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Op-Ed: Upset about the plastic crisis? Stop trying so hard

Roland Geyer, THE GUARDIAN

id you ever decide to get off a jammed freeway and take the backroads even though deep down you knew that it wouldn’t be any faster? Are you constantly switching to the faster lane on a busy freeway even though you notice that cars sticking to their lanes keep catching up with you?

Both are examples of action bias, the phenomenon in which people prefer doing something over doing nothing, even if the likely outcome of the action is worse than the outcome of inaction. Research has shown that actively managed portfolios tend to do worse than passive investments. And one study found that soccer goalkeepers prefer to jump left or right during a penalty-kick, even though the best thing would be to stay put in the middle.

A prime case study of how action bias gets in the way of solving environmental problems is plastic in the oceans. The discovery of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch alerted the world to the issue of plastic marine debris. It turned out to be everywhere, not just in that specific patch or any of the other large circulating ocean currents known as gyres. In fact, there is growing consensus that only a minute fraction of all ocean plastic is on the surface, and that the vast majority is probably on the ocean floor. This has not stopped a growing number of ocean plastic action heroes from wanting to clean up the gyres.

The best known of them, The Ocean Cleanup, last year launched a 2,000ft-long boom, made of plastic, to gather plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. Unfortunately, the boom didn’t work, broke apart and had to be towed back onshore. Even if we also somehow figured out how to vacuum plastics from the ocean floor, these technologies would not stop new plastic from constantly entering the oceans.

The cheapest and most effective solution to ocean plastic is strangely also the one that is least talked about.

It is this: making and using less plastic.

Virtually everyone I know is genuinely upset about plastic pollution in the oceans, and at parties I am routinely cornered in the kitchen with questions about which of the myriad of single-use plastic items on open display can be recycled, and whether they actually will be recycled if thrown into the recycling bin.

Yet while people put enormous effort and hope into recycling, they don’t give source reduction much thought at all. The west used to send much of its recycling to China for processing, and China’s recent decision to no longer accept it because of environmental concerns has sparked an intense debate about how to fix our obviously broken recycling system. It would be so much easier and more effective to make and use less, and thus reduce our need to recycle in the first place.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/23/upset-about-the-plastic-crisis-stop-trying-so-hard

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Sebastopol bans Styrofoam food containers amid growing alarm about single-use plastics

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sebastopol is forging ahead with a ban on polystyrene foam food and beverage containers, taking the lead in Sonoma County amid a nationwide concern about single-use plastics and a mounting global crisis over consumer waste.

The new ordinance, the first of its kind in Sonoma County, prohibits the sale or use of disposable cups, burger boxes, clamshell containers and even cheap ice chests made of expanded polystyrene in Sebastopol come Nov. 19. The regulation is based on a model intended for adoption around the county.

Among numerous other provisions, the wide-ranging measure also requires vendors to ditch single-use containers, bowls, plates, cups, straws, stirrers, utensils, napkins and other products of any material when viable compostable or recyclable alternatives are commercially available. Customers who want to-go condiments, cup lids, cutlery or straws will have to ask for them, as well.

The ordinance encourages food providers to credit customers 25 cents for bringing their own reusable to-go containers and charge a takeout fee up to 10 cents to defray the costs associated with cups, lids, straws or utensils.

The ordinance also governs packaging for prepared foods. Blown polystyrene egg cartons and food and meat trays are exempt.

The Sebastopol City Council adopted the model ordinance in March but delayed its enforcement to allow restaurants and vendors to use up any remaining foam stock they might have on hand and to give the rest of Sonoma County time to catch up.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9715098-181/sebastopol-bans-styrofoam-food-containers

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Sonoma County restricts use of Roundup, other synthetic pesticides

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County this week became the fourth local government agency in the country to restrict use of synthetic pesticides on public land, joining a wave of cities and counties across the nation that are banning a chemical deemed by some to cause cancer.

Santa Rosa, Windsor and Sonoma have previously precluded application of synthetic weedkillers on public property, with Sonoma specifically targeting glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, the widely used herbicide manufactured by Monsanto.

At least 38 California cities and counties in California have now adopted bans on synthetic pesticides, along with jurisdictions in 22 other states from coast to coast, according to Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, a Los Angeles-based law firm that has won three cases against Monsanto with $2.4 billion in damages.

The pesticide rebellion gained momentum in 2017, when glyphosate was added to California’s Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals.

Megan Kaun, a Sebastopol resident who developed the county measure in collaboration with Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, began her campaign in 2015 when she found out glyphosate was being sprayed on a playground near her former home in Santa Rosa. Last August, the city prohibited use of synthetic weedkillers at dozens of parks, buildings and medians.

Windsor banned synthetic pesticides from public property last year, and the town of Sonoma barred use of glyphosate in April.

The newest regulation applies to lands maintained by county agencies, including water, parks, roads and the open space district, requiring them to eliminate use of synthetic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides to the “maximum extent practicable.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9668404-181/sonoma-county-restricts-use-of

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags , , ,

House approves measures that would block offshore drilling on all but Arctic coast

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The House of Representatives passed three amendments on Thursday imposing one-year bans on offshore oil drilling on the Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico coasts, potentially restoring the safeguard that protected California’s coast for more than a quarter century.

The three bipartisan votes came on amendments to the funding bill for the Department of Interior and other agencies and are protected from a line-item veto by President Donald Trump, who has proposed an aggressive expansion of oil and gas development in the nation’s offshore waters.

It also may not need approval in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will produce its own Interior Department appropriations bill.

“This is the congressional moratorium coming back,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-oil drilling activist. “Today’s been a miracle, big time.”

The House amendments would prevent the Secretary of Interior from spending any money on pre-leasing or leasing activities related to selling offshore drilling rights to energy developers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9724004-181/house-approves-measures-that-would

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

Our love of almonds is seriously jeopardizing honeybees

Paige Embrey, HUFF POST

In January, with the almond bloom in California’s orchards a month away, beekeepers across the country were fretting over their hives. A lot of their bees were dead or sick. Beekeepers reported losing as much as half their hives over the winter.

Jack Brumley, a California beekeeper, said he’d heard of people losing 80% of their bees. Denise Qualls, a bee broker who connects keepers with growers, said she was seeing “a lot more panic occurring earlier.”

Rumors swirled of a potential shortage; almond growers scrambled to ensure they had enough bees to pollinate their valuable crop, reaching out to beekeepers as far away as Florida, striking deals with mom-and-pop operations that kept no more than a few hundred bees. NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a segment on the looming crisis in the almond groves.

By May, it was clear that California’s almond growers — who supply 80% of the world’s almonds — had successfully negotiated the threat of a bee shortage and were expected to produce a record crop of 2.5 billion pounds, up 10% from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the panic, it turns out, was justified. The results of this year’s annual Bee Informed Partnership survey, a collaboration by leading research labs released Wednesday, found that winter colony losses were nearly 38%, the highest rate since the survey began 13 years ago and almost 9% higher than the average loss.

The panic underscored a fundamental problem with the relationship between almonds and bees: Every year, the almond industry expands while the population of honeybees, beset by a host of afflictions, struggles to keep pace.

Read more at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/honey-bee-census-almonds_n_5d0a8726e4b0f7b7442b3aaa?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9uZXdzLmdvb2dsZS5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGJJBiDGRCve7o6jN4qUrECrkbbhGDnhUcRQUW1kZcFn7P04RMyb9W9JKjmXY3Wk3I_uT-5O6weQrkuir5KZs5KJMF__gto7nuGAd6lTmxupeKBzyVN4YWJ1DlV_8QtfZpy72-bVD4mVdod1i9-3iaoZ5y7ZWFQ6GSHHbMRm0CFU

Posted on Categories Air, Land Use, TransportationTags , , , ,

BoDean asphalt plant moving to Windsor, with aim to convert Santa Rosa site to housing

Will Schmidt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The owners of a prominent asphalt plant in central Santa Rosa are planning to move their business to Windsor, laying the groundwork for affordable housing to replace an industrial operation that the owners acknowledge no longer fits into a neighborhood the city has targeted for dense residential development.

BoDean Co. founders Dean and Belinda “Bo” Soiland said their new, larger site in Windsor is better suited for continued industrial use than the current site south of West College Avenue, where the city has taken a stronger regulatory stance in recent years as complaints have mounted from neighbors.

Paperwork to build the new plant will be submitted to Windsor officials in July, Dean Soiland said. The Soilands had not finalized plans for their Santa Rosa property, though planning work there could proceed on a parallel track to development of the new Windsor plant.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9658672-181/bodean-asphalt-plant-moving-to

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As deaths mount on Santa Rosa’s Stony Point Road, city is pressed to do more for safety

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The city’s own master plan for bicycling and pedestrian upgrades has singled out the area as exceptionally dangerous. It is one of three areas citywide known as a “high-injury network” — where people walking or riding bikes are most often injured or killed — according to the updated bike plan.

Jennell Davies was almost home.

On a cool, clear night last October, the 39-year-old preschool teacher was walking home from dinner. It was about 9:50 p.m. when she tried to cross Stony Point Road, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares — and one of its deadliest for pedestrians and cyclists.

She and her boyfriend approached the intersection of Stony Point with Occidental Road, also a busy route for motorists driving through west Santa Rosa. They were at the intersection’s northwestern corner and were heading east across Stony Point.

She must have crossed there hundreds of times before, her father, Tom Davies, said he thought to himself on a recent visit to the site. An Oliver’s Market grocery store and a KFC fast-food restaurant are right there, a quick stroll from the apartment where she’d lived for more than a decade.

But that fateful night last year, Davies was more than halfway through the crosswalk when she was struck by a northbound pickup, throwing her body about 70 feet north along the eastern side of Stony Point. Her boyfriend had stopped on a concrete median that abuts the crosswalk. He could only watch, helpless.

She died after a police officer and then fire and medical crews could not revive her.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9440594-181/as-deaths-mount-on-santa

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Sonoma County eyes sale of Chanate Road property for 2nd time around

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County, having renewed its bid to sell a nearly 72-acre property in northeast Santa Rosa, is in negotiations with three prospective buyers, including a company owned by Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, whose previous offer became mired in controversy and was dropped last year after a bitter legal battle.

The Chanate Road property, site of the old county hospital and later Sutter Medical Center, represents one of the largest pieces of land available for future housing in the city. Some neighbors staunchly opposed the more than 800 housing units proposed in the last purchase deal.

The property is now mostly vacant, its shuttered buildings a target for vandals and squatters, costing the county $800,000 a year to maintain, including security patrols.

Gallaher’s firm, OSL Properties LLC, was one of three housing developers that responded with offers following the county’s February solicitation to about 650 organizations.

The other two bidders are EAH Housing, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that has developed about 100 affordable housing projects worth about $1 billion in California and Hawaii, and the California Community Housing Agency.

In the previous go-round, the sprawling Chanate property was slated to be Santa Rosa’s largest housing project in at least a decade. Gallaher, well known for building homes in Oakmont and senior living facilities in Fountaingrove, wanted to build 867 housing units on the site, including rental apartment buildings three or four stories tall.

Neighbors vehemently opposed the plan and filed a lawsuit alleging the county should have conducted an environmental assessment of the project. A judge ruled in their favor, delivering the county a bruising loss and significantly delaying one of its most highly touted efforts to address the regional housing crisis.

Supervisors opted not to appeal and walked away from the multimillion-dollar deal with Gallaher in October. Two months later, the board voted to start over, prompting the request for new offers on the land.

Under the current bidding process, prospective buyers of the 71.6-acre site must be either designated public agencies or “housing sponsors” that would focus on building affordable housing. They need not be nonprofit organizations, said Caroline Judy, the county general services director.

State rules require that a quarter of the housing must be deemed affordable, with a 55-year deed restriction attached to the property, she said.

But unlike the first time around, the current proposals do not include any development plans, Judy said. Following the county’s decision on a buyer, Santa Rosa will be responsible for approving the plan — a step that was never fully launched under the previous deal.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9699083-181/sonoma-county-eyes-sale-of

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

Sutter Health solar project at Santa Rosa hospital can power over 200 homes a year

Cheryl Sarfaty, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital on Monday will formally “flip the switch” on its new carport solar panels that have been installed over its main parking lot and on the rooftop of Shea House, which houses families of hospitalized children.

The 4,627 solar modules covering approximately 565 parking spaces will support 40% of the main hospital’s electricity, according to Shaun Ralston, regional manager at Sutter Health.

The new carport solar panels are expected to generate 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, which would be equivalent to powering 206 homes in one year, according to Sutter.

Shea House, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the October 2017 wildfires, had 10 solar panels installed on its rooftop, supporting 89% of needed electricity on the site, Ralston said.

“Sutter started looking at these solar projects in (early) 2017,” Ralston said. “We were planning this before the fires … but now we really don’t want to be dependent on the grid.”

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital already generates 45% of its electric power with fuel-cell technology. By adding the solar panels, the hospital is now generating 85% of its power on-site, purchasing the rest from PG&E, Ralston said.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9695962-181/sutter-health-santa-rosa-solar

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Sonoma plans new traffic, bike lanes on Broadway

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

If Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson has her way, the route of Broadway from MacArthur to the Plaza will have room for more parking, bike paths in each direction, and encourage foot traffic to support local businesses – without costing the city an extra dime.

“The city’s planning documents definitely show bike lanes on both sides of Broadway,” said Ferguson. “And it’s clear that the volumes of traffic on Broadway now can be accommodated by one travel lane until you get to the Plaza – you don’t need two lanes like we have now.”

What would it take to bring Ferguson’s vision to fruition? Apparently just some paint, thanks to the planned repaving of Broadway – aka Highway 12 – by Caltrans slated to begin next summer.

The majestic street, the so-called “gateway” to historic Sonoma, is far wider than it needs to be (and without the military rationale Napoleon needed to build the Champs de l’Elysee, a similarly over-wide boulevard in Paris).

That’s one reason there’s almost never a traffic jam on Broadway – though the T intersection at the Plaza where it runs into Napa Street can be congested.

“It’s 70 feet from curb to curb,” said Frank Penry of GHD, the city’s consultant for the Broadway Streetscape Enhancements & Traffic Circulation Project, part of the city’s annual budget currently under review.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9696161-181/sonoma-plans-new-traffic-bike