Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

‘Complicated choice’ looms in Sonoma County over next compost operator

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Every week, hundreds of thousands of Sonoma County residents dutifully gather grass clippings from their yards and food scraps from their kitchens, toss them into green bins and then cart them to the curb alongside their garbage and recycling.

Tons of this so-called “green waste” is then hauled, at a cost of $5 million per year, to other counties, where it is chopped up, often mixed with chicken guts, encouraged to rapidly decompose, and then sold as compost.

The process takes place entirely outside Sonoma County — mostly in Mendocino, Napa and Marin counties — ever since Sonoma Compost, the county’s longtime compost operation atop the Central Landfill, was shut down nearly three years ago for wastewater violations.

Now local officials face a complex but crucial decision about the future of composting in Sonoma County, one that will have major implications for the life of the county landfill, the rate of emission of greenhouse gases and the size of people’s garbage bills.

That decision is whether to encourage the construction of a new, modern composting facility here, with costs of $50 million or more, or whether to continue hauling the material to existing facilities elsewhere indefinitely.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8595931-181/complicated-choice-looms-in-sonoma

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

Court orders E.P.A. to ban chlorpyrifos, pesticide tied to children’s health problems

Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES

A federal appeals court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to bar within 60 days a widely used pesticide associated with developmental disabilities and other health problems in children, dealing the industry a major blow after it had successfully lobbied the Trump administration to reject a ban.

The order by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came after a decade-long effort by environmental and public health groups to get the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, removed from the market. The product is used in more than 50 fruit, nut, cereal and vegetable crops including apples, almonds, oranges and broccoli, with more than 640,000 acres treated in California alone in 2016, the most recent year data is available.

In March 2017, just a month after he was confirmed as the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt rejected a petition by the health and environmental groups to ban the pesticide. He did so even though the agency’s own staff scientists had recommended that chlorpyrifos be removed from the market, based on health studies that had suggested it was harming children, particularly among farmworker families.

A three-judge panel, on a 2-to-1 vote, gave the agency two months to finalize the ban on the product, whose leading manufacturer is DowDuPont. The company, along with others in the pesticide and agriculture industry, had intensely lobbied the E.P.A. and Mr. Pruitt, who resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals last month.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/us/politics/chlorpyrifos-pesticide-ban-epa-court.html

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

Sonoma County endorses limits on cannabis production, curbs on neighbors’ protests

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday advanced revisions to rules governing cannabis businesses and farms outside city limits that would include allowing recreational sales at dispensaries and limiting most cultivation sites to properties 10 acres or larger.

The Board of Supervisors rejected two proposals aimed at addressing an increasingly contentious debate over where outdoor growing should occur in Sonoma County. One would have allowed neighborhood groups to lobby supervisors to ban cultivation in their areas on a case-by-case basis. The other would have enabled cultivators to appeal to the board to allow cultivation in an area where it’s currently prohibited.

Instead, the board opted to balance the interests of the two competing interests — marijuana farmers and anti-pot neighborhood groups — by signaling support for a more thorough permitting process for smaller pot farms, which are more likely to prompt concerns from neighbors than larger ones, according to county officials.

“I’m hopeful we can come to a broad consensus,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said. “Having this (the rules) keep changing is really hard for (cannabis) operators and is really hard for neighbors who have no idea what the hell is going to happen. We need to expedite the permitting process to provide answers.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8611268-181/sonoma-county-endorses-limits-on

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Santa Rosa passes spending plan for housing bond

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmental aspects of the housing bond

Downtown: Projects located in the downtown and along transit corridors, areas known as priority development areas, would receive priority.

Greenbelts off limits: No projects funded with the money would be built in community separators or greenbelts, through land-use rules already prohibiting that.

Green projects: Projects that use climate-smart, all-electric or net zero construction methods would be prioritized.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported a spending plan for the $124 million housing bond on the November ballot, but only after deadlocking on the contentious issue of how much union labor should be used on projects built with the money.

Labor groups had asked the council to pass guidelines requiring 30 percent of the jobs go to union workers — 20 percent union apprentices and 10 percent journeymen to train them — arguing that people building the housing should be able to afford to live in it.

But under pressure from business groups including those representing nonunion contractors, the council deadlocked 3-3 on the full 30 percent union requirement. Moments later it voted 6-0 to approve a plan earmarking 20 percent of the jobs for union apprentices — but no job guarantees for union journeymen.

The ideological impasse, which has been simmering for weeks, frustrated many of the council members and union members who attended the meeting. Mayor Chris Coursey said it was imperative that the disagreement not imperil the bond’s chances at the ballot box.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8612091-181/santa-rosa-passes-spending-plan

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: Building boldly towards the future

Jake McKenzie and Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If we stay on track with city-centered growth and greenbelt protection, Sonoma County can usher in new era of thriving, affordable neighborhoods in cities and towns near jobs, schools and transit. If they stray, we could face a generation of scattered development on the urban edge and across the countryside that will cost us far more in public health, climate costs, congestion and loss of water and environmental quality, to say nothing of the natural beauty and the high quality of life that we love and enjoy in Sonoma County.

The tragic loss of homes in the October fires and the critical need for more affordable homes countywide is prompting a bold new look at how we revitalize our communities in Sonoma County. Greenbelt Alliance and our allies are looking forward, not backward, to meet the challenge of providing affordable homes to people who are vital to our communities and economy: teachers, doctors, restaurant cooks, winery and vineyard employees, young professionals and families and others. And we are convinced we can do this while ensuring the protection of our health and environment.

That is why we support investment in housing in our downtowns and existing neighborhoods to provide housing across the income spectrum while upholding environmental protections and longstanding growth policies. We reject recently published claims that we need to weaken environmental standards in order to recover and rebuild after last year’s fires.

To the contrary, our county has the chance to be on the cutting edge of creating a new generation of climate-friendly neighborhoods as we rebuild and invigorate new development.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8599327-181/close-to-home-building-boldly

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

Op-Ed: Keep commercial marijuana away from our parks

Deborah A. Eppstein and Craig S. Harrison, KENWOOD PRESS

We are shocked by proposed changes to the Cannabis Ordinance that would reduce buffer zones around parks to allow commercial marijuana cultivation on park borders. We think the current 1,000-foot setback from parks to neighboring parcel boundaries should be increased to 2,000 feet. Instead, on Aug. 7, the Board of Supervisors may decide to measure setbacks from the site of the grow instead of the parcel boundary, acquiescing to heavy lobbying by big growers. This would undermine the protection of our parks.

Why is the county rushing to authorize marijuana cultivation next to our parks and homes? It should employ the precautionary principle, as for any new business model. If transition from illegal to legal grows proceeds smoothly, the county can then reconsider modifications on where grows are permitted, based on real-life experience of what works and doesn’t for the community. Instead, the prevailing mood seems to be speed and greed.

Sonoma County is blessed with parks. Hood Mountain Regional Park, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Jack London State Park, Trione-Annadel State Park, North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, and Taylor Mountain Regional Park are treasures. Why endanger them?

Robust buffer zones improve fire protection, facilitate finding illegal grows, and maintain the parks’ undeveloped nature with a transition zone. Allowing commercial grows to operate close by undermines enforcement and the safety of park visitors, who might encounter violence both from illegal grows masquerading as legal ones or legal grows near park boundaries. In rugged areas, it is common for hikers to wander beyond park boundaries. On Cougar Lane, which abuts Hood Mountain, growers often patrol their land with firearms and attack dogs. This intimidates neighbors and potentially hikers in the park.

Read more at http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/s/guested

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

Sonoma Clean Power offers incentives for customers to ‘drive electric’

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Clean Power says cars burning gasoline locally emit 11,247 pounds of greenhouse gases a year. An electric vehicle charged up by power from PG&E emits 1,586 pounds a year.

On the local power agency’s default service, which gets 45 percent of its power from renewables, an EV releases 793 pounds a year.

On the Evergreen service, which gets half its power from The Geysers geothermal field and half from a Petaluma solar facility, an EV emits just 208 pounds of greenhouse gases a year.
From Carbon footprint for electric vehicles far smaller with renewable power

Eleanor Butchart of Santa Rosa is the proud owner of a Mercedes-Benz B250e, the last letter meaning electric.

The white compact hatchback is “fun to drive,” she said, seats four to five adults comfortably and has plenty of curb appeal. “It looks like a normal car,” she said, rather than a radically stylized EV or hybrid.

What it lacks is a tank for gasoline, which currently costs $3.70 a gallon in Santa Rosa, up 77 cents from a year ago. Butchart is planning to install solar panels at her home, reducing the cost of recharging.

Like all other Mercedes, the B250e she bought last year wasn’t cheap, but the price was eased by a $2,000 incentive Butchart obtained from Sonoma Clean Power, the public electricity provider serving Sonoma and Mendocino counties, along with a $500 rebate from PG&E.

“It was a sweet deal all around,” Butchart said.

The good deals for electric vehicles will be back on the table starting today, when Sonoma Clean Power launches its third and final Drive EV program, offering its customers incentives of up to $4,000 for the lease or purchase of 25 models of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars sold by six local dealers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8575429-181/sonoma-clean-power-offers-incentives

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials resist new Santa Rosa crossing

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Local passenger rail officials have told Santa Rosa they’re putting the brakes on plans for a $2.3 million rail crossing near Coddingtown Mall, but they’re saying very little publicly about their apparent reversal.

Top Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials recently informed Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey and other city officials that they are concerned about the safety of a proposed crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists at Jennings Avenue.

That’s a major about-face for SMART officials, who supported the crossing two years ago before state utility regulators and told Santa Rosa officials publicly they felt the crossing — which would block pedestrians from crossing the track when a train approaches — would be perfectly safe.

“We were told that circumstances had changed,” Mayor Chris Coursey said. “If they no longer support building the Jennings crossing, it would be extremely disappointing.”

Jennings Avenue used to cross over the tracks in an east-west direction, but at some point decades ago the crossing was blocked off for vehicles and the street now dead-ends at the track. Area residents continued to cross the tracks there in relative safety as rail service over the ensuing decades was sporadic or nonexistent.

When SMART began testing trains on the line in 2015, it fenced off the area and directed pedestrians and bicyclists to cross a quarter-mile north at Guerneville Avenue.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8569281-181/sonoma-marin-area-rail-transit-officials

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Local habitat may be at risk

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Trump administration is seeking to alter key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a 45-year-old federal law that has shaped growth in Sonoma County during repeated battles between builders attempting to develop land and environmentalists seeking to protect rare plants and animals.

Federal officials contend the changes to the act — which protects local species like the coho salmon and the California tiger salamander — will streamline and improve it. Local environmentalists have called them a “coordinated attack” on science that could push fragile species into extinction.

The act, passed in 1973 during the Nixon presidency with strong bipartisan support, protects critically imperiled species and their habitats. In Sonoma County, development conflicts have arisen over those species, sometimes requiring costly mitigation measures for projects to advance. But the law has also been a salvation for wildlife on the North Coast, like the gray whale, the bald eagle and osprey, said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

A major change would eliminate language instructing officials to ignore economic impacts when determining how wildlife should be protected.

Other reforms include changing limits on the designation of critical habitat — areas with biological or physical features necessary for the conservation of a species. It also seeks to end to the automatic regulatory process that gives threatened plants and animals the same protection as those listed as endangered, and streamlines consultation between agencies when actions from the federal government could jeopardize a species.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8551721-181/sonoma-county-awaits-clarity-on

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, TransportationTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: Thinking big, really big, about the Bay Area

Joe Matthews, CONNECTING CALIFORNIA

Welcome to the Bay Area, Merced!

And welcome as well to Modesto, Sacramento and Yuba City. Looking south, you’re invited, too, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Salinas. And while you’re almost in another state, don’t worry, Tahoe City, the Bay waters are warm.

This expanded notion of the Bay Area’s reach isn’t a joke. It reflects the biggest thinking about California’s future. If you’re in a smaller Northern California region that can’t compete with the advanced grandeur of the Bay Area, why not join forces with the Bay Area instead?

The Bay Area would benefit too. It is one of four Northern California regions — along with the greater Sacramento area, the northern San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast triumvirate of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties — that struggle with severe challenges in housing, land use, jobs, transportation, education and the environment. Since such problems cross regional boundaries, shouldn’t the regions address them together as one giant region?

The Northern California megaregion — a concept developed by a think tank, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute — includes 12 million people and 21 counties, extending from Wine Country to the lettuce fields of the Salinas Valley and from the Pacific to the Nevada border.

The places of the megaregion are integrating as people search a wider geography for jobs, housing and places to expand their businesses. The trouble is that this growth is imbalanced. The megaregion is home to the mega-rich in San Francisco and poor cities like Stockton, Salinas and Vallejo. As high housing prices push people out of the Bay Area, they head to the rest of the megaregion, only to find they are too far away from their jobs and schools. The results: brutal traffic that produces more greenhouse gases and longer commutes.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8575490-181/mathews-thinking-big-really-big