Category Archives: Sustainable Living

Op-Ed: Marin bill SB106 shows how housing crisis was created

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Assemblyman Marc Levine is pushing for a bill that would exempt Marin County from housing density standards that apply to the rest of the Bay Area for more than 10 years.

For anyone who has contemplated California’s devastating housing shortage and wondered how the state got in this mess, here’s one short answer: Senate Bill 106.

Of course, this single unfortunate piece of legislation is not responsible for a crisis rooted in decades of bad state and local government decisions. But the bill, which would exempt Marin County from housing density standards that apply to the rest of the Bay Area for more than 10 years, does embody the sort of parochial policymaking that has been ruinous for the state’s greater good.

Pushed by Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Marin County Democrat who secured a similar development dispensation for the state’s wealthiest county in 2014, the bill would extend the exemption, currently scheduled to expire in 2023, to 2028. It would continue to classify the county, including its largest cities, San Rafael and Novato, as suburban, excusing it from the high-density housing developments prescribed for metropolitan areas.

The Legislature’s ruling Democrats introduced the exemption, as the Los Angeles Times reported, as part of a budget trailer bill addressing a wide variety of unrelated issues and escaping the level of public scrutiny applied to most legislation. Now before the state Senate, it was passed by the Assembly this week without a single Democratic or Bay Area lawmaker voting against it. David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who abstained, was the lone member from the housing-starved region who did not vote for the bill.

“Every part of our state must create housing to help solve the affordability crisis,” Chiu said in a statement, “but this policy makes that harder.”

Read more at: Marin bill SB106 shows how housing crisis was created – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

A year after large apartment project is approved in Windsor, nothing is built 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Another factor delaying the issuance of building permits is Bisno’s request he no longer be required to set aside 77 units for 10 years for moderate-income people, defined as those making up to 120 percent of the area median income.

Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge keeps a personal list of people who want to move into the Vintage Oaks on the Green rental apartment project.

“They contact me, and say ‘Do you know when it will open?’” she said.

To Fudge, the seven or eight people on her waiting list demonstrate the need and desirability of conveniently located apartments in a tight Sonoma County market with scant vacancies.

“When people come up to council members and ask to start a waiting list for housing, there is a demand,” she said.

And developers of the project say 70 people have expressed an interest in reserving one of the proposed 387 apartments through their website vintageoakswindsor.com.

But more than a year after the project’s approval and the clearing of more than 150 oak trees to make way for the new dwellings, there are no signs of construction activity on the site just north of the new Oliver’s Market.

Read more at: A year after large apartment project is approved in Windsor, nothing is built | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

California grid operator calls for voluntary conservation during heat wave

ASSOCIATED PRESS

California ISO – See graphs for electricity supply and demand, renewable energy production and more: http://www.caiso.com/Pages/TodaysOutlook.aspx

The operator of California’s power grid has issued a so-called Flex Alert calling for voluntary electricity conservation between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, the expected peak of the current heat wave.

The California Independent System Operator says consumers shouldn’t use major appliances during those hours and should set air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher and turn off unnecessary lights to ease strain on the grid.

The forecast peak electricity usage is expected to exceed 47,000 megawatts each day.

Source: California grid operator calls for voluntary conservation | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

After reversal, Windsor awards garbage contract to Green Waste, its first choice

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The high stakes question about which company would get Windsor’s garbage contract was finally settled Tuesday with the award going again to Green Waste Recovery Inc.

The 3-1 vote came a month after the Town Council first awarded, then rescinded a contract with the San Jose-based company because of political and legal hurdles associated with its proposed Petaluma recycling transfer station.

The final answer Tuesday was to fall back on its first decision after company representatives said they were looking to locate a transfer station closer to Windsor.“

We will not be proposing a transfer facility in Petaluma,” company spokeswoman Emily Finn said. An announcement about a new location is expected within weeks, she said. “On Day 1 we will have facilities north of Petaluma for recyclables.”

The prospect of garbage trucks on Highway 101 making a long trek from Windsor to San Jose — a distance of more than 100 miles — was one of the concerns raised by Councilman Dominic Foppoli, the lone vote against a contract with Green Waste.

But the lower residential rates and environmental practices of Green Waste earned it majority support.

Read more at: After reversal, Windsor awards garbage contract to Green Waste, its first choice | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Bike-share program coming to Healdsburg

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg is on the verge of becoming the first city in Sonoma County to offer a bike-share program to make it easier for people to get around on two wheels.

Described as a fun, low-cost, low-impact transportation alternative, the program was given the green light this week by the City Council.

The 30 short-term rental bikes spread among five “docking stations” is targeted at residents and workers for short trips, not tourists who want to head out to nearby valleys for scenery and wineries.

It’s envisioned for use by employees who might park at the train depot and take a bike into downtown, or for those who might want to use a bike to go to lunch from their workplace to the Healdsburg Plaza.

Vice-mayor Brigette Mansell described it as a “culture shift,” and a way to get people out of cars.

Read more at: Bike-share program coming to Healdsburg | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

Trump rule could deny birth control coverage to hundreds of thousands of women

Robert Pear, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Trump administration has drafted a sweeping revision of the government’s contraception coverage mandate that could deny birth control benefits to hundreds of thousands of women who now receive them at no cost under the Affordable Care Act.

The new rule, which could go into effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register, greatly expands the number of employers and insurers that could qualify for exemptions from the mandate by claiming a moral or religious objection, including for-profit, publicly traded corporations. A 34,000-word explanation of the intended policy change is blunt about its likely impact on women: “These interim final rules will result in some enrollees in plans of exempt entities not receiving coverage or payments for contraceptive services.”

The architects of the Affordable Care Act intended to broadly expand access to contraception by making it a regular benefit of health insurance, and the Obama administration’s goal was to guarantee birth control for as many women as possible. More than 55 million women have birth control coverage without out-of-pocket costs, according to a study commissioned by the Obama administration and cited in the draft rule.

By spring 2014, two-thirds of women using birth control pills and nearly 75 percent of women using the contraceptive ring were no longer paying out-of-pocket costs. In 2013 alone, the mandate had saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

But a series of lawsuits filed over the last five years by priests, nuns, charitable organizations, hospitals, advocacy groups and colleges and universities convinced Trump administration officials that a change was needed. The new rule, drafted mainly by political appointees at the White House and the Health and Human Services Department, seeks “to better balance the interests” of women with those of employers and insurers that have conscientious objections to providing or facilitating access to contraceptives.

Read more at: Trump Rule Could Deny Birth Control Coverage to Hundreds of Thousands of Women – The New York Times

Filed under Sustainable Living

Use of chemicals confirmed at Hwy 12 strawberry stand

Amie Windsor, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Sometimes, what the community loves and what the community values end up on opposing sides of the spectrum.

Take, for example, Lao’s Strawberries. The ever-loved strawberry stand, located on Highway 12, just east of the Sebastopol Grange, is a popular stopover for locals and tourists alike. Lao Saetern’s stand is known for its impossibly juicy, ever-red, super sweet strawberries, available from mid April through October.

However, the strawberries, as indicated by a report obtained from the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner, undergo pesticide and insecticide treatment, a practice in contrast to west county ideals and values of organic, chemical-free food.

The report is also in contrast to what the strawberry stand told Sonoma West Times and News back in April, when we reported on the season opening of the stand.

According to the report, Saetern used Roundup Powermax and Roundup Weathermax herbicides, along with Acramite 50WS — a pesticide — on his 12 acres of strawberries 17 times between February 2015 and November 2016.

“We spot treat,” Saetern said. “We don’t spray the whole field.”Saetern said he uses the pesticides and herbicides to fight off bugs and weeds that bring disease to the crops, such as spider mites and leaf blight.

“We have to attack so there’s no disease,” Saetern said. “If there’s disease we don’t use it. If there’s disease, there’s no food to eat or sell.”

While some might feel slighted about the revelation of Saetern’s chemical use, since the family farm maintained they used organic practices despite lacking an organic certification, it is important to understand that all strawberries — organic or conventional — are started in chemically-laced soil.

Read more at: Use of chemicals confirmed at strawberry stand | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Westside Road residents want to stop proposed winery near Healdsburg, citing safety concerns

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of concerned Westside Road residents want Sonoma County planners to halt a new winery proposed for the premier grape-growing corridor southwest of Healdsburg.

Their concerns center largely around traffic safety issues, but they illustrate yet another episode of neighborhood conflict over the spread of the region’s signature industry as county officials prepare to consider policy changes later this year.

The county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will hold a public hearing Thursday to consider issuing a use permit for a new winery on an approximately 26-acre site at 4603 Westside Road, an area that already contains one of the county’s highest concentration of wineries. As envisioned by its proponents, the new winery would produce 10,000 cases annually and would host 37 special gatherings, including a dozen promotional event days with as many as 150 people. Its events would include no weddings.

County staff members are recommending the zoning board approve the use permit, but the project has received strong resistance from neighbors who primarily cite two sharp turns in the road near the driveway that would lead into the winery. Residents say the turns are too tight and that the project’s proximity to them means it can’t provide sufficiently safe sight lines for motorists. They want the zoning board to reject the project.

Resident Judith Olney, who lives about one and a half miles up Westside Road from the winery site, said the project’s approval would be akin to “playing Russian roulette with public safety.”

Read more at: Westside Road residents want to stop proposed winery near Healdsburg, citing safety concerns | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Windsor to reconsider the town’s $52 million garbage contract 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Just when it seemed Windsor had a new garbage hauling company for the next 10 years, the Town Council has had a change of heart, upending a multimillion dollar deal it struck last month over one of the town’s most basic municipal functions.

The move reflects political and legal hurdles facing a proposed Petaluma recycling transfer station proposed by the new operator and comes as Santa Rosa weighs its options for a new garbage contract, one of the most lucrative services that local cities outsource.

The Windsor Council on Tuesday night voted 4-1 to reconsider the contract it awarded to Green Waste Recovery Inc., citing unresolved issues over the company’s proposed Petaluma transfer station, including its proximity to residences.

As a result, four other companies that initially bid for the contract will have another shot at hauling Windsor’s commercial and residential refuse and reaping at least $52 million in revenue over 10 years.

Read more at: Windsor to reconsider the town’s $52 million garbage contract | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Sonoma County Winegrowers says its wines can be ‘100% Sustainable’ by 2019. What does this mean? 

Larrissa Zimberoff, CIVIL EATS

The world-famous wine-producing county has a five-year goal of certifying all its vineyards as sustainable—but with pesticides including Roundup allowed under the program, their definition of sustainable is controversial.

Wine is usually a fun topic, but in the Golden State, the fourth-largest wine-producing region in the world, it’s also big business: 85 percent of domestic wine comes from over 600,000 acres of grapes grown in California. Operating at this scale means the wine business must also consider land stewardship.

Two of the state’s biggest and best-known wine counties—the neighboring communities of Napa, which has more vintners, and Sonoma, which has more growers—are both working toward achieving goals of 100 percent sustainability within the next few years.

What does it mean if a vineyard claims its grapes are “sustainably certified”? Definitions of the term are wide-ranging, and, unlike the concrete rules of USDA Organic certification, few farming products are expressly banned, and there isn’t one comprehensive list of standards.

Both counties have been lauded for their progress—after Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) in 2014 launched a goal to reach 100 percent certified sustainable, the county has reached 60 percent certified, while Napa County is at 50 percent. But if you peel back the label, you’ll find controversy brewing.

SCW uses three defining principles to determine sustainability: Is it environmentally sound, is it economically feasible, and is it socially equitable? The topics covered under those principles are vast––water quality and conservation, energy efficiency, material handling, pest, soil and waste management, ecosystem, community relations, and human resources.

Despite the goal of having every grape grower in the county earn the certification, SCW is facing resistance from farmers who don’t want to be told how to operate, as well as growers and winemakers using organic practices who oppose the fact that others in their field can still claim they’re “sustainable” while also using the controversial weed killer Roundup (a.k.a. glyphosate) and other synthetic pesticides.

Of Sonoma County’s million-plus acres, 6 percent of available land—58,000 acres—is planted with grapes. Between 1,400 and 1,500 growers farm that 6 percent of land; 85 percent of those growers are family-owned and operated, and 40 percent are operations of 20 acres or less.

This means that if you grow grapes in Sonoma, you know your neighbors, you’ve probably been in the business for a few generations, and you pay dues to the SCW based on tons of grapes sold. Grape growers vote to assess their grape sales every five years, and the resulting money––currently about $1.1 million a year––goes to operating the commission. If you don’t sell grapes, or your winery uses its own grapes, you don’t pay.

In 2013, Karissa Kruse, the president of SCW, received an email from Duff Bevill, both a Sonoma grape grower and a 1,000-plus acre vineyard manager. “Karissa,” he wrote, “what would it take to get Governor Jerry Brown to recognize Sonoma County grape growers as sustainable, and to recognize us as leaders?” While Sonoma was an early adopter of sustainability, county assessments were all over the map, so Bevill’s question was apt. Kruse, who also owns a vineyard, thought, “Holy crap. How do I respond?”

Kruse first brought up the goal of 100-percent sustainability at an SCW board retreat. Dale Petersen, a grower from a multi-generational Sonoma family and the vineyard manager of Silver Oak Cellars, recalled: “She pitched it to a group of farmers and we looked at her and we looked at each other.

”The reception was lukewarm at best. No farmer relished being told what to do. Eventually the board of directors approved it, and officially declared the goal at the January 2014 annual meeting, which typically sees around 500 growers in attendance. Despite the overarching decree, countywide sustainability is still a voluntary commitment.

Read more at: Sonoma County Says its Wines Can Be ‘100% Sustainable’ By 2019. Is That Enough? | Civil Eats

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living