Category Archives: Sustainable Living

The drought fighting farmer

Todd Oppenheimer, CRAFTSMANSHIP MAGAZINE

Updated August 2017

One Spring afternoon in 2014, on a small vegetable farm that Paul Kaiser runs in a particularly chilly valley in Sebastopol, California, a group of agriculture specialists gathered around a four-foot steel pole. The experts had come to test the depth and quality of Kaiser’s top-soil, and one of them, a veteran farmer from the Central Valley named Tom Willey, leaned on the pole to push it into the dirt as far as he could. On a typical farm, the pole comes to a stop against infertile hard-pan in less than a foot. But in Kaiser’s field, the pole’s entire length slid into the ground, and Willey almost fell over. “Wow, that’s incredible,” he said, wondering if he’d hit a gopher hole. The whole group burst out laughing. “Do it again! Do it again!” said Jeff Mitchell, a longtime professor of agriculture at the University of California at Davis.

The group successfully repeated the exercise, over and over—for fun, for photo ops, and to be sure that Kaiser really had accomplished the various feats he talks about, which he does almost incessantly these days. It’s not the easiest sell. Kaiser, an ebullient former woodworker who was only 40 when I first visited, farms a mere eight acres, and harvests fewer than three of them. Nonetheless, his methods are at the forefront of a farming movement that is so new (at least in the U.S.), and so built for a climate-changed world of diminishing rains, that it opens up gargantuan possibilities. One might call this methodology sustainability on steroids, because it can generate substantial profits. Last year, Kaiser’s Sonoma County farm grossed more than $100,000 an acre, which is 10 times the average per-acre income of comparable California farms. This includes Sonoma’s legendary vineyards, which have been overtaking farmland for decades, largely because wine grapes have become much more lucrative these days than food, at least the way most farmers grow it.

Kaiser and his wife, Elizabeth, manage all of this without plowing an inch of their ground, without doing any weeding, and without using any sprays—either chemical or organic. And while most farmers, even on model organic farms, constantly tinker with various fertilizer cocktails, Kaiser concentrates on just one: a pile of rotten food and plants, commonly known as compost, and lots of it. Kaiser then adds this compost to a rare blend of farming practices, both old and new, all aimed at returning dirt to the richest, most fertile seedbed possible. “It’s unique,” Mitchell told me after his visit. “I’ve never seen anything approaching that kind of thing.”

Read more at: The Drought Fighter – Craftsmanship Magazine

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Developer seeks to add units to downtown west Santa Rosa apartment project

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a large apartment complex in downtown Santa Rosa is hoping for permission to pack even more apartments into the project.

Rick Derringer won approval in May to build 185 apartments on a large industrial property along the railroad tracks in the city’s West End neighborhood.

His four-story DeTurk Winery Village project was already one of the largest apartment projects planned for the downtown area. Now he’s hoping to add more units into the project, boosting the number of proposed apartments by 30 percent to 240.

Derringer is holding a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the DeTurk Round Barn to discuss his proposed changes.

“The city wants density and affordability, and this project provides more density and affordability,” Derringer said.

The project has undergone several iterations in the more than a decade since Derringer acquired the property. The effort has been complicated — and controversial — in part because it involves reuse of a historic building.

Read more at: Developer seeks to add units to downtown Santa Rosa apartment project | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Toxic pollution problems in Roseland will shift from County to Santa Rosa in annexation

Kevin McCallum,THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If Santa Rosa annexes Roseland, a long-planned move it could advance this week, the city will inherit a vibrant neighborhood with a high Latino population, an acute shortage of parkland and a long list of needed infrastructure upgrades.

It also will bring into its borders some seriously contaminated properties.

Roseland has one of the highest concentrations in the city of industrial and commercial properties with soil and groundwater contaminated by toxic substances such as gasoline, diesel and chemical solvents.

Leaking underground gas station tanks, motor oil from salvage yards, and chemicals dumped down the drain by dry cleaning businesses have all made Roseland a hot spot for environmental clean-up efforts over recent decades. In 1982, gasoline fumes seeped into Roseland Elementary School, forcing its closure. A few years later, an underground diesel fuel leak threatened the well water supplies of 2,200 residents.

And in 1992, Sam’s For Play Cafe had to be evacuated because gas fumes backed up through the sewer — the consequence of a rising water table pushing the petroleum products upward. Concentration levels got so high in some places that officials, fearing explosions, declared a state of emergency.

The issue was so serious that the Sebastopol Road and McMinn Avenue area was listed as a Superfund site until 1994.

Read more at: Toxic pollution in Roseland a big concern for Santa Rosa in annexation | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

13-mile Sonoma Valley Trail to allow Santa Rosa-to-Sonoma cycling

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Eventually, upon the trail’s completion, the 8-foot-wide paved trail, with 2-foot gravel shoulders, is designed to provide two-way bike traffic with room for pedestrians along a trans-Valley route parallel to Highway 12.

The 13-mile, $24 million Sonoma Valley Trail moved a half-million dollars and a half mile closer to reality recently, as the Board of Supervisors approved a construction contract for a portion of the proposed bicycle path in the Agua Caliente area.

The funding was approved for the Central Sonoma Valley Trail, a portion of the more comprehensive Sonoma Valley Trail, roughly from Agua Caliente Road to Maxwell Farms. It is designed to connect the Sonoma Valley Trail with the City of Sonoma’s Bike Path.

The board voted to award G.D. Nielson Construction a total of $468,832 to build .42 miles of trail, in two segments. The first is just over a tenth of a mile, from the Larson Park trail north through Flowery Elementary, to connect at Depot Road with the existing trial. As of Monday, July 24, crews were at work on this section of the path.

The second .31 mile section starts at Main Street – that little spur off Sonoma Highway at the McDonald’s restaurant – and continues west on the north side of Verano Avenue to Sonoma Creek, on the edge of Maxwell Farms Regional Park. This section of trail is primarily designed to provide access to Sonoma Creek, as it does not advance the overall direction of the Sonoma Valley Trail toward the city’s bike path.

Read more at: 13-mile Sonoma Valley Trail to allow Santa Rosa-to-Sonoma cycling | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

Civil grand jury says Sonoma County’s Environmental Health staff overworked

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The section of Sonoma County government responsible for everything from monitoring the Russian River for toxic algae blooms to inspecting the safety of local restaurants is overworked and insufficiently staffed, challenges that hamper its effectiveness, according to a recently released civil grand jury report.

In its latest annual analysis published late last month, the 19-member civilian panel determined the county’s Department of Health Services’ Environmental Health and Safety section faced a staffing squeeze, particularly for middle management jobs, and relied too much on trainees to play key roles, among other findings. The little known but critically important government section has found it difficult to recruit and retain qualified employees, placing too great a burden on current staff members who suffer from “reduced job satisfaction” as well as “low morale,” the report said.

Matthew Stone, the grand jury foreman, said the report’s findings continue to show that the county has yet to fully recover from its recession-era belt tightening. “They’ve got a whole bunch of sort of big-picture priorities, but they’ve been starving their foot soldiers a little bit,” Stone said. “And that’s a concern.”

The section faces budget restrictions and hiring difficulties that, in the grand jury’s estimation, result in some positions being underfilled, meaning the job is held by a trainee rather than a more senior staff member.

Read more at: Civil grand jury says Sonoma County’s Environmental Health staff overworked | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Petaluma crafts granny unit policy

Hannah Beausang, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

As Petaluma’s housing market continues to constrict, the city council Monday unanimously voted to relax regulations on the construction of additional living spaces on residents’ land and in their homes.

The updates to the city’s zoning ordinance, driven by three state laws signed into effect last year, are intended to make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling structures, or “granny units” that are attached to their residences or built separately on their properties. It also creates a new classification and associated rules for converting an existing bedroom in a single family home into independent living quarters, or a so-called “junior second unit.

”Accessory dwelling units are regarded as an economical way of providing housing for a wide range of family members, care providers or local employees inside the footprint of existing neighborhoods.“

Businesses and people in Petaluma are looking for ways to create more affordable housing and this is a brilliant strategy,” said Rachel Ginis, the founding director of Novato-based Lily Pad Homes, a nonprofit that supports education about the development of second units and sponsored the junior second unit legislation.

Read more at: Petaluma crafts granny unit policy | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Windsor chooses new garbage company, rejecting its current hauler

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After months of back and forth, political opposition, a lawsuit and threats of more lawsuits, Windsor once has again chosen a garbage hauler — for the third time since May.

The saga represents a grueling first example of the process that other local cities, including Santa Rosa, are embarking on as they renew or re-evaluate curbside garbage contracts, most of which are with the same hauler, the Santa-Rosa-based Ratto Group, which is up for sale to a San Francisco company.

For many communities, the garbage contracts are among the most lucrative deals they hand out.

In Windsor, the deal is worth more than $56 million in revenue over 10 years to the company that came out on top Wednesday night.

The Town Council voted 4-1 to award the contract to a different hauler, Sonoma County Resource Recovery, owned by the San Rafael-based Garden City Group, Marin Sanitary Service Group and its president, Kevin Walbridge.

The decision dealt another rejection to the town’s current hauler, Windsor Refuse and Recycling — co-owned by the Ratto Group — which recently sued the town and claimed the bidding process was unfair.

Read more at: Windsor chooses new garbage company, rejecting its current hauler | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Santa Rosa may rethink use of chemical sprays such as Roundup in parks

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is the latest Sonoma County city to take a harder look at how it uses synthetic herbicides like Roundup following the state’s action to list the key ingredient in the weed killer as a known cause of cancer.

The City Council agreed Tuesday to re-bid a large landscaping contract to see if there are maintenance options that don’t use glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup, or neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides suspected of contributing to the demise of bee populations.

The city will seek bids for landscaping methods using common chemical sprays, as well as bids using more organic methods outlined by the Russian River Watershed Association.

“I will be very interested to see the Russian River-friendly proposal,” said Councilman Chris Rogers, who urged the city rethink its approach.

The move was the latest by a local government amid rising regulatory and scientific scrutiny of glyphosate, listed this month by California as a cancer-causing agent over the objection of agrichemical giant and Roundup maker Monsanto, which contends it is safe when used appropriately.

Read more at: Santa Rosa may rethink use of chemical sprays such as Roundup in parks | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Santa Rosa suspends new BoDean asphalt contract to speed resolution of dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is holding up a nearly $800,000 contract with a local asphalt plant until its owners comply with laws the city says it has violated going back a decade.

The City Council approved a new contract with BoDean Co. Tuesday but suspended its execution until the company resolves several outstanding building code and permit violations on its Maxwell Drive property.

The council took the unusual step even though city staff warned that it would prevent the city from utilizing the most convenient local source of asphalt during the height of the summer road construction season.

Read more at: Santa Rosa suspends new BoDean asphalt contract to speed resolution of dispute | The Press Democrat

Filed under Air, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Sonoma County approves sale of old Santa Rosa hospital site to housing developer

J.D. Morris, THE NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Sonoma County has approved a deal to sell an 82-acre former county hospital site where a developer plans to build 800 rental units, housing for veterans, a grocery store, an amphitheater and other amenities.

County leaders have touted the sale to Bill Gallaher, a politically connected Santa Rosa developer, as a clear-sighted move to meet an urgent regional need — expanding the housing supply, especially for renters, who’ve seen rates skyrocket in recent years.

The deal was approved 5-0 by Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday.

The health care complex is centered around the former Community Hospital, built in 1936 and vacated in 2014 after Sutter Health moved into its new hospital off Mark West Road. The aging building did not meet current seismic building standards and racked up costly maintenance bills, according to the county. Much of it is slated for demolition under Gallaher’s proposal.

Though a sale of the property was first raised as a possibility more than a decade ago, the deal approved Tuesday has faced strong criticism from neighbors, health care advocates and others since it was first unveiled as a proposal in February. Opponents raised concerns about the loss of health care services on the site and the future of open lands on the property.

But proponents, including Gallaher’s representative, have emphasized all along that the details of the project will ultimately be Santa Rosa’s permit and planning process is complete, and officials expect that period to last about 18 months.

Read more at: Sonoma County approves sale of old Santa Rosa hospital site to housing developer | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living