Category Archives: Sustainable Living

U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Federal and state agencies are already planning post-fire cleanup in seven Northern California counties, including Sonoma, outlining long-term efforts likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars but performed at no expense to residential property owners, officials said Tuesday.

In Sonoma and Napa counties, where more than 100,000 acres have burned, the chore looms so large the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will manage the first phase, which involves removal of toxic materials from thousands of fire-scorched properties.

That includes batteries, paint, solvents, flammable liquids, electronic waste and any materials that contain asbestos.

“We know people are already back at their homes, wondering what to do next,” said Lance Klug, a spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle. The agency typically handles the second phase, involving the removal of non-toxic waste — scraping away ash, concrete, metal and contaminated soil — in fire-affected counties, but CalRecycle’s role in the North Bay cleanup has not been determined, said Klug.

Details on the sprawling two-part cleanup are forthcoming and will be widely publicized, he said.

When that work is completed, homeowners will receive a certificate indicating their property has been cleaned and is eligible for local building permits, he said.

Read more at: U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Sustainable Living

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

Fire cause mystery: Winds not ‘hurricane strength’ as PG&E said

Paul Rogers, Lisa M. Krieger and Matthias Gaffni, BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

Investigators are looking at power line failures as a possible cause of the historic fires.

The heavy winds that downed power lines Sunday night at the start of the deadly wildfires raging across Northern California were far from “hurricane strength,” as PG&E has claimed, according to a review of weather station readings.

On Tuesday, the Bay Area News Group reported that Sonoma County emergency dispatchers sent fire crews to at least 10 reports of downed power lines and exploding transformers as the North Bay fires were starting around 9:22 p.m.

In response, PG&E said that “hurricane strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases” had damaged their equipment, but they said it was too early to speculate about what started the fires.

However, wind speeds were only about half that level, as the lines started to come down, the weather station records show. At a weather station in north Santa Rosa where the Tubbs fire started, the peak wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. hit 30 mph. An hour later, they were 41 mph.

Similarly, at another weather station east of the city of Napa, on Atlas Peak, where the Atlas fire started, wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. peaked at 32 mph. An hour later they were 30 mph.

Both speeds were substantially under the speed that power lines must be able to withstand winds under state law: at least 56 mph.

Read more at: Fire cause mystery: Winds not ‘hurricane strength’ as PG&E said

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

Calling Earth a “Loser,” Trump vows to make better deal with new planet 

Andy Borowitz, THE NEW YORKER

In a dramatic announcement from the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Donald J. Trump pronounced the planet Earth a “loser” and vowed to make a better deal with a new planet.

“Earth is a terrible, very bad planet,” he told the White House press corps. “It’s maybe the worst planet in the solar system, and it’s far from the biggest.”

Trump blasted former President Barack Obama for signing deals that committed the United States to remain on the planet Earth indefinitely. “Obama is almost as big a loser as Earth,” Trump said. “If Obama was a planet, guess what planet he’d be? That’s right: Earth.”

When asked which planet he would make a new deal with, Trump offered few specifics, saying only, “The solar system has millions of terrific planets, and they’re all better than Earth, which is a sick, failing loser.”

Trump’s remarks drew a strong response from one of the United States’ nato allies, Germany’s Angela Merkel. “I strongly support Donald Trump leaving the planet Earth,” she said.

Source: Calling Earth a “Loser,” Trump Vows to Make Better Deal with New Planet | The New Yorker

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Santa Rosa may boost housing densities in exchange for affordable units

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Finley Community Center Auditorium, 2060 W. College Ave, Santa Rosa

How much additional housing can — or should — your Santa Rosa neighborhood be asked to absorb?

The city is seeking feedback from the public Monday on its plan to dramatically increase housing densities throughout the city, especially downtown and near its two train stations.

The plan calls for increasing incentives known as density bonuses for developers that could allow up to 100 percent more housing units on a particular property than regular zoning would allow.

“This is an important tool in our tool chest to address the housing crisis,” said David Guhin, director of planning and economic development. “It’s not going to solve all of the issues, but it’s an important one.”

Currently, developers who build affordable units in their projects can be granted the right to build up to 35 percent more units than normal.

Read more at: Santa Rosa may boost housing densities in exchange for affordable units | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Trails Council sustains hardy volunteer corps for Sonoma County Regional Parks 

Glen Martin, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County Trails Council

If you’ve hiked a newly built or reconstructed trail in one of Sonoma County’s regional parks, there’s a good chance Ken Wells had a hand in it.

Wells, director of the Sonoma County Trails Council, a key partner for the county park agency, is a connoisseur of the grunt work that goes into carving paths for hikers, bikers and horse riders in rugged terrain.He has been toiling in one capacity or another for the trails group for 25 years, building trails, supervising crews and goading people into volunteering for local parks.

“Most of my work consists of putting people together with projects that need doing,” said Wells, 63.

At one time, such public park maintenance was carried out by government crews — county, state or federal. These days, much of the burden falls on volunteers. And that’s not such a bad thing, said Wells, who thinks that support for regional parks has grown because local people are more heavily invested in stewardship.Indeed, most if not all of the park trail work in Sonoma County occurs either under the direct auspices or with the support of the Trails Council, which is also marking its 50th anniversary this year. Council crews regularly labor at Helen Putnam and Taylor Mountain Regional Parks, putting in new trail segments and rehabilitating existing ones. Overall, more than 150 miles of trail traverse county parks, with dozens of additional miles planned for existing and future sites.

Read more at: Trails Council sustains hardy volunteer corps for Sonoma County Regional Parks | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

Santa Rosa, Petaluma buses free for SRJC students

Staff, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Santa Rosa Junior College students can now ride any bus line, any time for free on Santa Rosa CityBus, Petaluma Transit, and Sonoma County Transit. SRJC students simply show their validated SRJC CubCard to the bus driver when boarding a bus, and they are set to go. SRJC students ride free for travel anywhere in Sonoma County, not just for trips to and from campus.

Riding the bus is a sustainable transportation alternative that improves health, saves money and helps the environment. SRJC’s Associated Students recognize the importance of sustainable transportation alternatives and voted in favor of assessing themselves a transportation fee to support this free-fare program. The SRJC transportation fee, in combination with individual transit agency funding, will cover the cost of providing these free and unlimited bus rides.

Read more at: Santa Rosa, Petaluma buses free for SRJC students | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed

Joe Mathews, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

Adjust your California maps: The dot marking Santa Rosa needs to be bigger.

Dramatic changes in housing, demography, and criminal justice are altering the Golden State’s geography, and no place in California stands to benefit more than Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County seat seems poised to become the most successful example of a certain type of urbanism – the rapidly growing midsize city that serves as a crossroads between major regions. The city’s current motto – “Out There. In the Middle of Everything” – encapsulates the new and paradoxical centrality of edge cities, from Fairfield and Santa Clarita to Riverside and Escondido.

“We’re on the move and we’re interested in growing,” says Santa Rosa City Council member Julie Combs of her town.

The fifth largest city in the Bay Area, Santa Rosa, population 175,000, plays many roles. It’s the northern spillover area for people and businesses seeking refuge from the higher costs of communities closer-in. The city now boasts 88,000 jobs, its highest employment level ever.

And by dint of geography and strategy, the city is emerging as California’s weed crossroads – or, in more official language, the “farm-to-market” center for medical and recreational marijuana, connecting the North State’s cannabis growers with the retailers and consumers of the Bay Area and points south.

While other California cities have decided to limit the marijuana industry, Santa Rosa has rapidly issued permits for cannabis operations, creating a run on warehouse space. What the city wants is higher-wage professional jobs – in sales, finance, distribution or lab testing – that the newly legal industry will require.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

A growing Sonoma bursts at its seams

Patrick Hoge, SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE

Wine tourism: booming. Mass transit: zooming. Big cannabis: looming. For a once-quiet agricultural region, Sonoma is suddenly an economic engine. And not everybody’s loving the noise.

Liza Hinman lives in two Sonoma County worlds on the same continuum. In one, she is cofounder and chef of the Spinster Sisters, a hip, fun, homey restaurant bringing life and house-made granola parfaits to a formerly run-down part of Santa Rosa. She’s part of a vanguard of entrepreneurial Sonomans who are catering to both locals and tourists through the unifying power of good eating, good drinking, and smartly designed community spaces. In the other world, Hinman, as a mother of three and the wife of a Sonoma native, is unsettled by the changes that have overtaken her hometown of Healdsburg, a once-dilapidated agricultural town of almost 12,000 with a quaint central plaza that has utterly transformed in the last 15 years into a crowded, swanky destination for affluent out-of-towners and second-home owners.

In one world, increased tourism and a well-earned Michelin recommendation are boons for Hinman, a rosy-cheeked, smock-wearing 40-year-old with a broad smile and a gifted touch with locally grown foods. In the other, she finds herself conflicted, avoiding Healdsburg’s downtown of pricey restaurants, clothing stores, and art galleries because of traffic and lack of parking, and shaking her head at the area’s 30—30!—wine tasting rooms. “It’s the ad nauseam conversation that we all have as more and more tourists and Bay Area people discover us,” Hinman says, proffering some of her signature deviled eggs. An East Coast transplant who got her professional start studying and cooking in San Francisco, Hinman knows that it wasn’t long ago that numerous businesses in downtown Healdsburg were shuttered. And she appreciates the tax revenue that supports city services. “It’s our lifeblood here,” she says. “But there has to be a way to find balance, to have a vibrant community for locals and services for tourists.”

Hinman’s contrasting sentiments are echoed across Sonoma County these days, as moneyed visitors from around the world and urban refugees flood into the North Bay in search of the good life. Tourism spending is soaring; hotel and winery development is widespread; and housing prices are climbing fast and approaching an all-time high—all factors that have led to a growing disquiet among longtime valley dwellers. Still a vast Eden of vineyards, restaurants, and resorts, Sonoma maintains a natural beauty and a relatively affordable cost of living that have made it a release valve for the over-pressurized Bay Area. But this restfulness has been disturbed by new strains of anxiety that Sonoma’s laid-back feel, small-town charms, and country roads are being trammeled by too many outsiders with too much cash.

Read more at: San Francisco Magazine | Modern Luxury | A Growing Sonoma Bursts at its Seams

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why. 

David Roberts, VOX

Since you asked (many times)

I did an event with environmental journalist (and personal hero) Elizabeth Kolbert late last week, in which we discussed various matters related to journalism and climate change. Subsequently, one of the attendees wrote and asked why I hadn’t talked about population. Isn’t overpopulation the real root of our environmental ills?

Anyone who’s ever given a talk on an environmental subject knows that the population question is a near-inevitability (second only to the nuclear question). I used to get asked about it constantly when I wrote for Grist — less now, but still fairly regularly.

I thought I would explain, once and for all, why I hardly ever talk about population, and why I’m unlikely to in the future.

Math confirms that population is indeed a factor in environmental impact

Human impact on the natural environment is summed up in a simple formula:

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

All are rising. (Bill Gates has a slightly more complicated formula related to carbon dioxide, but P is a variable in his too.)

Read more at: I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why. – Vox

Filed under Sustainable Living