Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Best salmon return since 2014 leads to longer season for North Coast fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast fishing crews idled by an early end to the Dungeness crab season will have a longer 2019 salmon season than in recent years after fishery managers finalized dates Tuesday, a reflection of this year’s healthier projected adult spawning run.

In fact, this generation of returning adult king salmon is thought to be the most abundant since 2014, allowing for a season opener beginning May 16 and stretching to at least late September in coastal waters between Point Arena on the southern Mendocino Coast and Pigeon Point on the coast of San Mateo County.

That 122-day span is nearly twice the 73 days provided to commercial boats in 2018 — a reflection, experts say, of abundant rainfall when this year’s adult spawners were juveniles two years ago, making their way down freshwater streams to the Pacific Ocean.

The brighter forecast comes amid generally declining conditions across ocean fisheries and continued restrictions needed to rebuild West Coast salmon stocks, twin blows that have landed hard on California’s struggling commercial fishing fleet.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9505574-181/best-salmon-return-since-2014

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

Sonoma County zoning board approves first large-scale pot farm outside Petaluma

Andrew Beale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A large cannabis-growing farm planned for west of Petaluma got a green light from Sonoma County zoning officials.

Despite vigorous opposition from neighbors, Petaluma Hills Farm’s proposal to cultivate 1 acre of marijuana on a rural property at 334 Purvine Road that used to be a chicken ranch was unanimously approved Thursday night by the county Board of Zoning Adjustments.

It’s the first large cannabis operation county officials have approved since they started taking applications two years ago for such pot operations. The single- acre tract designated for the cannabis farm — the largest allowed by the county — sits on a 37-acre property with other agriculture operations and a single-family home.

Opponents of the pot farm say it will cause a strong odor in a rural community west of Petaluma, and could bring crime and security concerns. Despite the zoning board’s approval, the battle is not over yet. Opponents have 10 days to appeal the board’s decision, which would force county supervisors to make the final ruling on the proposal.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9489518-181/sonoma-county-zoning-board-unanimously

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Over 4,200 Amazon workers push for climate change action, including cutting some ties to big oil

Karen Weise, THE NEW YORK TIMES

SEATTLE — Employees at big tech companies have pushed back against their employers for working with the military and law enforcement offices, and demanded better treatment of women and minorities.

Now, thousands of them are also taking on climate change.

This week, more than 4,200 Amazon employees called on the company to rethink how it addresses and contributes to a warming planet. The action is the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry.

The workers say the company needs to make firm commitments to reduce its carbon footprint across its vast operations, not make piecemeal or vague announcements. And they say that Amazon should stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels.

The goal for Amazon’s leaders and employees is “that climate change is something they think about whenever a business decision is being made,” said Rajit Iftikhar, a software engineer in Amazon’s retail business. “We want to make Amazon a better company. It is a natural extension of that.”

The letter adds support for a new tactic among activist tech workers: using the stock they receive as compensation to agitate for change. Like other shareholders, they can file a resolution urging a particular corporate change that investors vote on at a company’s annual meeting. Historically, this approach has been used by outside activist investors, not employees.

The Amazon employees signing the letter, who made their names public, are pushing Amazon to approve a shareholder resolution that would force the company to develop a plan to address its carbon footprint. The resolution was filed by more than two dozen current and former employees late last year, and it could come up for a vote next month.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/technology/amazon-climate-change-letter.html

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Groundwater sustainability board backs off fees for rural well owners in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Facing a wave of opposition over proposed fees for using well water, the directors of a little-known public agency backed away from a decision Thursday and agreed to consider an alternative plan that would exempt rural residents and cost other groundwater users far less overall.

Irate residents blistered the Santa Rosa Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s board of directors with complaints over the inequity and underlying principle of the plan to make residents, ranchers, businesses, towns and cities pay — for the first time — for water pumped out of the ground.

“I don’t believe the process is fair,” said Michael Hilber of Santa Rosa. The cost of the state-mandated groundwater management program, he said, was being “shifted away from industrial wine interests” and inflated for homeowners.

Orlean Koehle of Santa Rosa said the proposed fees were “ridiculous” in the wake of heavy rains and also violated the common law principle that “a well goes with a property owner (rights).”

Justin Morse complained the fees could double repeatedly in the future and with no “guarantee the funds get spent on groundwater.”

Pat Mitchell said the new regulations amounted to “more agencies with people that have to be paid for their time.”

In response, board Chairwoman Lynda Hopkins and Director Shirlee Zane, both county supervisors, introduced a “Plan B.”

The new proposal would exempt an estimated 7,300 rural well owners in the Santa Rosa Plain from all fees and include financial contributions from both the county and Sonoma Water, the agency that delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Mendocino county residents.

The alternative plan, to be presented in detail at the board’s next meeting in June, would also dispense with a proposed well registration program.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9489643-181/groundwater-sustainability-board-backs-off

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , , ,

SMART mulls early renewal of sales tax, reduction in fares for low-income riders

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s commuter rail service will consider a plan to reduce fares for low-income riders as part of a larger proposal from SMART staff to next year seek voter renewal of the 20-year sales tax measure that’s funded the system since 2009.

The moves come as Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which launched service in August 2017, assesses its long-term financial picture with an eye on restructuring debt and accelerating its delayed full build-out.

It expects to complete the southern-most station in Larkspur by year’s end, expanding its operating line to 45 miles of the planned 70-mile corridor. But guaranteed future funding in the form of an earlier tax renewal could help the agency speed up its extension of service north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale, according to SMART staff.

“The reality is we’re a transit operation, and we need to plan ongoing operations, we need to plan expansions,” Erin McGrath, SMART’s chief financial officer told SMART’s 12-member board at its Wednesday meeting. “We can’t have ballot box uncertainty in our future. We can’t have our revenues stopping in 10 years.”

Voters in Marin and Sonoma counties together in 2008 passed the quarter-cent sales that represents SMART’s primary funding stream. Measure Q will sunset in 2029, and the agency’s staff is recommending pursuing its renewal as early as the 2020 general election, ensuring, if passed by a two-thirds majority, funding for another 20 years through 2049.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9464429-181/smart-mulls-early-renewal-of

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Sonoma County signs on $40 million state deal on Sonoma Developmental Center

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors approved a $40 million state-funded plan to plot the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center on Friday before an appreciative crowd of residents, state lawmakers and officials who have worked for years to assure the prized property would not fall to ruin in the wake of its closure after 128 years of service to residents.

The four supervisors present voted in favor of a so-called “hybrid process” in which the state will pay up to $13 million a year for three years to maintain the 880-acre property, including 700 acres of open space, while the county crafts a development plan for the land and its aging facilities, built as far back as the 1800s.

“This is sacred property for many people for many reasons,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, one of three legislators who helped broker the deal.

“This is historic,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, thanking everyone responsible for bringing “an amazing experience before us today that will unleash the future of the developmental center.”

The redeveloped property will provide housing and jobs, she said, noting the center was once Sonoma County’s largest employer.

Richard Dale of the Sonoma Environmental Center, one of the stakeholders in charting the center’s future, said the commitment to local planning was “a very different scenario than we were expecting.”

“We actually have a chance to do something right,” he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9468612-181/sonoma-county-signs-on-40

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Geyserville property owner fined for diverting, polluting streams to grow marijuana

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Geyserville property owner who launched a medical cannabis farm has agreed to pay $245,000 in fines and penalties for what Sonoma County prosecutors said was improper water diversion, unpermitted grading and site work that harmed streams in the Russian River watershed.

Property owner Darryl Crawford, a Napa-based investor with experience building wine cellars, said most of the issues on the sprawling 330-acre Geysers Road property stemmed from old roads, water systems and other features built decades ago by a prior owner.

But state Fish and Wildlife officials said that unauthorized work that Crawford had done on the property, including attempts to stop sediment from flowing into streams, created additional problems. Prosecutors said also that the cultivation site was graded without a permit.

Prosecutors sued Crawford and his companies Black Mountain Developers and Cold Creek Group in an effort to get them to comply with environmental regulations and acquire the needed permits to improve the site’s roads and water systems, Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White said.

“The penalties were high because the conduct was egregious and lasted for a long time,” Gallagher White said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9460580-181/geyserville-property-owner-fined-for

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Santa Rosa discusses lifting growth cap

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa may revisit 27-year-old caps on growth in its struggle to create more places to live, as the city continues to greenlight an increasingly higher volume of homes and apartments to alleviate its housing shortage.

The city approved building permits for 431 residential units — not including hundreds of applications to rebuild homes destroyed by the October 2017 wildfires — in 2018, the third consecutive year the figure increased, according to an annual development review presented to the City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Though 1,400 Santa Rosa homes and apartments have received building permits since 2015, the city would need to approve an average of 925 housing units annually — more than double the amount it approved last year — from 2019 through 2022 to meet a housing quota it adopted in 2014.

“The need for more housing is clear,” said Amy Nicholson, a city planner and one of several staffers who relayed volumes of information to council members and planning commissioners Tuesday.

The 431 newly approved units mark a five-year peak, but the figure is well below the 800-unit annual cap set by Santa Rosa’s 1992 growth management ordinance. David Guhin, assistant city manager and planning and economic development director, expects the ordinance will be reviewed as part of a long-term citywide planning effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9445062-181/santa-rosas-housing-focus-may?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

As home pot growers left the region last year, Sonoma Clean Power lost $10 million in revenue

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

They’re called “superusers” within the power industry, those electricity customers using as much as 200 times the amount of energy in a month than a typical household.

Some of them have big estates, horse stables or electric cars. A small number are older mobile home parks operating on one utility meter. Most are likely growing marijuana indoors, local power agency officials said.

Last year, these “superuser” customers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties with monthly electric bills as high as $20,000 started to disappear.

About 300 homes using the most power in the region closed their accounts or dramatically decreased energy consumption in May and June of 2018, according to Sonoma Clean Power, the area’s green power agency. Although small in number, the loss of these major customers contributed to an unexpected $10 million drop in revenue and expenses last year, agency CEO Geof Syphers said.

After scrambling to figure out why these customers were disappearing, power agency officials determined they corresponded with a marked shift in where marijuana is and isn’t being grown in the region and state, he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9453610-181/as-home-pot-growers-left

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WaterTags , ,

California adopts new wetland protections as Trump administration eases them

Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan Tuesday to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over, a move that comes as the Trump administration scales back protections under the federal Clean Water Act.

The new state policy targets the rampant spread of suburbia and agriculture across California’s watery landscapes, areas that have become increasingly sparse yet remain important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife.

The regulation, to the chagrin of many industry groups, establishes strict rules for virtually any human activity that could disrupt the natural flow of water, like farming, home building and highway construction, on public and private property.

While the policy has been in the works for more than a decade, its adoption by the State Water Resources Control Board puts it in front of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of the Clean Water Act, ensuring that California is largely insulated from any new latitude that Washington provides for watershed development.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/California-adopts-new-wetland-protections-as-13736056.php