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Focus on the SDC: Open space and the public trust

Tracy Salcedo, THE KENWOOD PRESS

The SDC’s wildlands are public now. Do they have to be privatized to become public again?

From day one, my community activism has focused on preservation of the open space at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). Of all the worthy transformations contemplated for the storied property, ensuring the wildlands remain forever wild has been my highest priority.

From day one, I’ve heard promises from elected officials at the county and state levels, along with planners, consultants, and bureaucrats, that preserving the open space was a done deal.

From day one, I’ve asked: If that’s the case, why do we have to wait? Why don’t we set it aside now?

Don’t worry, the officials have responded. There’s a process. Have faith.

I’m worried. In its recently released request for proposals (RFP), the California Department of General Services (DGS) has reiterated its intent to sell the entire 945-acre SDC property, including the open space, to a private party. That’s not preservation in the public trust. That’s creation of private property.

I’m worried.

The process trumps the promise

The timelines for Sonoma County’s specific planning process and the state’s disposition process have always overlapped, but the original idea was that by the time the property was put up for sale, the specific plan would be done, the open space boundaries would be delineated, and a means of transfer to state parks, regional parks, or a land trust would be in place.

Enter wildfire, pandemic, inflexibility, and bureaucracy. Now, if the state sticks to its timeline, it will sell the property before the Board of Supervisors adopts the beleaguered specific plan. If a sale goes forward, the buyer will own not only the campus, but also the surrounding wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, trails, and much of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor.

Read more at https://www.kenwoodpress.com/2022/06/01/focus-on-the-sdc-open-space-and-the-public-trust/

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

Endangered coho salmon battered by 3rd year of drought. Here’s why it matters

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s once celebrated salmon populations have long been imperiled by logging, development, gravel mining and other human activities that have eliminated flood plains, channelized river and stream flows, and limited the woody debris and shade that keeps the water cool enough for young fish to survive.

More intense and frequent droughts have further eroded conditions, not just for the coho, but for steelhead and chinook salmon, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

They were once abundant in the cold, clear water of North Bay creeks and streams. Now, the survival of coho salmon is being challenged like never before.

The coho has a three-year life cycle that takes it from stream to ocean and back to stream to spawn the next generation.

But the changing climate now threatens the species at every life stage, raising new questions about their recovery.

It’s not just a species at stake. At risk is the very resilience of the forest and watershed that evolved around them, fed by marine nutrients brought upstream and deposited inland by adult spawners that, after reproducing, die and decompose.

“Salmon are a keystone species, which means they perform a really important ecosystem service,” said Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant fisheries biologist with the Russian River Monitoring Program. “Salmon and steelhead (trout) bring marine-based nutrients into the system and essentially feed the forest, plants, birds and wildlife.”

The challenge, she said, is “ecosystem resilience”

“People say, ‘Why do you care about the salmon?’ Unfortunately, if they can’t survive, human beings aren’t far behind,” she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/endangered-coho-salmon-battered-by-3rd-year-of-drought-heres-why-it-matte/

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

Op-Ed: Expand and restore Bay wetlands to fight climate change

Carin High and Arthur Feinstein, THE MERCURY NEWS

Report must spur us to look at actions we can take to reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the world’s scientific community leaves no doubt that we must take urgent action on climate change while we still have a chance to prevent the most destructive impacts to the globe’s communities and ecosystems. This report must spur every one of us to look at actions we can take in our region to rapidly reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt.

More than issuing a wake-up call, this report offers concrete actions that we can take and emphasizes the valuable role of nature-based solutions that reduce climate change risks, while providing numerous benefits to both our communities and the planet.

One of the most effective nature-based solutions is the expansion and restoration of coastal wetlands. Wetlands not only provide valuable habitat for fish and birds, acting as the base of the marine ecosystem, but wetlands have also been shown to be one of nature’s most efficient plant communities for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, trapping organic carbon quicker and better than forests, thus reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Coastal wetlands also help to buffer our communities from sea level rise, acting as a sponge to capture flood waters before they reach our homes and businesses. In short, wetlands, if protected, expanded and restored, are one of the most valuable ecosystem tools for reducing the impact of climate change.

Read more at https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/30/opinion-expand-and-restore-bay-wetlands-to-fight-climate-change/

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

County moves ahead with preliminary plan for Sonoma Developmental Center, but likely with less housing

Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT

More than three hours into the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ discussion Tuesday on the future of the 930-acre Sonoma Developmental Center property in Glen Ellen, supervisor Susan Gorin cut to the chase, advocating a reduction of proposed housing units from the 900-1,000 range to between 450 and 700.

There were few tangible outcomes beyond that.

County staff stressed repeatedly that Tuesday’s agenda item would not lead to a vote. Instead, the lengthy conversation would serve as what Permit Sonoma Planning Manager Brian Oh referred to as an interim checkpoint.

“What we have presented today is a framework for the project description that would go into the environmental impact report,” Oh said. “We have started on broad concepts based on feedback that we’re hearing from the community.”

But judging by the comments that followed Oh’s presentation Tuesday, Sonoma Valley residents do not believe the county is being responsive to that feedback.

Speaker after speaker called for a scaled-down footprint, additional time to study wildlife impacts, more public transportation and bike lanes, services for people with disabilities, and a greater concentration of affordable housing.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-moves-ahead-with-preliminary-plan-for-sonoma-developmental-center-b/

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Op-Ed: Heart of Sonoma Valley at risk of urbanization?

Teri Shore, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen), remains uncertain after public hearings on county plans to create a new town. The plans are widely opposed due to the size and scale of the proposed development. The abandoned campus is surrounded by open space, agricultural lands and voter-approved community separator greenbelts.

At the end of 2021, Sonoma County planners released three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that features 1,000 homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will get environmental review.

The plans were widely opposed by environmentalists, housing advocates, labor, community groups and the public at large. Hundreds of letters were lodged with the county and state. The Sonoma City Council and Sonoma Valley’s two county-appointed Municipal Advisory Councils, and the public opposed the plans and made recommendations. Many are also asking that the land remain in public hands and not be sold to a developer.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/opinion-heart-of-sonoma-valley-at-risk-of-urbanization/

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Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley

Teri Shore, SIERRA CLUB SONOMA GROUP

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen) remains uncertain and contentious after the first round of public hearings on potential land use and planning options released last month.

Sonoma County planners proposed three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that featured hundreds of single-family homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will be reviewed under CEQA next year.

The surrounding 745 acres of open space were prioritized for conservation. However, the protection of the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features were given little attention. The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-valley-wildlife-corridor/ is a critical link for multiple keystone species such as mountain lions, bears and badgers to travel from as far as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain Wilderness to the East to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast. Millions of public and private funds have been invested in acquiring lands and protecting the wildlife corridor for decades.

As proposed, the draft alternatives would comprise the biggest subdivision and development in the history of Sonoma Valley – equal in housing units to the sprawling Temelec, Chanterelle and & Flags subdivisions on the south end of Sonoma Valley. All three alternatives would drastically increase driving and associated Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and undermine decades of city-centered growth policies. The plans also conflict with local, county, regional and state polices to reduce climate-changing emissions, achieve equitable housing and preserve biodiversity.
Continue reading “Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley”

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Sonoma Valley advocates push for reintroduction of beavers

Cole Hersey, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

On the southwest side of the City of Sonoma, a small stream named Fryer Creek cuts through a quiet neighborhood.

In late October, the creek was, like most waterways in the Bay Area, inundated with water during the “bomb cyclone” storm. However, as the rains pounded Sonoma with seven and a half inches of rain, Fryer Creek stayed fairly tame for the beginning of the storm, according to nearby residents Barabara and Larry Audiss.

“The water was really low [during the storm], even with the heavy rain, and then all at once the water was extremely high,” Larry Audiss said. “We went up and you could see where the dam had been breached.”

Larry Audiss is referring to a beaver dam close to MacArthur Street. The waters proved too strong for part of the recently built dam along this tributary of Sonoma Creek, likely pushing more water downstream.

This was not the only beaver dam in Sonoma Valley that was affected by the storm. In upper Sonoma Creek, most beaver dams were leveled by rushing waters.

However, the three beaver dams along Fryer Creek remained largely intact after the storm, perhaps due to the smaller size of the waterway. Even the dam that was breached could be rebuilt come next spring.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/sonoma-valley-beavers/

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Beavers can help California’s environment, but state policy doesn’t help them

Carolina Cuellar, BAY NATURE

One month into 2020’s shelter in place order, Virginia Holsworth and her family decided to change things up by walking in the opposite direction of their usual daily stroll through suburban Fairfield. That’s when she first encountered the amassment of sticks blocking the path’s adjacent creek, Laurel Creek.

She suspected the sticks meant the work of a beaver. Curious, she inspected the area, finding webbed footprints along the creek bank and chew marks on surrounding wood. Still, it wasn’t until she caught a glimpse of a brown slicked-fur-covered head that she was certain — she’d stumbled upon a beaver dam. A few days later, she saw the beaver family of four that gave rise to a lush green haven in her neighborhood.

For the next few months she watched cormorants and blue herons among the cattails and tules. Supposedly the creek even contained so many rainbow trout, a member of the community — illegally — caught 40 of them. The way the beavers and their dam had changed the landscape and reinvigorated the habitat enthralled Holsworth, and she became devoted to preserving them in her community.

Holsworth soon connected with Heidi Perryman, the Bay Area’s most ardent beaver activist and founder of the Martinez-based nonprofit Worth a Dam. Perryman warned Holsworth that the ecological wonder she’d found might be in jeopardy. The city of Fairfield had a permit to remove dams and had already, in 2015, obtained a permit to kill beaver.

Just a few months later, in fall 2020, the city public works department removed the beaver dam, citing the potential for flooding in the rainy season. Holsworth watched as the cattails wilted and birds quickly devoured the newly exposed crawfish.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/11/11/beavers-can-help-californias-environment-but-state-policy-doesnt-help-them/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=8e011401a0-BN+Newsletter+11%2F11%2F2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-8e011401a0-199023351&mc_cid=8e011401a0&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , ,

Sonoma Ecology Center’s vision for the former SDC campus

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

Resources

If Sonoma Ecology Center has learned anything from 30 years helping our community care for its environment, it’s that everything is connected. If we want to succeed at solving the most pressing environmental issues, including climate change and the biodiversity crisis, we must find solutions that address multiple challenges simultaneously: environmental, social, and economic.

SDC is a place where all these interests come together. We have a chance to do something meaningful in this place for the site, our Valley community, and perhaps for life on earth. In the coming weeks, SEC will be engaging with the SDC Specific Plan process. The public has been invited to make recommendations on draft versions of this plan. Following are some of our recommendations, which are not adequately reflected in the current alternatives.

Protecting the SDC Campus’ Wild Spaces

First, new development on the site needs to protect the site’s wild spaces, especially its significant wildlife corridor. We would like to see the wildlife corridor expanded at its narrowest point along the north and northeast side of the campus, by pulling the boundary of the developable area inward. Setbacks along Sonoma Creek should be larger–100 feet–to make room for a reestablished floodplain, riparian habitat, steelhead recovery, and groundwater recharge. The wetlands in the eastern meadows should be protected and restored. The site’s many water features–reservoirs, springs, streams, wetlands–should be managed holistically to produce multiple benefits to the entire Valley’s people and ecosystems. Developed areas should all have foot trails connecting to natural spaces, for all the benefits that occur from human connection with them, while assuring that they retain their ecological function. Paths and recreational areas are good, but they should keep away from the wildlife corridor and Sonoma Creek. Built areas and paths should use Dark Sky standards.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/sdc-vision/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , , ,

Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan updates

PERMIT SONOMA

Permit Sonoma has released the SDC Alternatives Report which presents and analyzes three draft land-use alternatives to guide redevelopment of the 900-acre site. Each alternative transforms the shuttered campus, bringing significant benefits to the community including affordable housing and diverse living-wage jobs. View the alternatives report here on the project website, and get ready to share your feedback at one of the community outreach events below!

Alternatives Overview
All of the alternatives create important community amenities. Plans call for between 990 and 1,290 housing units, creating a walkable community with an emphasis on affordable housing and active transportation to lessen automobile use. All three alternatives propose the protection of 700 acres of open space between Jack London State Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and each alternative expands the existing wildlife corridor and preserves Sonoma Creek and its tributaries. Commercial, recreational, and civic spaces are proposed to benefit residents, employees, and the greater Sonoma Valley.

Developed after extensive feedback from the community and technical experts, each alternative approaches achieving the goals for the campus differently:

Alternative A: Conserve and Enhance preserves the most historic buildings and the second most jobs of any proposal;
Alternative B: Core and Community creates the most housing units and creates a walkable mixed-use core;
Alternative C: Renew creates a regional innovation hub bringing the most jobs of any proposal, neighborhood agriculture, open space preservation, and housing units to support these uses.

Community Input
Permit Sonoma wants your feedback on the alternatives at three upcoming public meetings!

Please join us to discuss the alternatives and the future of the SDC site at one or more of the following meetings:

SDC Alternatives Workshop on Nov 13 at 10-11:30 am
Zoom registration: https://dyettandbhatia.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYvdeqopjksH9WSm0ml5nN1evaOGrARPZOP

SDC Spanish Language Town Hall on Nov. 16 at 5:30-7 pm
In person at Hunt Hall @ St. Leo’s Catholic Church, 601 W. Agua Caliente Rd Sonoma, CA 95476
Joint SMAC/NSVMAC/SVCAC Meeting on Nov. 17 at 6:30 pm
Zoom link: https://sonomacounty.zoom.us/j/96931443054?pwd=UFAxc2o1bHRTRW9waWxSR2NCdDZqZz09

In addition to the public meetings, stay tuned for an online survey that will ask you to give input on the options presented in each of the Alternatives, as well as other priorities for the site.

You can read the draft report and register for upcoming public participation opportunities at https://www.sdcspecificplan.com/.

Source: https://mailchi.mp/18b2fd7e8006/sonoma-developmental-center-specific-plan-updates-13413680?e=d2966a32b0