidify a pledge made by the winery’s proponents that the project would offset any additional groundwater use, a key concern of residents opposed to the winery, slated for a roughly 86-acre site on Spencer Lane about a mile west of Highway 128. The property’s net demand on its well — half the acreage is planted in vineyards — was previously estimated at about 162,900 gallons per year.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

How the state’s housing crisis happened

Angela Hart, SACRAMENTO BEE

Developers, housing advocates and some state lawmakers say it makes sense to build higher-density housing in cities, to accommodate more people, restrict suburban sprawl and preserve sensitive environmental areas. But community opposition often kills large-scale projects and leads to less dense housing.

California’s high housing costs are driving poor and middle income people out of their housing like never before. While some are fleeing coastal areas for cheaper living inland, others are leaving the state altogether.

Homelessness is on the rise. California is home to 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 22 percent of its homeless people. Cities that have seen dramatic rent increases, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, attribute their spikes in homelessness directly to a state housing shortage that has led to an unprecedented affordability crisis.

Read more at: California housing crisis has roots in slow pace of building | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

SMART selling land near downtown Santa Rosa station to housing developer 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The vacant lot next to Santa Rosa’s downtown train station is being sold to a developer with plans for a highly anticipated transit-oriented housing and commercial center.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which begins service on Friday, has agreed to sell its 5.4-acre property west of the Railroad Square station to ROEM Development Corp. of Santa Clara for $5.75 million.

The deal inked Tuesday calls for the sale to be finalized only after the developer wins necessary approvals from the city for the $85 million project, which could include several hundred residential units.

The sale agreement was structured with payments required at key junctures over 28 months to motivate ROEM to move forward with the project quickly, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager.

“We didn’t want an open-ended contract,” Mansourian said. “We want to see shovels in the ground. We want action.”

The deal could pave the way for the single largest rail-oriented housing and commercial development in Sonoma County. The property and neighboring land that is the site of a former brick cannery building have been eyed for more than a decade as prime downtown development opportunities.

Read more at: SMART selling land near downtown Santa Rosa station to housing developer | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Sonoma County cannabis advisory group begins setting agenda

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Find more in-depth cannabis news, culture and politics at EmeraldReport.com, authoritative marijuana coverage from the PD.

Sonoma County’s rules for how and where cannabis businesses can operate were codified earlier this year, but the book on local marijuana regulations is far from finished.

Helping the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adjust its local rules is the main job of a 20-person citizen advisory group chosen from cannabis industry players and other interest groups including real estate, agriculture, public health and neighborhoods.

The panel met for the first time Wednesday to start setting an agenda for issues and recommendations to bring before the board.

Read more at: Sonoma County cannabis advisory group begins setting agenda | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use