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Proposed Marriott hotel in burn zone denied approval by Santa Rosa Planning Commission

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa planning commissioners have blocked a large hotel project in Fountaingrove, citing the potential peril posed by future wildfire among their chief concerns, and foreshadowing a looming fight over the extent of new commercial development allowed in one of Sonoma County’s biggest burn zones.

The first-of-its-kind decision came in a 3-3 vote Thursday by the city’s Planning Commission, which withheld approval of a use permit for the 114-room, three-story Residence Inn Hotel by Marriott. It is envisioned for a 4.6-acre site just north of the former Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel and the Fountaingrove Inn, both of which were destroyed in the Tubbs fire in October 2017.

The outcome reflects the city’s ongoing struggle to balance public safety with its stated commitment to facilitate redevelopment of burn zones. Officials vowed even in the immediate aftermath of the fire not to stand in the way of homeowners looking to rebuild in Fountaingrove, which lost nearly 1,600 homes in the Tubbs fire.

But embrace of new development, including commercial projects, has been a much trickier issue in the hillside area, which has burned twice in the past 54 years. In addition to the two hotels, the Tubbs fire destroyed the historic Round Barn, a quarter-mile south of the hotel, singed Fountaingrove office buildings and threatened nearby Kaiser and Sutter hospitals before jumping Highway 101 to the west.

The deadly and destructive Camp fire that swept through Butte County last month gave planning commissioners additional pause Thursday.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9028541-181/proposed-marriott-hotel-in-burn

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

$10 million state grant spurs future Windsor veterans housing project

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

American military veterans can face many challenges readjusting to civilian life, but a planned housing project in Windsor hopes to ease the plight of former servicemen and women on the North Coast who are unable to find housing.

The $30 million Windsor Veterans Village is years in the making, and a $9.9 million state grant announced last month will help make the vision a reality, supporters say.

Plans for the 60-unit complex call for one- and two-bedroom apartments and community gathering spaces just west of the Town Green. Construction is set to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2019.

The housing development is meant to assist veterans who are struggling to regain their footing, said Joe Millsap, spokesman for Veterans Resource Centers of America, the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit behind the effort.

“The idea is that while this is permanent support housing, they don’t live there forever, but they can,” said Millsap. “The success stories are when they’re completely reintegrated into society and self-sufficient. If they don’t quite get there, that’s what the complex is for and they can stay indefinitely.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9005178-181/10-million-state-grant-spurs

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags ,

FIrestruck homes becoming uninsurable

Mary Williams Walsh, THE NEW YORK TIMES

California’s wildfires keep growing bigger, more frequent and more destructive. Of the 20 worst wildfires in state history, four were just last year, giving rise to a record $12.6 billion of insurance claims.

It hasn’t gotten any better this year. The Mendocino Complex Fire in August was the biggest in state history, and the Camp Fire that wiped out the town of Paradise is the deadliest. It had destroyed nearly 12,000 homes as of Monday morning.

This has put pressure on property insurers, some of which have been declining to renew homeowners’ policies in fire-prone areas. When the houses that burned this year are rebuilt, their owners may find that no one is writing insurance there — at least not at affordable prices.

“We’re not in a crisis yet, but all of the trends are in a bad direction,” said Dave Jones, who is completing his eighth and final year as California’s insurance commissioner. “We’re slowly marching toward a world that’s uninsurable.”

Here’s what you need to know about California’s slow-motion insurance crisis.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/business/california-fires-insurance.html

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

Hannah Beausang, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Conservation advocates have long touted the need to preserve Sonoma County’s bucolic landscape, but a report released last week for first time assigned a dollar value to those open spaces and their natural resources.

The value of services provided by undeveloped and working lands, both public and private, in Sonoma County ranges from $2.2 to $6.6 billion annually, according to the report from the Healthy Lands and Healthy Economies Initiative. The study stems from a years-long collaboration between open space and conservation districts in Sonoma, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

“It’s clear that our community values open space and working lands, but the main point of the report is that not only do we value them, but these lands have an immense value that’s not commonly understood in the typical market framework,” said Karen Gaffney, conservation planning manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The report assigns value to a variety of ecosystems. It accounts for green spaces that absorb runoff to curb flooding while filtering out pollutants. It highlights the benefit of soil, which captures and stores atmospheric carbon and sustains ground cover to prevent damaging erosion. It quantifies the public health benefit provided by trees and plants, which boost air quality, and of open spaces that harbor insect- and wildlife that can limit pests.

It’s the first clear picture of the total estimated value of Sonoma County’s “natural capital,” or its stock of natural assets, and the way they can provide cost-effective alternatives to man-made infrastructure.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/8981145-181/report-sonoma-countys-natural-resources

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Sonoma County embraces denser urban developments

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday a slate of policy changes intended to pave the way for new types of housing, encourage the construction of smaller, more affordable units and help simplify development in certain areas after last year’s wildfires destroyed more than 5,300 homes.

The policy revisions, which only apply to urban areas where sewers are available, created a category for so-called cottage housing, or clusters of smaller units intended to provide options for people who earn too much to qualify for low-income housing but can’t afford market-rate units. It also created the possibility for building housing in some business and industrial districts, allowing workers to live close to jobs or transit hubs.

The board also altered the county’s policy for how density is assigned to each housing unit in certain zones. That allows for smaller units that can be rented at lower prices, such as micro-apartments under 500 square feet and one- to two-bedroom apartments, to count as a fraction of a unit. Previously, the code allowed a single unit to be any size, making it more attractive for developers to build larger units that generate higher rents.

Now, in an area where 10 units are allowed, a developer could choose to build 10 three- bedrooms units, 15 one-bedroom units or 30 micro-apartments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8870843-181/sonoma-county-embraces-denser-urban

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

Wilson family wins Sonoma County approval for 11th winery

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ken and Diane Wilson’s latest winery, to be built in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, won final approval Tuesday from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, leaving the couple relieved to get a green light 13 years after the project was first proposed.

Culminating a three-hour public hearing packed with accolades for the winemaking family, the board voted 4-1 to deny a valley resident’s appeal challenging a previous county decision supporting the project, which was first proposed in 2005.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents winery-rich Sonoma Valley, cast the lone no vote, saying she was concerned that supervisors have failed to resolve the high-stakes question of over-concentration of wineries, which number more than 440 outside city limits.

“We have yet to grapple with it,” she said, referring to an issue that gained public traction in 2014.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8871075-181/wilson-family-wins-sonoma-county

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , ,

Sonoma County mulls changes to controversial quarry project

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday revived one of their most controversial land-use debates, examining potential changes to a planned quarry west of Cotati that has been in the works for a decade and a half.

Quarry developer John Barella wants to alter some of the conditions the county imposed when it narrowly approved his project off Roblar Road eight years ago. The Board of Supervisors last year hired a consultant to study Barella’s proposed changes and is now considering a draft of the resulting environmental analysis.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered around a 1.6-mile stretch of Roblar Road that would be used hundreds of times daily by large trucks hauling aggregate from the quarry. Barella’s team says the original county requirement to widen the road to 40 feet proved unworkable and proposed constructing a road that’s 32 feet wide instead.

The proposal prompted safety concerns from some supervisors and community members, particularly since the road is used by cyclists.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the only current board member who was in office when the project was approved, called for further road improvements that would slow traffic and better accommodate bicycles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8845302-181/sonoma-county-mulls-changes-to

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , , ,

Wildfires: Managing the risk

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

How can we limit the spread of wildfires and save people and property?

Wildfires are already a serious problem, and climate change will only make the problem worse, as I’ve discussed in my two prior posts. Reducing carbon emissions can help keep the problem from growing, but we need to deal with the risks we’re already facing. That is going to require a portfolio of risk management strategies. We need to ramp up all of them.
Land Use Controls.

There are increasing numbers of people moving into the wild-land urban interface (WUI).The USDA’s report on the WUI says that 3.8 million people live in that zone in California alone. Nationally, a million homes were added to the WUI just in the decade from 1990-2000. That simply isn’t sustainable.

Human activities increase the risk of fire from sparks or burns, and homes are typically highly flammable and help fires spread more quickly. Better land use controls could limit development in high risk areas. Easier said than done, however, given development pressures. According to a 2013 study, ” land use planning for wildfire has yet to gain traction in practice, particularly in the United States. However, fire history has been used to help define land zoning for fire planning in Italy, and bushfire hazard maps are integrated into planning policy in Victoria, Australia.” By 2016, however, Headwaters Economics was reporting on five Western US cities that were taking advantage of at least some land use tools to reduce fire risks, though none seem to have imposed outright bans on development in high-risk areas.

Buyouts may be a fallback in extreme situations. Building codes can also help — for instance, by requiring fire-resistant roofs on new houses. Liability rules for fires have to be carefully considered. Making utilities liable for fires can cause them to take greater precautions, but the prospect of compensation could also encourage people to live in unsafe areas. On the other hand, fire insurance costs can send an important price signal about the risks of WUI property ownership, as some Californians are already beginning to experience.
Land Management.

Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2018/10/08/wildfires-managing-the-risks/

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

Huffman bill assuring 20-year leases for Point Reyes ranchers clears House

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future in Point Reyes National Seashore under a bill written by Rep. Jared Huffman that was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives, with environmental groups divided over the issue.

The bill by Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat known for his environmental politics, would require the Secretary of Interior to issue 20-year permits to the long-standing family-operated beef and dairy ranches in the scenic Marin County seashore managed by the National Park Service.

The four-page bill also orders the government agency to manage the seashore’s famed tule elk herd to keep the grazing animals separate from the ranches and dairies.

“We’re thrilled,” said Jackie Grossi, whose family runs a 1,200-acre Point Reyes cattle ranch. “We just want to ensure that there is long-term stability for the ranches.”

Jackie and Rich Grossi, their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter manage the ranch, which is, like all of the affected cattle operations, on federally owned land purchased by the government decades ago.

Ranchers say they need long-term permits to justify investment in their operations.

In an unusual exercise of bipartisanship, the bill, HR 6687, was co- authored by Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and last year advocated for repeal of the Endangered Species Act, a move Huffman has vocally opposed.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8782302-181/huffman-bill-assuring-20-year-leases?ref=mostsection

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

Santa Rosa City Council slashes development fees for downtown housing projects

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The council authorized reducing development fees over a five-year period as part of its downtown housing strategy, which envisions 3,400 apartment and condo units in the city center, mirroring a benchmark from a 2007 city plan. To date, only 100 of those downtown units have been built.

Santa Rosa is set to slash fees charged to builders in a bid to spur a new wave of high-rise housing development, part of a long-term overhaul of the city’s core envisioned more than a decade ago.

The City Council voted 6-0 on separate resolutions Tuesday night that together will result in immediate, sharp reductions in development fees tied to new housing for parks and infrastructure. The measures will also delay payment of fees charged for city utility hookups until the back end of a project, a sweetener that developers say makes it easier for new housing to pencil out.

It was the latest step in a series of City Council actions this year that are intended to speed the production of multi-family housing in the downtown area, now with a renovated transit center and a reunited Old Courthouse Square.

Council members were united in their praise for the measures, which come amid a housing crisis exacerbated by wildfires that last year wiped out more than 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa and 5,300 countywide.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8775929-181/santa-rosa-city-council-slashes