Tag Archives: parks

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

Narrow defeat for Sonoma County parks measure likely to prompt another try 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County voters came tantalizingly close in 2016 to approving a sales tax measure that arguably would have led to the most sweeping changes to the county’s parks system in its 50-year history.

Measure J supporters said the half-cent sales tax measure, which would have generated an estimated $95 million over a 10-year term, was needed to fund an overhaul of the parks system, including a vast expansion of public lands offering new recreational opportunities.

Under this vision, county-owned properties, including those with jaw-dropping views along the Sonoma Coast, would fully open to the public. Miles of new trails would come online, amenities such as campgrounds would be installed and aging infrastructure at existing parks would be spruced up or repaired.

Those lofty plans stalled after Measure J went came up just shy of the required two-thirds majority in the November election. It failed by 1,082 votes out of nearly 69,800 cast on the initiative.

“Obviously, it’s a shame that it didn’t pass and that it came so close,” Caryl Hart, the county’s Regional Parks director, said this month.

Given the narrow margin of defeat, Hart and other Measure J supporters are now considering whether to go back to voters in 2017 with another tax measure.

Read more at: Year in Review: Narrow defeat for Sonoma County parks measure likely to prompt another try | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations

Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square project improves conditions for new trees

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Later this year, workers reunifying Old Courthouse Square will plant dozens of new trees to replace the towering redwoods and others that were felled at the beginning of the project in downtown Santa Rosa.

Whether the new sycamores and crepe myrtles thrive in their urban environment will depend largely on innovative underground preparations underway this week.

Workers began installing more than 1,000 black plastic structures that future visitors to the square will never see, but will directly affect how well the trees grow.

Called Silva Cells, the rectangular blocks, which look a bit like large hollow Legos, are designed to create subterranean spaces where tree roots can grow freely and storm water can collect before flowing into nearby Santa Rosa Creek.

Trees in urban environments often fail to thrive because they are planted in heavily compacted soil that prevents them from getting the air, water and nutrients they need, said Shawn Freedberg, an account manager with the San Francisco-based DeepRoot Green Infrastructure. Instead of growing downward and outward, tree roots often grow upward, resulting in pushed up sidewalks and pavement damage, he explained.

Read more at: Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square project stakes out space for new trees

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Point Reyes ranchers at center of debate over nature of national parks

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Storm clouds shadowed Ted McIsaac as he shifted his battered 1994 Chevy pickup into four-wheel drive and bounced along a muddy track over hills cloaked in brilliant green grass.

His border collie Rollin trotted alongside while McIsaac made a morning recon of his 2,500-acre Point Reyes ranch to scan the slopes near and far for his 160 head of pure black cattle. To the west, the dark spine of Inverness Ridge framed the horizon, and 2 miles beyond winter surf pounded a wild coastline.

“You rely on Mother Nature. She rules your day,” said McIsaac, 65, a lean, sturdy man with a creased face and square jaw. A fourth-generation rancher, he’s accustomed to the vagaries of weather, especially spring rains that can make or break a cattleman.

But a much larger storm now hangs over the remote Point Reyes peninsula, where a legal fight triggered by three environmental groups has profoundly unsettled life for McIsaac and 23 other families who operate ranches on the federally protected landscape.

Theirs is a way of life often as rough as the relentless waves crashing at the edges of this timeless headland. And they believe the future of ranching is at stake in the 71,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore, where pasture for beef and dairy cattle exists side by side with wilderness, both shielded from development in a unique preserve established by the federal government at the ranchers’ behest more than 50 years ago.

President John F. Kennedy, convinced it was some sort of charmed West Coast Cape Cod, created the national park after ranchers and environmentalists fearful of intense development pressures banded together to stop the encroachment of subdivisions on Point Reyes.

As part of the deal, the ranchers insist they were made a promise specifically designed to endure: They could remain as long their families were willing to work in the wet, cold and wind of an unforgiving landscape.

Point Reyes National Seashore is now at the center of an unfolding dispute that ultimately seeks to define the nature of America’s national parks: Can the treasured public scenery accommodate the country’s ranching tradition?

Read more at: Point Reyes ranchers at center of debate over | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

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

Master plan for Sonoma’s Maxwell Farms Park gets close

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Regional Parks Maxwell Farms Plan Update

The future of Maxwell Park got another hearing Wednesday night in a well-attended and lively meeting of locals, interested parties and personnel from Sonoma County Regional Parks. Though billed as “Workshop #2” it followed by over a year the first such meeting, held Jan. 15 2015, and by 10 months a second workshop held at El Verano Elementary last April.

Those meetings were primarily about getting community input on the sorts of features resident would like to see in the 80-acre park, located between the City of Sonoma and Verano.

“It took us longer than expected to marshal the resources to move this plan forward, and allowed more time for researching background information and talking with the different interest groups,” said project planner Scott Wilkinson. He also cited the county’s work toward a Moorland Park on the site of Andy Lopez’ death in 2013 as shifting resources.

This time Wilkinson and Steve Ehret, also of Regional Parks, came with three developed maps for the property that each included the major features the community requested – and a large open-space area taking up almost half the park, in deference to the so-called “conservation easement” that accompanied the parcel when it was deeded to the county.

Though the fact that the county now owns the land essentially voids the easement – the county apparently cannot legally have an easement on land it owns itself, according to Ehret – that didn’t alter the commitment to the “spirit of the easement,” he said.

Read more at: Master plan for Sonoma’s Maxwell Field Park gets | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations

Chainsaws come out in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The sound of chainsaws roared through Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square Wednesday as the city began felling decades-old trees in preparation for the reunification of the square this summer.

A crew from Atlas Tree Surgery limbed and then began removing five trees on the east side of the square, the first of 20 being removed to prevent birds and bats from nesting in them this spring.

The work is expected to be complete by the end of the month, after which the fences will come down until construction begins in earnest on the $10 million project in June.

A handful of protesters who have decried the tree removal as hasty and unnecessary observed the work from behind fences said they were disheartened by the move.

“We’re just beside ourselves looking at the graveyard over there,” said Norma Baumsteiger, the 81-year-old Oakmont resident who has been a regular presence around the square in recent weeks, gathering signatures urging residents to oppose the removal.

She vowed a recall effort against the City Council and mayor.

“The people have spoken and City Hall never listened,” Baumsteiger said. “The people are tired of talking and now they’re going to be shouting.”

The idea of reunifying the two halves of Old Courthouse Square, split by Mendocino Avenue after the courthouse was removed in 1968, has been around for decades but only gained momentum last year. Business leaders and City Council members agreed the project represented the city’s best chance of revitalizing a downtown plagued by commercial vacancies.

But a quick redesign that included wider side streets with more parking than the previous plan and a fast-tracked construction timetable took many residents, many of whom assumed the project was indefinitely stalled, by surprise. The removal of 91 of the 114 trees in the square, including eight of 30 mature redwoods, has provoked the most ire, though concerns about the cost, traffic impacts and incomplete design remain.

Read more at: Chainsaws come out in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Santa Rosa City Council signs off on final Courthouse Square design

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After the changes in traffic patterns that will result from the removal of the one block of Mendocino Avenue between Third and Fourth streets, the felling of trees will undoubtedly be the most significant change to the downtown landscape.

Up to 91 trees of the 114 trees on site today, or nearly 80 percent, will be removed as part of the project.

The final design for the reunification of Old Courthouse Square won unanimous approval from the Santa Rosa City Council early Wednesday morning, a decision hailed by business leaders as a crucial step toward revitalizing the economic heart of the city and denounced by critics as denuding a verdant downtown park of its cherished trees to build roads and parking spaces.

The decision, made shortly after midnight following testimony of dozens of residents for and against the latest iteration of the high-profile project, was punctuated with a group of unabashed tree lovers storming out of the meeting claiming their input had been ignored.

“None of us are happy with cutting down trees, there is no joy in that,” Councilman Chris Coursey said as project critics filed out. “Serving on this council is about balancing competing interests and it’s about making decisions for the greater good. And that’s the decision that I’m making tonight.”

Read more at: Santa Rosa City Council signs off on final | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Trees take center stage at Old Courthouse Square reunification forum

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Preliminary designs of a reunified Old Courthouse Square were both blasted and applauded during a packed public forum Saturday morning in a building space on the west side of the square in Santa Rosa.

About 200 attended the meeting, many of them standing because of insufficient seating. They voiced strong opinions about the project, ranging from opposition to eliminating some of the square’s old redwood trees to ecological concerns about the installation of a lawn in the middle of downtown.

But other attendees, some of them business owners on or near the square, called the three design proposals a good compromise that would save the majority of the site’s redwoods, add needed parking and revitalize an otherwise dreary urban landscape.

“If we do nothing, nothing happens,” said Michael Hyman, owner of the Pawn Advantage on Fourth Street. “I go through the square nearly every day. … It’s depressing. No one goes through the square; no one goes there to look at redwoods.”

As expected, many attending the forum were concerned about the removal of nearly two dozen trees, particularly redwoods, from the site. A number of them objected to the removal of trees for what would become angled parking on the west and east sides of the reunified square.

“I don’t think we need all that parking space at the expense of all those beautiful trees,” Santa Rosa resident Carlos Dabe said during the public comment section of the forum.

Read more at: Trees take center stage at Old Courthouse Square | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Plans discussed for new Sonoma Valley Regional Park lands

Alec Peters, KENWOOD PRESS

About 25 people attended a Sonoma County Regional Parks meeting on Oct. 28 to put in their two cents about potential uses for two properties that are now part of Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen.

The properties are adjacent to the Sonoma Highway access for Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

On one side is what’s known as the 29-acre Curreri property, and the other is the 41-acre SDC41 property. Regional Parks officials are in the process of creating a master plan that will create trails and other recreational activities on the new additions, and figure out how they would integrate with the rest of Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

“We want your input,” said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin as she kicked off the meeting in front of the small crowd at the Kenwood Fire House, many of whom were neighbors of the Glen Ellen park.

The SDC41 piece was once part of the state-run Sonoma Developmental Center, but declared surplus property in the 1990s. Open Space bought the property for $600,000 in 2007. The land was then transferred to Regional Parks. The 41 acres consists of oak woodlands and grasslands, some wetland areas, and also provides some panoramic views of the valley.

The Curreri property was bought by the Sonoma Land Trust for $1.1 million in 2014, and then immediately moved to Regional Parks. The area has similar landscape characteristics as SDC41, and also includes a pond, which helps provide a habitat for such species as the Pacific pond turtle, California red legged frog, grasshopper sparrow, and Great Blue heron.

Map of Sonoma Valley Regional Park The newest additions to Sonoma Valley Regional Park border its east and west sides, increasing the park by 70 acres. (Source: Sonoma County Regional Parks)

Another aspect of the new lands is increased protection for an officially designated Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which provides a crucial linkage for wildlife movement between Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas range.

Discussed among the group at the Oct. 28 meeting were potential uses of the new properties, such as the possible locations of trails for hiking, biking, and horses, and educational activities that might include an educational center.

Participants emphasized the need to protect the wildlife corridor and the pond, the need for reforestation in some areas, the removal of barbed wire fencing and invasive weed species on the Curreri land, and a general focus on native land management practice.

All were interested in the potential of Regional Parks acquiring further SDC property that is next to Sonoma Valley Regional Park, especially an area that contains Suttonfield Lake.

Regional Parks staff will take the input from the public and use it as they develop a master plan. Environmental and other studies need to be done, and future public meetings held. It is hoped that approval of the master plan would go in front of the Board of Supervisors in the fall of 2016, with trail construction beginning in the Spring of 2017.

Regional Parks is also preparing a master plan for a 247-acre addition to Hood Mountain Regional Park, known as the Lawson Addition. The Open Space District purchased the property in 2005 for $1,160,000, and then transferred title to Regional Parks in 2014.

A public workshop on the Lawson Addition master plan will take place Wednesday, Nov. 18, 6 to 8 p.m., also at the Kenwood Fire House.

Source: The Kenwood Press – Plans discussed for new Sonoma Valley Regional Park lands

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations

Researchers find mental health prescription: Nature

Rob Jordan, STANFORD REPORT

Feeling down? Take a hike.

A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.

Specifically, the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.”

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.

In fact, city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Is exposure to nature linked to mental health? If so, the researchers asked, what are nature’s impacts on emotion and mood? Can exposure to nature help “buffer” against depression?

Read more at: Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature

Filed under Sustainable Living