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

‘Like sending bees to war’: the deadly truth behind your almond-milk obsession

Annette McGivney, THE GUARDIAN

Bees are essential to the functioning of America’s titanic almond industry – and billions are dying in the process

Dennis Arp was feeling optimistic last summer, which is unusual for a beekeeper these days.

Thanks to a record wet spring, his hundreds of hives, scattered across the central Arizona desert, produced a bounty of honey. Arp would have plenty to sell in stores, but more importantly, the bumper harvest would strengthen his bees for their biggest task of the coming year.

Like most commercial beekeepers in the US, at least half of Arp’s revenue now comes from pollinating almonds. Selling honey is far less lucrative then renting out his colonies to mega-farms in California’s fertile Central Valley, home to 80% of the world’s almond supply.

But as winter approached, with Arp just months away from taking his hives to California, his bees started getting sick. By October, 150 of Arp’s hives had been wiped out by mites, 12% of his inventory in just a few months. “My yard is currently filled with stacks of empty bee boxes that used to contain healthy hives,” he says.

This shouldn’t be happening to someone like Arp, a beekeeper with decades of experience. But his story is not unique. Commercial beekeepers who send their hives to the almond farms are seeing their bees die in record numbers, and nothing they do seems to stop the decline.

A recent survey of commercial beekeepers showed that 50 billion bees – more than seven times the world’s human population – were wiped out in a few months during winter 2018-19. This is more than one-third of commercial US bee colonies, the highest number since the annual survey started in the mid-2000s.

Beekeepers attributed the high mortality rate to pesticide exposure, diseases from parasites and habitat loss. However, environmentalists and organic beekeepers maintain that the real culprit is something more systemic: America’s reliance on industrial agriculture methods, especially those used by the almond industry, which demands a large-scale mechanization of one of nature’s most delicate natural processes.
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Honeybees thrive in a biodiverse landscape. But California’s almond industry places them in a monoculture where growers expect the bees to be predictably productive year after year.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/07/honeybees-deaths-almonds-hives-aoe

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

Urban Growth Boundary has served Sonoma well

Teri Shore, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

When I first moved to Sonoma nearly 30 years ago, I paid $400 a month rent for a small house. Then after 14 years I had to move and pay double the rent. After my mother died, I lived in her affordable mobile home in 7 Flags. Today I live with my partner, Stan, who bought us a house. If I had to rent now, I couldn’t afford it.

So I totally sympathize with the woman who can’t afford to return to Sonoma, who was featured in a recent column by Jason Walsh (“City of No Return,” Dec. 13). But I strongly disagree with the view that land conservation and the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) are why housing costs are high.

The current housing crisis has resulted from multiple factors, mainly loss of state and federal funding, stagnant wages for most workers and the high costs of labor and materials. The loss of homes to wildfires exacerbated the need. Luxury homes and vacation rentals reduced supply. It is not because of the UGB.

Sonoma’s current Urban Growth Boundary.

We know that simply sprawling into greenbelts outside cities does not provide affordable housing. Just look around the Bay Area. In fact, we must double down on protecting land, water and greenbelts and building better inside our cities if we are to provide enough living space and survive the climate crisis.

The UGB has served us well for 20 years by preventing sprawl that is unhealthy for residents and expensive for the city. Our town remains small-scale and inviting. The surrounding green buffers helped protect the city from wildfire. Living here is still more affordable than the rest of the Bay Area. And the UGB costs taxpayers nothing.

The good news is that we have room to grow. Right now at least 200 more new living units are on track to be built in the city over the next two years, half affordable. And there’s plenty of room inside the UGB for another 800 to 1,000 new living units under current policies. If we grow another 20 percent in the next 20 years that’s about 2,000 people and 1,000 units. We can already meet that need. And we can do more.

Now is the perfect time to ask the City Council to encourage innovative housing types such as granny units, junior dwelling units, and smaller “missing middle” units as they urgently work on updates to the zoning code to meet new state mandates for housing. New state funding is on the way to help get more affordable homes built.

There is lots of work to do to create a climate-healthy, diverse, livable city with our neighbors and friends so people like “Molly,” the woman in Mr. Walsh’s column, can come home and others can afford to stay.

Instead of wrestling over a divisive and false choice between land conservation and housing, let’s keep our commitment to a balance between open space and community. But time is running out. The city needs to start the public process soon to put a ballot measure before the voters to renew the existing UGB for another 20 years before it expires at the end of next year.

Sonoma resident Teri Shore is the North Bay regional director of the Greenbelt Alliance.

Source: https://www.sonomanews.com/opinion/10532691-181/valley-forum-ugb-has-served?sba=AAS

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

Woody Hastings – Environmentalist of the Year!

Tish Levee, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

On December 5th, at its Holiday Networking Party, the Sonoma County Conservation Council gave Woody Hastings the Ernestine I. Smith Environmentalist of the Year award, for his work organizing against new gas stations being built in the County — one of the great success stories of 2019.

For the last decade, Woody has worked at the Climate Center, formerly the Center for Climate Protection, using his organizing skills to promote the formation of Sonoma Clean Power, our local CCA, and Community Choice Aggregation in general.

In April, Jenny Baker’s article in the Gazette alerted Woody and the community to a proposed mega-gas-station at Highway 116 and Stony Point Road. The 16-pump gas station, car wash, and minimart would operate around the clock, all year long. Contacting Jenny, Woody offered his assistance. Together they began organizing the community to oppose the station, which would have been one of six within two miles — with an additional two car washes less than two miles away.

Their efforts culminated in a public meeting on June 25th; all the speakers were opposed to the gas station. Less than two weeks later, the developer withdrew the application. Woody proclaimed, “sometime we win!”

Although that battle was won, the war against building more polluting gas stations continues. Key to winning the war is getting the County Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance to put new applications for gas stations on hold until the rules for permitting new gas stations have been reviewed and revised. There’s no way to argue that any of the recently proposed stations are needed — all the proposed gas stations are in areas where there are already several gas stations within a small radius.

For nearly two decades Sonoma County has been commited to responding to the climate crisis, starting with a 2002 resolution that committed the County to reduce greenhouse gases from internal operations. Additional actions in 2005, 2006, and 2008, were followed in 2009 when the County and all nine cities formed the Regional Climate Protection Authority to coordinate countywide climate protection efforts, the first such authority in the US. In 2018, the County adopted the “Climate Change Action Resolution” to pursue local actions supporting goals including “encouraging a shift toward low-carbon fuels in vehicles and equipment” and “switching equipment from fossil fuels to electricity.” Our County leaders appear to be committed to a meaningful and effective response to the climate crisis, but why we are now facing proposals for new gas stations? How does that not make a mockery of these past efforts?

We’re still permitting new gas stations using outmoded 20th century rules while we’re in the midst of a 21st century climate crisis. Contact your Supervisor and urge them to adopt 21st century rules.

For more information see Woody’s op-ed piece in the August Gazette. Check out the Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/NoMoreGasoline for current information on opposing new gas stations in the County.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/woody-hastings-environmentalist-of-the-year

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags ,

The world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood is being built in Mexico for families living on $3 a day

Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

The 33-foot printer pipes out a concrete mix that hardens when it dries, building the walls one layer at a time. It takes 24 hours over several days to build two houses at the same time — that’s about two times faster than it takes New Story to build a home with regular construction.

A giant 3D printer built two houses in an impoverished, rural part of Mexico last week, breaking ground on what will be the first 3D-printed neighborhood in the world. The houses aren’t just a prototype. Developers hope to build 50 new houses by the end of 2020, replacing the structures that residents built themselves out of wood, metal and whatever materials they could afford.

The families live in a seismic zone that’s prone to flooding in the state of Tabasco, Mexico. Building something that will withstand an earthquake and keep them dry during heavy rains was a key consideration when it came to the design.

“These families are the most vulnerable, and in the lowest income … and they’re living on about an average of $3 a day,” said Brett Hagler, CEO and co-founder of New Story, the nonprofit building the community. “They’re living in literally a pieced-together shack that during the rainy season, it will rain and it will flood their shack. Some of the women even said that the water will go up to their knees when it rains, sometimes for months,” Hagler told CNN on Wednesday.

New Story is a nonprofit that helps families in need of shelter. It has built more than 2,700 homes in South America and Mexico since it was founded in 2014. This is the first homebuilding project it’s done with 3D printing. The nonprofit paired up with ICON, a construction technology company that developed the 3D-printing robotics being used on the project. ÉCHALE, a nonprofit in Mexico, is helping find local families to live in the homes.

The homes were co-designed with input from the families that will live in them.

The 33-foot printer pipes out a concrete mix that hardens when it dries, building the walls one layer at a time. It takes 24 hours over several days to build two houses at the same time — that’s about two times faster than it takes New Story to build a home with regular construction. The concrete mix is sturdier than traditional concrete, New Story says. The foundation is reinforced to withstand seismic activity.

Read more at https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/12/business/worlds-first-3d-printed-neighborhood-trnd/index.html

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Santa Rosa wants developers to build downtown housing. They’re not so sure

John King, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

In a region where housing advocates proclaim the virtues of adding apartments and condominiums to the cores of established cities, Santa Rosa shows how difficult such a transformation can be.

No Bay Area city has been more aggressive at cutting developer fees and speeding up the review process. City officials recently took potential builders on a bus tour of potential sites. This month, the City Council and Planning Commission gave their initial OK to a plan that would allow as many as 7,000 new units downtown.

Despite all this, the only housing under construction near historic Courthouse Square is a modest building with 17 apartments. Developers are intrigued but wary. Blueprints for approved projects are gathering dust.

The problem isn’t lack of will, or neighbors fighting growth. Pin the blame instead on basic economics — the underlying dynamics that make city-centered growth a less-than-sure thing, no matter what planners and the obvious need for housing might suggest.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Santa-Rosa-wants-developers-to-build-downtown-14890073.php

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Healdsburg exploring higher fees for new hotels, new nonprofit to boost affordable housing stock

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg will explore an array of new funding programs to preserve and expand affordable housing for its workforce, including additional fees for future hotel projects and formation of a city nonprofit to seek federal dollars unavailable to local governments.

The Healdsburg City Council on Monday asked staff to settle on the amount of potential fees required of hotel developers to support housing construction. Under a plan in the works for nearly two years, the city would charge up to $100,000 in fees for each room. A formal proposal including that provision isn’t expected until early next year.

Every two hotel rooms built in the city creates the need for one housing unit to accommodate the employees required to staff the commercial property, said Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg’s housing administrator. And while the city has been successful in negotiating with developers for housing in several recent hotel projects, he said, Healdsburg needs additional tools to better ensure it meets growing need for workforce housing.

“One of the strengths that our city has for funding affordable housing is that we have political will to do so, and we have a community that supports us in doing so to expand these opportunities for our residents,” Sotomayor told council members Monday. “Over the lifetime of this, depending on the number of hotels that are developed within the city … this could be a potential large funding source.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10410823-181/healdsburg-exploring-higher-fees-for

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

Santa Rosa officials to review new plan that envisions more of a ‘big city’ downtown

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa planning officials hope a new 12-page document holds the key to unlocking the future for a city center replete with new, taller mixed-use buildings and vibrant ground-floor commercial spaces that draw in foot traffic.

A draft plan for Santa Rosa’s future downtown will go before the City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon in a joint meeting at City Hall. It’s predicated on the idea that Santa Rosa’s “suburban downtown” needs to “grow up” to better accommodate its population of roughly 180,000, according to Patrick Streeter, a city planner overseeing the effort.

“The direction that we got from council was that they want to see us go big and go bold with a new idea for downtown,” Streeter said. “That’s what we’re hoping to deliver to them on Tuesday.”

The plan redesign comes as Santa Rosa has fallen well behind the housing growth goals it set more than a decade ago. The city has slashed fees and tried to streamline its development processes, but a large apartment tower — coveted by officials as proof of concept and a precursor to future tall buildings — has yet to materialize.

Santa Rosa’s “big city” downtown would include new apartments for residents and places to work for downtown employees, aided in part by a new method of determining height limits meant to encourage taller buildings near Old Courthouse Square.

This new method, which would replace the more rigid current height caps, involves city-determined ratios of floor area to lot size. In theory, it could allow for much taller buildings than Santa Rosa sees now, including the potential for a 20-story building with more than 600 apartments and some commercial space on the site of the defunct Sears at the downtown mall, according to city documents.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10382760-181/santa-rosa-officials-to-review

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , , ,

Huge old ranch straddling Sonoma, Napa to become parkland after sale

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Jim Perry was silent for a moment as he took in the panoramic view from his favorite place, 2,500 feet high on Big Hill, a golden, oak-dotted ridge above St. Helena with a view all the way to San Francisco.

His late wife’s family has owned the spectacular promontory dividing Sonoma and Napa counties for five generations, and now he is about to give it up.

“This is the best part,” Perry said, his eyes moving from Pole Mountain on the Sonoma Coast, past Geyser Peak and over to Bald Mountain in the east. “It’s just a great place to come and see the whole world.”

The rugged, 654-acre hilltop parcel is part of the historic McCormick Ranch, which the Sonoma Land Trust will announce Wednesday it has agreed to buy for $14.5 million. It’s the fulfillment of a promise he made to his late wife, Sandra Learned, as she lay dying of a rare autoimmune disease in 2015: to preserve the nearly pristine, wild property.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Huge-old-ranch-straddling-Sonoma-Napa-to-become-14830048.php

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

As bears move into Sonoma County, wildlife advocates seek to keep them safe, wild

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aaron Bennett’s thinking goes something like this: Black bears had long since claimed territory in the Anderson Valley lands where his parents established Navarro Vineyards decades ago, so when the family planted pinot noir at high elevation in the mid-1990s, it was the humans who would have to learn to share.

That’s why he, his parents and sister so willingly tolerate the nighttime visitors to their vineyard, even supplying a playful Winnie the Pooh soundtrack to a compilation video they’ve posted online documenting hungry bears roaming through the grapevines in recent months.

“I grew up on the ranch. I see the bears just as cohabitants of the land,” said Bennett, 41.

The bears eat a ton or two of grapes each season — perhaps as much as $10,000 worth. It’s a sizable hit, but “it’s not the bear’s fault that we put pinot noir on the hills,” Bennett aid.

But even he acknowledged his view of the situation is not one that’s universally shared.

Data from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reflects a sometimes adverse human-bear relationship in Mendocino County and other rural North Coast counties, where the bear population is particularly dense.

But that could change. And with the increased presence of bears around the wild edges of Sonoma County in recent years has come a budding movement to prepare for their expansion south, in a bid to keep them wild and safe.

The newly formed North Bay Bear Collaborative is the product of conversations going back several years, when early signs began to indicate that what had been mostly transient visitors were beginning to settle in year-round.

The aim is to help humans adjust to their new neighbors and head off any conflicts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10188029-181/as-bears-move-into-sonoma