Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , , ,

Focus on roads, bikes and pedestrian projects as Measure DD passes

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Voters this month agreed to lock in tens of millions of local dollars each year for road improvements and upgrades to Sonoma County’s bus network and bicycle and pedestrian paths, ensuring transportation officials have dedicated funds for infrastructure projects into 2045.

In an countywide election that saw near-record turnout, Measure DD comfortably passed with 71% support, 4 points clear of the two-thirds majority it needed for approval. The extension of an existing quarter-cent sales tax won’t kick in until spring of 2025, but allows the county and its nine cities to start initial planning and grant work on the next generation of road and transportation projects.

While Measure DD, also known as the Go Sonoma Act, carries forward similar objectives as Measure M, the 20-year tax that voters narrowly passed in 2004, it has a reconfigured spending plan for the projected $26 million in yearly revenue. No major projects were included in the renewal measure after the initial tax allocated 40% of its annual funds to widening Highway 101 from the Marin County line north to Windsor.

The new measure puts more emphasis on smaller upgrades, including a greater share of funding for local roads, transit, bike and pedestrian projects.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-eyes-road-upgrades-as-measure-dd-passes/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it’s good for people of color

Sammy Roth, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The letter to Mexico’s energy minister offered a glowing review of a fossil fuel project in Baja California.

Writing in July, three U.S. governors and the chair of the Ute Indian Tribe praised the Energía Costa Azul project — which was seeking approval from the Mexican government — as “one of the most promising [liquefied natural gas] export facilities on the Pacific Coast.”

The letter was arranged by Western States and Tribal Nations, an advocacy group that says it was created in part to “promote tribal self-determination” by creating easier access to overseas markets for gas extracted from Native American lands.

But internal documents shared with The Times reveal that the group’s main financial backers are county governments and fossil fuel companies — including Sempra Energy of San Diego, which received approval this month to build the $1.9-billion facility in Baja. In fact, the group has just one tribal member, the Ute Indian Tribe.

Western States and Tribal Nations isn’t the only effort by fossil fuel proponents to cast themselves as allies of communities of color and defenders of their financial well-being.

The goal is to bulwark oil and gas against ambitious climate change policies by claiming the moral high ground — even as those fuels kindle a global crisis that disproportionately harms people who aren’t white.

Recent examples abound.

As protests rocked the United States after the police killing of George Floyd, a government relations firm whose clients include oil and gas companies told news media that the mayor of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was “getting a lot of heat” from the NAACP over a proposal to limit gas hookups in new buildings. That was proved false when the local NAACP chapter said it supported the policy.

Around the same time, Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation wrote a letter to federal officials complaining about the refusal of several banks to finance oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, writing that the banks were harming Alaska Natives by “openly discriminating against investment in some of the most economically disadvantaged regions of America.”

Some of the most contentious debates involve natural gas. The fuel is less polluting than coal, but an international team of scientists reported last year that planet-warming emissions from gas are rising faster than coal emissions are falling. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal AGU Advances found that replacing coal with gas might do little good for the climate.

Continue reading “The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it’s good for people of color”

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Lower Russian River to get first big regional park near Monte Rio

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County has acquired 515 acres of forest on the southern edge of Monte Rio that will be protected and opened to the public as the first major regional park in the lower Russian River area, offering a new outdoor destination for residents and the region’s steady stream of visitors.

The property, long eyed by park planners as a potential gem in the growing collection of preserved open space in west county, contains towering stands of mixed redwood and Douglas fir forest, as well as more than a mile of Dutch Bill Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.

In addition, its location offers options for future links to the Sonoma Coast State Beach and an envisioned 5½-mile “parkway” south through the redwoods between Monte Rio and Occidental.

“There are so many things about this site that are incredible,” said Misti Arias, acquisitions manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which helped fund the $3.9 million purchase.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who championed the deal from its earliest stages, touted the economic benefits of expanded outdoor opportunities, imagining the new park as a recreational hub that spurs and sustains commerce and community in nearby Monte Rio, which struggles with some of the highest unemployment rates countywide.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/former-sonoma-county-parks-director-to-serve-as-interim-chief-at-open-space/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

How Biden aims to amp up the government’s fight against climate change

Juliet Eilperin and Annie Linskey, THE WASHINGTON POST

A new administration would enlist departments like Transportation, Agriculture and Treasury to advance its climate goals

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government, from the departments of Agriculture to Treasury to State — expanding it beyond environmental agencies to speed U.S. efforts to mitigate global warming and to acknowledge that the problem touches many aspects of American life.

The far-reaching strategy is aimed at making significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions even without congressional action, by maximizing executive authority.

“From the very beginning of the campaign, when President-elect Biden rolled out his climate plan, he made it clear he sees this as an all-of-government agenda, domestic, economic, foreign policy,” said Stef Feldman, campaign policy director for Biden, a Democrat. “From the very beginning, when he talked about infrastructure, he talked about making sure that it built in climate change, that we are making our communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.”

The vast majority of scientists agree that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases released when humans burn fossil fuels is helping warm Earth. On the campaign trail, Biden proposed the most aggressive plan of any major party nominee to try to slow that warming.

In a sign of how Biden has already elevated the issue, he discussed the topic with every European head of state with whom he spoke on Tuesday, including the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Ireland. Biden has started frequently referring to the climate “crisis,” suggesting a heightened level of urgency.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/11/11/biden-climate-change/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Sonoma County business coalition fails in costly bid to sink local tax measures

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Some local officials who split sharply with the anti-tax group said the voting results represented the fall of an inflexible coalition that had lost touch with the electorate.

A powerful coalition of Sonoma County business groups that spent tens of thousands of dollars to fight local tax measures up and down the ballot appears to have lost every race, the group conceded Wednesday, a stinging blow for industry leaders who were piecing together what went wrong.

The 2020 Tax Moratorium Coalition, a group comprised of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the North Bay Leadership Council and the North Coast Builders Exchange, spent nearly $80,000 to oppose eight county- and city-level tax measures, including a countywide sales tax extension for roads and transit projects and a new countywide tax to bolster mental health and homeless services.

But with preliminary results showing a solid majority of voters backed all measures, rejecting the group’s message countywide, county leaders and political experts say the coalition is due for a reckoning.

“I was dumbfounded when they took this position,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin said Tuesday night. “And I think this is a repudiation of any coalition of groups to take an inflexible position on every tax measure across the board.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-business-coalition-fails-in-costly-bid-to-sink-local-tax-meas/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , ,

Federal Court Declares Genetically Engineered Salmon Unlawful

EARTHJUSTICE

San Francisco, CA — Link to ruling

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violated core environmental laws in approving the genetically engineered (GE) salmon. The Court ruled that FDA ignored the serious environmental consequences of approving genetically engineered salmon and the full extent of plans to grow and commercialize the salmon in the U.S. and around the world, violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Court also ruled that FDA’s unilateral decision that genetically engineered salmon could have no possible effect on highly-endangered, wild Atlantic salmon was wrong, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Court ordered FDA to go back to the drawing board and FDA must now thoroughly analyze the environmental consequences of an escape of genetically engineered salmon into the wild.

In 2016, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice — representing a broad client coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations, and the Quinault Indian Nation — sued the FDA for approving the first-ever commercial genetically engineered animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its wild counterpart. The genetically engineered salmon was produced by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a commercially genetically engineered animal as food.

“This decision underscores what scientists have been telling FDA for years — that creating genetically engineered salmon poses an unacceptable risk if the fish escape and interact with our wild salmon and that FDA must understand that risk to prevent harm,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Steve Mashuda. “Our efforts should be focused on saving the wild salmon populations we already have — not manufacturing new species that pose yet another threat to their survival.”

The Court ruled that FDA failed to consider and study the environmental risks of this novel GE fish. When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, heavily criticized FDA’s approval for failing to evaluate the impacts of GE salmon on native salmon populations. Yet FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.

Read more at https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/federal-court-declares-genetically-engineered-salmon-unlawful

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , ,

Despite what the logging industry says, cutting down trees isn’t stopping catastrophic wildfires

Tony Schick and Jes Burns, OPB

For decades, Oregon’s timber industry has promoted the idea that private, logged lands are less prone to wildfires. The problem? Science doesn’t support that.

As thousands of Oregon homes burned to rubble last month, the state’s politicians joined the timber industry in blaming worsening wildfires on the lack of logging.

Echoing a longstanding belief in the state that public forests are the problem, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who represents eastern Oregon, equated the federal government’s management to that of “a slum lord.” And Democratic Gov. Kate Brown on “Face the Nation” accused Republicans in the state Legislature of blocking measures, proposed by a wildfire council, that would have increased logging on public lands.

In the decades since government restrictions reduced logging on federal lands, the timber industry has promoted the idea that private lands are less prone to wildfires, saying that forests thick with trees fuel bigger, more destructive blazes. An analysis by OPB and ProPublica shows last month’s fires burned as intensely on private forests with large-scale logging operations as they did, on average, on federal lands that cut fewer trees.

In fact, private lands that were clear-cut in the past five years, with thousands of trees removed at once, burned slightly hotter than federal lands, on average. On public lands, areas that were logged within the past five years burned with the same intensity as those that hadn’t been cut, according to the analysis.

“The belief people have is that somehow or another we can thin our way to low-intensity fire that will be easy to suppress, easy to contain, easy to control. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jack Cohen, a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist who pioneered research on how homes catch fire.

The timber industry has sought to frame logging as the alternative to catastrophic wildfires through advertising, legislative lobbying and attempts to undermine research that has shown forests burn more severely under industrial management, according to documents obtained by OPB, The Oregonian/OregonLive and ProPublica.

Read more at: https://www.opb.org/article/2020/10/31/logging-wildfire-forest-management/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , ,

Cazadero cannabis grower pleads guilty to felony environmental violations

Zoe Strickland, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Michael Silva, 37, of Cazadero pled guilty to three felony counts related to environmental violations on a property where he was growing 1,450 cannabis plants, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday night, Oct. 29.

Silva hadn’t obtained environmental permits for his grow. According to the district attorney’s office, he will perform remediation, 300 hours of community service, obtain the correct permits and satisfy other requirements related to cultivating on the Cazadero property “with the understanding that charges will be dismissed upon completion in a year.”

The cannabis operation was discovered in September 2019 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Upon the discovery and following the execution of a warrant, it was determined that Silva was diverting water without permits and engaging in unpermitted construction work without best management practices that could resort in water pollution.

District Attorney Ravitch stated, “The defendant’s activities not only presented unacceptable harm to the environment but also contributed to the illegal cannabis market, a problem for this community and for lawful cultivation.”

“Silva will not be sentenced provided he abides by his agreement with the prosecution,” the statement from the district attorney’s office states. “The agreement also requires Silva to obtain the necessary permits to perform stream restoration over the next year. Should Silva fail to comply with the agreement reached with the prosecution, he faces potential administrative enforcement by sister state agencies, including CDFW and the Water Boards, and is subject to a maximum sentence of 10 years.”

The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White, with investigation provided by CDFW and with assistance from the Water Boards.

Source: http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/cazadero-cannabis-grower-pleads-guilty-to-felony-environmental-violations/

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: Wildfire safety starts with communities, not cutting forests

Shaye Wolf, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Another harrowing fire season and devastating losses of lives and homes sound an urgent alarm that California’s wildfire policy — focused on logging forests in the backcountry — isn’t working. Tragedy after escalating tragedy demands that we change course.

The good news is that a road map exists for fire policy that truly protects communities. Step one: Make houses and communities more fire-safe. Step two: Stop building new developments in fire-prone areas. Step three: Take strong action to fight climate change.

For years, state and federal wildfire policies have promoted logging of our forests. Under overly broad terms like forest management,thinning and fuels reduction, these policies do the bidding of the timber industry and entrenched agencies that are invested in cutting down trees. Yet, as more money has poured into logging, we’ve witnessed the unprecedented loss of lives and homes.

The reality is that no amount of logging can stop fires. In fact, it can even make fires burn hotter and faster. The 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the Butte County city of Paradise spread most rapidly through areas that had been heavily logged, and we’re seeing the same patterns in this year’s fires.

A study covering three decades and 1,500 fires, co-authored by one of my colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity, found that the most heavily logged areas experience the most intense fire. That isn’t surprising given that cutting down trees creates more exposed, hotter, drier conditions and promotes the spread of highly flammable invasive grasses.

Moreover, many of California’s fires — including half of this year’s burned acreage — have occurred not in forests, but in chaparral, grasslands and oak savanna. For at-risk communities across much of the state, logging is completely irrelevant to the fire threat.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: Wildfire safety starts with communities, not cutting forests”

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , ,

MALT Board of Directors’ conflicts of interest exposed as legal battle unfolds

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

In January 2017, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) paid $1.66 million to the family business of a member of its board of directors, Sam Dolcini.

The money bought a conservation easement on hundreds of acres of cattle-grazing land owned by Sam and his father, Earl Dolcini. Half of the purchase price came from a sales tax supporting Marin County Parks. The balance came from tax-deductible corporate and private donations made to MALT, a non-profit charity which the Internal Revenue Service terms a 501(c)3.

The county’s contribution to the Dolcini deal was approved without debate by the Marin County Board of Supervisors, which is closely connected to MALT. Supervisor Dennis Rodoni sat on the MALT board when the Dolcini deal was sealed, and Marin Board of Supervisors President Steve Kinsey was a MALT director from 1997 to 2016.

Years later, in May 2020, Parks suddenly ordered MALT to refund the county funds used to purchase the $1,666,500 Dolcini easement. The reason? When applying for the funding, MALT had failed to disclose the existence of an appraisal it had commissioned that valued the easement at half a million dollars less than the price paid by MALT and the county.

MALT immediately refunded $833,250 to the county using private donations. The Dolcinis did not return any of the money, said MALT spokesperson Isabel French. In June, executive director, Jamison Watts, resigned to “recalibrate my life-work balance.” As facts about the board’s historic conflicts of interest spill into view, MALT has lawyered up.

It turns out Sam Dolcini is not the first board member to sell an easement to the land trust. MALT has spent tens of millions of dollars in public and private funds buying easements from its own board members.

Read more at: https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/malt-directors-conflicts-of-interest-exposed-as-legal-battle-unfolds/Content?oid=10569479