Category Archives: Transportation

Op-Ed: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal

Maggie Bradley, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I have three serious concerns regarding the Chanate Road property development. The first one is about the manner in which the Board of Supervisors handled the sale and future development of the taxpayer-owned land surrounding the property. The second is the manner and way the public’s concerns were handled by Supervisor Shirlee Zane. And the final concern is about the lack of sustainability in the building and development of this new community.

The first issue has to do with accessibility and information. Who has it and how do they get it? What I know, based on the reporting done by The Press Democrat and from others, is that there were two proposals vying for the development contract. Two supervisors had only read Bill Gallaher’s proposal prior to the vote.

The property to be developed is in Zane’s district. Gallaher is a generous donor to select individuals running for public office. Zane is a recipient of Gallaher’s generosity. Komron Shahhosseini, an employee of Gallaher’s, is a member of the Sonoma County Planning Commission who was appointed by Zane. Although this project will be decided by the Santa Rosa City Council, Planning Commission members can have major influence on development projects throughout the county. Gallaher was awarded the bid and plans to build 800 new homes. Shahhosseini is now a partner of Gallaher’s and is the development’s project manager.

The other proposal, from Curt Johansen, included approximately 500 homes and was designed as a completely sustainable development.

The second concern has to do with Zane’s response to the distress expressed by the public over the traffic and scope of this development. Do the math. The impact of more than 800 new homes (most likely with two cars) making between 1,600 (one car, two trips, to and from work) and 3,200 (two cars, two trips) trips on two-lane roads must not be tossed off as unimportant. Include the traffic from the new retail area and apartment complex. Then consider the minimal public transit available in that district. It is a recipe for a traffic nightmare and certain gridlock.

Zane’s response to that legitimate concern (I’m paraphrasing) was to say that she had recently driven the road several times and the traffic wasn’t that bad.The public’s anxious concerns regarding potential development (more homes) on Paulin Creek Preserve were earlier diminished as likely irrelevant. What was disappointing was Zane’s passing the buck and blaming the mix up on “staff,” dramatically declaring that she was “blindsided” by the news (“Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow,” May 4). However, when the news broke a few months ago, it was treated as no big deal.

Zane seemed confident that something would be unearthed during the environmental review that would somehow render the issue of building on the preserve moot. What and why? If the preserve can’t be built on for environmental reasons, how can the land right next to it be developed?

Finally, the votes in favor of Sonoma Clean Power and the SMART train are strong indicators to our elected leaders that we as a community want to move more toward sustainability. I could find no mention of sustainable building in Gallaher’s proposal.The other proposal by Johansen had sustainability baked into the development on all levels.

As a medium-sized city, Santa Rosa has an opportunity to become the national model for sustainable development. Let’s grab it.

Maggie Bradley is a 40-year resident of Sonoma County whose son was born at the former Community Hospital on Chanate Road and has been closely following plans for development of the site. She lives in Santa Rosa.

Source: Close to Home: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Bike to Work Day just another day for two Santa Rosa men 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

May 11 is Bike to Work Day in Sonoma County: Refueling stations will be set up across the county. Click here for more information.

With supplies for his kindergarten class strapped to his bicycle and a pacemaker keeping things orderly in his chest, Steve Bush leaves his home in Santa Rosa’s junior college neighborhood for his morning commute.

The 54-year-old schoolteacher pedals north on Old Redwood Highway before crossing over Highway 101 on Airport Boulevard. The 7-mile journey to Sonoma Country Day School near Windsor is one Bush has made daily for years, rain or shine.

He has few alternatives. About a decade ago, Bush and his wife, Meredith, sold their car. It’s been two-wheels traveling for the couple ever since.

“It’s nice to wake up in the morning with a bike ride and to relieve all the tension in the evening on the way home,” Bush said this week. “It makes my life better.”

Thursday is Bike to Work Day across the Bay Area. But for some, like Bush, it’s just another day to keep doing what they do as a matter of routine and passion.

In recognition of Bush’s dedication, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission named the Santa Rosa man Sonoma County’s bike commuter of the year.

Bush shares the honor with Shaun Ralston, regional program manager for Sutter Health, who cycles to work from his home in the McDonald Avenue area to Sutter’s hospital at Mark West Springs Road, a one-way trip of about 4.5 miles.

Read more at: Bike to Work Day just another day for two Santa Rosa men | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Bay motorists suffering through congested traffic on Highway 37 or long detours from closures of the roadway caused by flooding may wish for anything to relieve them of their misery.

But does that include paying tolls?

A fee-based future appears to be gaining traction with a key advisory group tasked with long-term solutions for traffic and flooding on the heavily traversed 21-mile highway from Vallejo to Novato.“

I think everyone acknowledges there’s few options other than tolls to generate revenue needed to do a project of that scale in that location,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the Highway 37 Policy Committee.

Rabbitt spoke Thursday following the committee’s meeting at Mare Island in Vallejo. The group includes representatives of transportation agencies in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

Highway 37, which skirts the edge of San Pablo Bay, is increasingly at risk from sea level rise, and this winter was closed for weeks at a time as a result of storm-related flooding. The segment east of Sonoma Raceway, which narrows to two lanes, is a particularly problematic choke-point.

Read more at: Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

Op-Ed: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards

Janis Watkins, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s stunning rural beauty, pristine coast, charming small towns and scenic wine valleys are unique characteristics that draw visitors by the thousands. The boom in tourism has many benefits, including more jobs, increased tax revenues for the county and cities and a lively social vibrancy. But that success has also brought impacts.

Affordable housing in Wine Country has been hit hard by the tourism boom. Although tourists didn’t cause the housing crisis, tourism has exacerbated it. Residents are seeing the loss of housing stock to owners of second homes, Airbnb rentals and outside investors drawn by our local charm, who gentrify or “scrape and replace” neighborhood homes.In Healdsburg, an affluent visitor destination, 21 mostly Hispanic families suffered mass eviction by an outside investor. Some neighborhoods are hollowed out, degenerating into a set of part-time strangers. Low-paying tourism jobs are increasing, worsening the affordable housing deficit.

The increased number of tasting rooms, with evermore intense events, raises the specter of “Napafication.” Rural residents experience traffic congestion, loss of rural character, noise and out-of-scale alcohol tourism-related development. Two-lane Highway 12 is already over capacity with traffic, especially in the northern Sonoma Valley where special events attract more than 170,000 people annually. Approved and modified permits for five facilities alone will add another 25,000 vehicle trips. Similar over-concentration occurs on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley.

In Healdsburg, 37 tasting rooms are concentrated downtown, and they will pay top dollar, driving up rents to where other types of businesses have a hard time competing. For about half the year, tourism swells the population, which puts stress on public services at local taxpayer expense. Sonoma, the other plaza town, has a similar pattern. These tourist-focused towns have fewer services and less space for locals, less diverse economies and are vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. As once thriving communities become more commercialized, and their assets degrade, they lose their unique qualities, and tourists move on to more charming locations.

Solutions are at hand. Increasingly, Sonoma County is looking for ways to preserve the robust benefits of agricultural tourism, while balancing tourism with local residents’ needs and promoting a diverse economy.

The Board of Supervisors directed development of zoning code amendments, siting criteria and standards for winery events to address the impacts of wine-related tourism. Supervisors have signaled that new development in areas of concentration will face greater scrutiny and guidelines to limit detrimental concentrations and impacts to rural character from business activity in the Sonoma Valley, on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley. Developers have their sights on coastal areas. Luckily, county planners recently put a hold on a wine-tasting, brew pub and art venue proposal in the historic village of Freestone.

“Sustainable tourism” is also being discussed in Healdsburg and Sonoma. City and local leaders are considering how to create sustainable tourism, and the mayor of Sonoma is seeking coordination with Healdsburg on this effort. Sonoma County Conservation Action, a leader in grass-roots environmental issues, supports this collaborative approach. The process should involve broad outreach to residents, environmentalists and the lodging, wine and business sectors, and it should create specific enforceable measures that protect the carrying capacity of communities and balance the needs of tourism and residents.

Janis Watkins, a resident of Healdsburg, is a member of the board of directors of Conservation Action. 

Source: Close to Home: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade

Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST

The railway shuttles 65,000 people a day between San Francisco and San Jose, its cars crammed with Silicon Valley workers tapping on sleek laptops and hoisting bikes into designated cars. But the signs of aging are unmistakable — 1980s control panels devoid of digital technology, the dusting of sea-green foam that has escaped from the seat cushions and settled on the floor.

All of that was supposed to change with the launch of a $2 billion upgrade, underwritten in part by a $647 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration approved days before President Barack Obama left office. But then the Trump administration arrived, and within a month the FTA informed Caltrain that it was “deferring a decision.”

The delay has infuriated California officials, who had hoped the long-awaited project would mesh nicely with President Trump’s call for fresh spending on the nation’s aging infrastructure. But in this era of distrust and polarization, an otherwise popular initiative has become a GOP target, seen as a pet project of the former president.

The move to shelve the grant is reverberating far beyond the Golden State, alarming officials in cities across the nation. The White House wants to slice nearly $1 billion from the transportation budget this year, with the cuts aimed primarily at urban transit projects such as the Purple Line in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Read more at: Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade – The Washington Post

Filed under Transportation

Bay Area air regulators outline plan to combat climate change 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Read the draft plan: Spare the Air, Cool the Climate

Watch a video about the plan.

Lorna Ho of Santa Rosa, proud driver of an all-electric Nissan Leaf, said she’s happy to be part of the vanguard in combating climate change.

Ho, a retiree, gave up her gas-guzzling Mercedes that got 15 mpg in September and leased a Leaf that hums along on battery power, releasing zero pollutants.“All of that matters to me,” said Ho, who was recharging her vehicle Thursday at a power station at Coddingtown. “I’m very much aware of what’s going on in the environment.”

She’s also in sync with an ambitious pollution-fighting plan unveiled this week by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the regulatory agency best known for issuing winter “spare the air” alerts that prohibit burning wood in fireplaces and wood stoves on chilly nights when the air is likely to be fouled.

Now, the district’s “Spare the Air, Cool the Climate” plan lays out a blueprint for curbing tons of Bay Area greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a payoff of avoiding nearly $1 billion in social and economic costs.

“This is a major initiative,” said Kristine Roselius, an air district spokeswoman, noting that the Trump administration is dismantling numerous clean air measures. “The Bay Area is marching forward. It’s too important to stop.

”The Bay Area air district covers most of Sonoma County, including Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma and Sebastopol, and all or part of eight other counties surrounding San Francisco Bay.

The plan, approved unanimously by the district’s 24 board members Wednesday, lays the groundwork for bringing Bay Area greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

It aims at big targets, such as oil refineries and diesel engines, emphasizes small, personal choices such as walking or biking to work, as well as eating more vegetarian and vegan meals.

“We really have to go beyond governmental actions to changes that people can make in their everyday lives,” said Abby Young, the district’s climate protection manager.

The plan, which includes 85 measures to curb Bay Area pollutants, “reaches beyond business as usual” for the district, she said. It targets pollutants from industry, transportation, agriculture, homes and businesses.

The air district will use its own authority to limit some emissions, and will work with cities and other agencies on issues related to transportation. The regulations will not be implemented for some time.

Read more at: Bay Area air regulators outline plan to combat climate change | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Traffic, crime and groundwater use were among the main concerns raised by residential neighbors of the Graton Resort and Casino during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a proposal to double the size of the casino’s new 200-room hotel, which opened last November outside Rohnert Park.

The expansion, proposed by the casino’s owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, would add 211,328 square feet of building space to the existing 300,000-square-foot hotel, according to the draft tribal environmental impact report, released in March.

The casino, opened in November 2013, occupies more than 300,000 square feet.The town hall, hosted by Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, drew about 50 people to the Stony Point Christian Fellowship, located a little more than 2 miles north of the casino.

Officials from several county agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, County Counsel’s Office and the Transportation and Public Works department, attended the meeting to review the 853-page draft environmental impact report and respond to questions from the public.

Read more at: Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation, Water

New Oakmont bike-pedestrian trail may solve long-simmering access dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new path nearing completion in Oakmont will soon link the retirement community in east Santa Rosa to Trione-Annadel State Park, and in the process may help solve a long-simmering access dispute.

The 400-foot-long gravel trail is designed to allow bicycle riders and pedestrians to skirt a piece of private property over which the city once held an easement frequently used by the public.

The new path runs parallel to that driveway, links up with city property once used as a wastewater treatment plant and creates a continuous link between Stone Bridge Drive and Channel Drive on the northern side of Annadel.

“We’ve totally bypassed the private property with this path,” said Ken Wells, executive director of the Sonoma Trails Council, which is building the trail with 36 yards of gravel and a lot of volunteer labor from Oakmont residents.

The trail should open as soon as the area has five solid days of warm weather to help the material set, Wells said.

If the city designates a recreational trail across its property – which it is expected to do later this month – the city property and the Oakmont trail together could create a public trail that will not only allow Oakmont residents to access the park but help cyclists stay off busy Highway 12.

“It’s really a good example of the city working with a community group to come up with a creative solution,” said Mayor Chris Coursey, who rode past the path on his bike Thursday afternoon.

Read more at: New Oakmont trail may solve long-simmering access dispute | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

SMART to build second commuter rail station in Petaluma

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A deal stuck last month between commuter and freight rail agencies could lead to the development of an east Petaluma rail station and a downtown mixed use project.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority, which is preparing to launch commuter train service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael later this year, reached the deal with the North Coast Railroad Authority, which operates freight trains on the same stretch of tracks.

As part of the sweeping operating agreement, the NCRA agreed to vacate the downtown rail yard adjacent to the train station on Lakeville Street. NCRA had an easement to park freight trains on the property, complicating SMART’s efforts to develop the land.

“It’s a positive step and a victory for Petaluma,”said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member. “It does clear the way for things to move forward.”

With NCRA ceding its interest in the property, SMART is now free to pursue a deal with a developer to sell the downtown land in exchange for construction of a second Petaluma commuter rail platform at Corona Road. The long envisioned second station was promised to voters who approved the commuter rail agency in 2008, but was removed from the initial plans as the agency faced budget uncertainty during the recession.

Read more at: SMART deal could lead to second Petaluma station | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

How electric utilities could revive their sagging fortunes and decarbonize the country

David Roberts, VOX

These are gloomy times for electric utilities. After more than a century of fairly steady and predictable growth, they have entered stagnant waters. Demand for electricity is sluggish. Distributed energy resources (solar panels, batteries, etc.) are chipping away at their market share. Climate activists are always yelling at them for burning so many fossil fuels. It’s no fun.

Despite the industry’s much-hyped “death spiral” — in which customers abandon utilities for distributed energy, prices rise on remaining customers, more customers leave, etc. — these troubles are probably not fatal. Even under aggressive projections, most electricity will come from utility-scale power plants through the middle of the century. Utilities will still be needed. But they do seem to be heading inexorably toward a much-diminished role, with much-diminished profits.

Still, buck up, utility execs, all is not lost! There is a possible future in which utilities become bigger and more important than ever. What’s more, it is a future in which they take the lead in decarbonizing the country.

They could be heroes.

That is the good news in a recent paper from research consultancy The Brattle Group. It outlines a scenario in which utilities thrive, greenhouse gas emissions decline, and everyone joins hands in song.

The key to everything (coincidentally, my long-time obsession) is electrification.

Read more at: How electric utilities could revive their sagging fortunes and decarbonize the country – Vox

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation