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Santa Rosa puts out call for public input on general plan revision

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Planning website: srcity.org/SR2050

Santa Rosa has launched a comprehensive planning process it calls “Santa Rosa 2050” to create a guide for the city’s future.

The process will create a new version of the city’s general plan, the guiding document that acts as a map for decisions on housing, streets, parks, public safety and more. The plan was last updated a decade ago and is being revised to factor in the impacts of the October 2017 wildfires, the annexation of Roseland and recent technological innovations.

Upcoming workshops include a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Roseland Elementary. More details about several other upcoming meetings can be found at srcity.org/SR2050. The city estimates completing the plan update in June 2023.

“A lot has changed globally and here locally over the past decade, and the city needs to hear from our community members at this critical initial step, and throughout the duration of the project, to help direct the vision for the future of Santa Rosa,” Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said in a statement.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9579305-181/santa-rosa-puts-out-call?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Sonoma County considering taking over Eel River water-power project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors agreed Tuesday to study the possibility of applying for a license to operate a remote Mendocino County hydropower project, marking the first move to maintain a long-standing water transfer deemed critical to residents and ranchers in both counties.

A coalition of five Mendocino County agencies and California Trout, a 50-year-old environmental nonprofit, are collaborating with Sonoma County’s water agency in the consideration of taking over the federal license for the Potter Valley Project, which delivers 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River into the Russian River basin.

Each of the three partners is putting $100,000 into the study, an amount dwarfed by the potential cost of establishing free passage for the Eel River’s protected salmon and steelhead — likely a requisite step to extend the project’s life.

PG&E, the state’s largest utility now in bankruptcy, surrendered the project in January, upending the license renewal process, and no entity has responded to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) call for a new operator.

The utility, which had owned the project since 1930, said it was no longer economical to operate a plant that generated less than 1 percent of its power.

But the water flowing through the powerhouse is virtually invaluable to the towns and ranches along the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and is a critical source for Sonoma Water, which delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county customers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9598819-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-eye-future

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Nearly all countries agree to stem flow of plastic waste into poor nations

Emily Holden, THE GUARDIAN

Almost all the world’s countries have agreed on a deal aimed at restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries, the United Nations announced on Friday.

Exporting countries – including the US – now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the US and other countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments.

Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”.
Runaway consumption: 2tn drinks containers being used every year
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“We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia.

The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals that threaten the planet’s seas and creatures. The pact comes in an amendment to the Basel convention. The US is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change, saying officials didn’t understand the repercussions it would have on the plastic waste trade.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/10/nearly-all-the-worlds-countries-sign-plastic-waste-deal-except-us

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , ,

Study of public trail along lower Russian River to kick off with Saturday meeting

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Russian River Trail Feasibility Study

The vision of a 19-mile bike and pedestrian trail linking lower Russian River communities from Forestville to Jenner is still just that, but Sonoma County officials are taking the first steps toward what they hope might make for a concrete plan one day.

Armed with more than $750,000 in grant funding for the purpose, regional parks personnel are launching a feasibility study to figure out where they might try to route a multiuse trail that would provide a safer alternative than River Road or Highway 116 for cyclists and pedestrians, offering recreational opportunities to locals and visitors.

The high-speed, high-traffic route through west Sonoma County hosts an average of 11,000 daily vehicle trips, and has a history of bicycle and pedestrian crashes, officials said.

“We’re looking at providing a trail that is actually separate from the roadway, if we can provide a safe place for folks to walk and bike,” Sonoma County Regional Parks Planner Ken Tam said. “If we can keep them away from the shoulder it will actually provide safety for the vehicles, as well.”

But “it’s a pretty daunting task,” given the breadth of the study area, significant development up to the roadways in some areas and other obstacles — like bridges, steep embankments, private property rights and the like, Tam said.

A public meeting scheduled Saturday morning in Guerneville is part of the process. County consultants want to hear from the public about priority areas for safe passage and important linkages or destinations, like schools, beaches and service centers, Tam said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9583267-181/study-of-public-trail-along

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

California to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

Brian Melley, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nation’s most productive agricultural state moved Wednesday to ban a controversial pesticide widely used to control a range of insects but blamed for harming brain development in babies.

The move cheered by environmentalists would outlaw chlorpyrifos after scientists deemed it a toxic air contaminant and discovered it to be more dangerous than previously thought. California Environmental Secretary Jared Blumenfeld said it’s the first time the state has sought to ban a pesticide and the move was overdue.

“This pesticide is a neurotoxin, and it was first put on the market in 1965,” Blumenfeld said. “So it’s been on the shelf a long time, and it’s past its sell-by date.”

The decision comes after regulators in several states have taken steps in recent years to restrict the pesticide used on about 60 different crops in California, including grapes, almonds and oranges. Hawaii banned it last year, and New York lawmakers recently sent a measure to the governor outlawing use of the pesticide.

DowDuPont, which produces the pesticide, said it was disappointed with the decision and that farmers who rely on the pesticide say it will hurt their ability to control insects.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/94c594ce51f441b6998fb83a4cda2c79

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Sonoma County at a crossroads

Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is at a crossroads right now with new and ongoing challenges such as climate change and extreme weather, housing needs and poor public transit that have the potential to change our communities and lands for decades to come. The general plan and zoning code are the tools intended to provide a vision and path forward on land use and to provide certainty for residents and voters.

The county’s general plan update has been postponed for the past three years because of the fires and floods that have devastated our communities. In fact, these extreme events have created a new urgency for updating the general plan. The county must respond to changed conditions since the last general plan update, more than a decade ago, and forge a way forward into an uncertain future and a “new normal.”

That is why Greenbelt Alliance, the Sierra Club, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Wine and Water Watch and Mobilize Sonoma recently joined forces to urge the Board of Supervisors to prioritize the update of the general plan without further delay.

But after a lengthy public hearing on April 16, the supervisors voted in favor of Permit Sonoma’s recommendation to delay work on the general plan for another year or more. They decided to prioritize multiple important existing and new initiatives over the next two years. The Permit Sonoma work plan priorities is to be finalized at the June 4 supervisors meeting.

Most of the priorities are supported by environmental community, but several raise red flags because of conflicts with city-centered growth and the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions. This is even more alarming given that no climate measures were made priorities.

In response to large community turnout at the April 16 public hearing, revising the county cannabis ordinance was put at the top of the priority planning list.

Next in line, with strongest community support, was updating the county tree ordinance, promised for a decade or more. The county’s tree protection ordinance allows trees, including oak woodlands, to be cleared for wine grapes, hay and other agriculture without public review. It is now back on the priority list.

Finalizing the Local Coastal Plan, the general plan for the coast, is also to move forward. A previous draft sparked controversy because of proposals to open up more coastal areas to commercial and vineyard development.

Long overdue winery event regulations were also made a priority, though it is not clear how soon the county will move forward, or whether draft staff guidelines will ever be released, or if county will rely entirely on standards developed by wineries and/or neighbors in each area of overconcentration.

Other priorities include planning for the Sonoma Developmental Center, adding more vacation rental exclusion zones and the Springs specific plan.

Several priorities seem a bit out of whack. Should we really be fast-tracking housing at the Santa Rosa Airport Business Park and in southeast Santa Rosa on county lands outside of voter-approved urban growth boundaries in Santa Rosa and Windsor? Both undermine long-standing city-centered growth policies.

Rezoning and opening up more rural parcels for large accessory dwelling units — as big as double-wide mobile homes — and without affordability requirements won’t solve the housing problem. Doing so will definitely increase greenhouse gas emissions, by adding more people who need to drive everywhere.

If we want to change course, we need to update the general plan first. The Board of Supervisors should provide a date certain timeline for the general plan update to be underway, not later than 2020-2021 and with no further delays.

Teri Shore is North Bay regional director for Greenbelt Alliance in Santa Rosa.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9576123-181/close-to-home-sonoma-county?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

Sonoma County couple ordered to pay nearly $600,000 for damage to protected property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship Director Bob Neale had seen pictures.

So he thought he had a good idea of what awaited him when he went out to inspect a protected piece of land on the north flank of Sonoma Mountain a few years back. A concerned neighbor had reported heavy equipment and questionable activity on property protected under a conservation easement and, thus, intended to remain in its natural state.

But while photos conveyed “a sense of it, it’s nothing compared to actually seeing it,” Neale, a soft-spoken man, said of the environmental damage he witnessed that day in 2014. “I was not prepared.”

Neale and an associate found a patch of private landscape above Bennett Valley scraped down to bedrock in some places and a trenched, 180-year-old oak uprooted and bound so it could be dragged to an adjoining parcel to adorn the grounds of a newly constructed estate home, according to court documents.

That heritage oak and two others the landowners sought to move over a haul road they bulldozed through the previously undisturbed site all died, along with a dozen more trees and other vegetation, according to court records.

The damage would eventually prompt Sonoma Land Trust to sue the property owners, Peter and Toni Thompson, a highly unusual step for the private nonprofit. Last month, it prevailed in what representatives hailed as a landmark legal victory.

The court battle came well after the full extent of the losses was discovered on the 34-acre conservation property. Grading for the haul road in 2014 removed more than 3,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock, the ruling found. No permits were obtained for any of the work, according to court documents.

The Thompsons had construction crews dredge an existing lake on their adjacent 47-acre residential spread, known as Henstooth Ranch, and dump the soil on the protected parcel, extending the haul road to accomplish that work, according to court documents.

“It was,” said Neale, a 25-year veteran in the open space field, “really the most willful, egregious violation of a conservation easement I’ve ever seen.”

In his blunt 57-page ruling, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick sided strongly with the land trust, calling out the Thompsons for “knowing and intentional” violations of a legally binding conservation deal. He said the couple had shown a “persistent failure to tell the truth” as the case unfolded and had “demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”

Broderick ordered the couple to pay more than $586,000 in damages toward environmental restoration and other costs outlined in a judgment finalized last week.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9556824-181/sonoma-county-couple-ordered-to

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Humans are speeding extinction and altering the natural world at an ‘unprecedented’ pace

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

Read more at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/climate/biodiversity-extinction-united-nations.html

Posted on Categories Land UseTags ,

Healdsburg loosens regulations on ‘granny units’ to address ongoing housing need

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Healdsburg City Council on Monday advanced the county’s least restrictive rules on granny units to encourage development and help address the city’s ongoing and immediate need for more affordable workforce housing.

The move comes three years after a city housing action committee first made the recommendation to expand the size of the accessory units on existing home sites, as well as reduce the impact fees collected to build them. The council’s decision was seen as a victory in meeting Healdsburg’s plan to open up new ways to solve what has been branded a growing regional housing crisis.

“This has been a long process,” said Mayor David Hagele. “It’s a pretty big step that we’re taking. This is housing we want, and this is housing we need. This is a pretty happy moment that we’re able to take some action.”

The unanimous vote also followed the council’s direction to city staff to finalize a deal to buy two small, below-market rate apartment complexes not far from the downtown plaza, according to the real estate agent representing the seller. The two properties, each made up of eight low-rent units, are located at 531 University St. and 500 Piper St. Terms of the purchase agreement were not available Monday, though the asking price was $1.8 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

Once the new granny unit regulations go into effect in the next 45 days, residents will have fees waived on all those built up to 850 square feet. Under current city regulations, the dimension is the largest permitted and costs nearly $10,000 to construct, according to the city.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9571177-181/healdsburg-loosens-regulations-on-granny

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Fight against plastic pollution targets a hidden source: Our clothes

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

The plastic bottles, straws and grocery bags that wash ashore on beaches are some of the most visible signs that society’s intoxication with plastic is taking a toll on the environment. But scientists say there is another source of plastic pollution that is just as pervasive and even more difficult to clean up — and it’s hiding in our clothes.

Most clothing contains synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon that are essentially constructed from thin plastic fibers. These fabrics have become fixtures in closets around the world because they are durable and cheap to make. Stretchy, sweat-wicking workout clothes, water-resistant rainwear and fleece sweaters are all made of synthetics — not to mention many T-shirts, dresses and jeans that contain a cotton-synthetic blend.

These tiny bits of plastic pose a daunting environmental challenge. As so-called microfibers shed off clothing, they eventually end up in the ocean, where they can be ingested by fish and other seafood that humans eat.

“This is the microplastic pollution that we don’t talk about as much because it’s unseen, but these microfibers are everywhere,” said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “We’ve sampled them at the North Pole, in Antarctica, at the top of mountains and even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench — everywhere in the world.”

Most microfiber pollution occurs when people wash their clothes. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the U.K. estimated that up to 700,000 microfibers could be released in a single load of laundry, roughly equivalent to the surface area of a pack of gum.

Read more at https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/fight-against-plastic-pollution-targets-hidden-source-our-clothes-ncna1000961