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Dakota access pipeline: court strikes down permits in victory for Standing Rock Sioux

Nina Lakhani, THE GUARDIAN

Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years.

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled hat existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said the tribal chairman, Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”

In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri river and ordered a full EIS to analyze alternative routes and the impact on the tribe’s treaty rights.

In his first week in office, Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite construction. Construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was completed in June 2017.

The tribe challenged the permits – and won. As a result, the corps was ordered to redo its environmental analysis, which it did without taking into consideration tribal concerns or expert analysis.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/25/dakota-access-pipeline-permits-court-standing-rock

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Stanford researchers explain how humanity has ‘engineered a world ripe for pandemics’

Josie Garthwaite, STANFORD NEWS

A pandemic can strike at any time. It takes little more than the right roll of genetic dice in a virus circulating among animals, followed by a chance encounter with a person or some go-between species, like pigs or mosquitoes. But as the new coronavirus whips around the world with a speed matched by few of the infectious diseases that have emerged in modern times, it poses the question: Why now?

According to Stanford biological anthropologist James Holland Jones, we have always had spillover events, in which disease jumps from animals to people. “What’s different now is that a spillover in one part of the world can have major consequences for the rest of the world,” he said. “We have engineered a world ripe for pandemics.”

Central to this vulnerability is the fact that our species moves around the world so much, and so quickly – whether for business, leisure, safety, education, economic necessity or other reasons. Many diseases are able to move right along with us. In fact, one of the most successful indicators of where pathogens will spread is the number of flight connections between cities, said Stanford biology Professor Erin Mordecai, who studies how climate, species interactions and global change influence infectious disease dynamics in both humans and natural ecosystems.

All this interconnectedness is particularly problematic with a disease like COVID-19, which can be transmitted by people who are not experiencing symptoms. “This disease is really nasty from a control standpoint,” said Mordecai, an assistant professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “If you don’t know you’re sick, you might get on the plane and shed virus everywhere.”

An engineered world

It’s not only our highly mobile lifestyles that are helping give pandemics a runway to spread around the globe. It’s also the way we crowd together in increasingly dense cities, interact with wildlife and alter the natural world.
Continue reading “Stanford researchers explain how humanity has ‘engineered a world ripe for pandemics’”

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‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

John Vidal, THE GUARDIAN

As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics

Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, which sits on the south bank of the Ivindo River, deep in the great Minkebe Forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness. Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I travelled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hotspots” such as tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours along degraded forest logging roads, passing Baka villages and a small goldmine, to reach the village. There, I found traumatised people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed the chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?
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“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe

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Land swap

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

Petaluma approves complex land deal despite widespread opposition

Late on the night of Monday, Feb. 24, the Petaluma City Council narrowly approved a controversial, multi-part land deal in order to fund a second train station for the city.

Critics of the deal between Petaluma and Lomas Partners, LLC—a Southern California company businessman Todd Kurtin owns—say none of the parties involved have been responsive to criticism of the proposed designs, the process of approving the project and costs to the city.

Ultimately, the deal, which in part requires the city to contribute $2 million to cover some of the costs of the new train station, could leave the city with little leverage over the design of a downtown housing development and a related off-site affordable housing component, critics say.

After hours of discussion and public comment, almost unanimously against the current project proposal, the City Council voted 4 to 3 to support a development agreement with Lomas Partners and several related documents to greenlight Lomas’ interlocked housing development proposals.

There is at least one more significant hurdle for the project. The agreements approved by the City Council will be void if the city cannot secure a formal commitment from SMART to construct the Corona Road Station, which, if completed, will be the city’s second train station.

To that end, the Council directed staff to set up a meeting with SMART to reach an agreement.

Here are some of the details of the deal:

In August 2017, Lomas Partners, LLC, signed a deal with SMART to purchase 315 D St., a 4.48-acre piece of land next to Petaluma’s downtown station, for $5 million. In exchange, Lomas would donate 1.27 acres of land at 890 McDowell Blvd. and build a 150-space parking garage on it. Under plans filed with the city, Lomas would construct 110 homes on the remainder of the 890 McDowell Blvd. parcel.

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Activists protest plans for gas pumps at new Rincon Valley 7-Eleven

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa Planning Commission will need to approve the company’s plans before any work on the project can occur and has not put 7-Eleven’s proposal on an agenda, said city planner Adam Ross.

7-Eleven’s plan to demolish one of its east Santa Rosa stores and several surrounding buildings to build a sleek new convenience store and add gas pumps has sparked opposition from activists who oppose new fossil fuel outlets in Sonoma County.

Texas-based 7-Eleven aims to replace the existing shop at Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road with a new 24-hour convenience store and at least six gas pumps, according to an application filed with Santa Rosa planning officials.

Designs call for demolishing the store, a martial arts studio and at least one adjacent home, forcing longtime tenants to find another place to live.

To local climate activist Woody Hastings it doesn’t make sense to displace a family to make way for fuel pumps, noting that the Santa Rosa City Council weeks ago formally declared a climate crisis.

“If we’re going to extricate ourselves from the fossil world, we’ve got to start now,” said Hastings, who was leading about two dozen protesters outside the 7-Eleven on Monday. They held signs and chanted their opposition to the proposal.

7-Eleven in 2017 bought a chunk of land surrounding its store including an adjacent house occupied by a family. Company officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the redevelopment plans. 7-Eleven has more than 70,000 stores worldwide and 11 in the Santa Rosa area.

The company plans to hold another neighborhood meeting to “address concerns,” said Kim Barnett, director of national programs for Tait & Associates, a Rancho Cordova-based firm working with 7-Eleven on the development of the new store and gas station, in an email. She did not provide a date for the meeting.

Barnett described the Rincon Valley project as “a state of the art 7-Eleven” with “fresh foods,” featuring charging stations for electric vehicles and solar power. Though plans call for a car wash, Barnett said “there will be not be a car wash.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10693433-181/plans-for-new-east-santa

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Petaluma council decisions irk climate board

Kathryn Palmer, PETLUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Climate Action Commissioners Thursday expressed their disappointment over City Council’s recent approval of the controversial Sid Commons apartment development, renewing questions over how the nascent and relatively toothless body will impact city decisions.

The 180-unit riverside project drew significant criticism from the public and two council members over environmental concerns earlier this month, including climate change-induced flooding and sea level rise.

“The last few weeks have been difficult, to say the least, for a climate activist to be sitting on the council,” said council woman and Climate Action Commission Liaison D’Lynda Fischer.

Both Vice Mayor Fischer and Mayor Teresa Barrett voted against the Sid Commons development, unconvinced the environmental studies of the project adequately addressed potential impacts on the parcel’s wetland and riparian corridor. They also questioned whether the reports relied on the best available data, especially in regards to anticipated sea level rise and increased flooding.

Last year, the city made significant strides to push climate change issues to the top of their agenda, declaring a climate emergency and creating the advisory Climate Action Commission. As a result, conversations over climate change adaptation and mitigation are only growing louder, permeating discussions within City Hall as the city moves to incorporate these new priorities.

Sid Commons is not the only development that has attracted criticism from sustainability advocates this year. Public outcry over the recent Corona Station development linked to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit raised doubts over whether its single-family, single-use design kneecaps efforts to encourage public transit use as a way of lowering carbon emissions.

Criticisms of the Corona Station development also centered significantly on affordability concerns, a key sticking point that led the council to delay the project’s final vote to Feb. 24.

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Retiring Sonoma County ag leader: Cannabis can be lifeline for grape growers, dairy farmers

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After eight years at the helm, Tony Linegar retired last week as Sonoma County agricultural commissioner, having overseen a tremendous amount of change in the farming sector that fetched a local record $1 billion of crops in 2018.

The 54-year-old Chico State graduate will be most remembered for his advocacy to treat cannabis and hemp just like any other crop, helping erase weed’s lingering stigma as a “stoner drug.”

He was instrumental in drafting local regulations for cannabis and hemp cultivation. He had vast experience with cannabis — which California legalized for recreational sales in 2018 — since he had previously worked in Mendocino County as its ag commissioner. He earlier worked in Shasta County, where he started in 1995 as an ag inspector.

Linegar took action here when vineyard owners violated local rules and had been vocal about upholding environmental and pest and disease protections in his talks with the politically influential wine sector. Although wine grapes represent a dominant 70% of the overall crop value of the county’s ag sector, he sees an industry in transition due to competitive pressures and evolving consumer tastes.

He thinks cannabis can help those small grape growers who are struggling to survive. Area dairy farmers, who have dealt with declining prices in the organic milk market, also will start growing or leasing their land for hemp and cannabis cultivation, he said.

Linegar sees the county’s agricultural sector becoming more balanced after a decadeslong dominance by the wine grape business.

“I do see more diversity coming into agriculture almost by necessity,” said Linegar, who is moving to Hawaii. “Whenever you have so many eggs in one basket, you are really vulnerable not only to market fluctuations but also pests and diseases. If you get a devastating pest come in, that can wreak havoc on a monoculture.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10697266-181/retiring-sonoma-county-ag-leader

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Future Santa Rosa housing project taking shape at Journey’s End site

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of Bay Area developers and investors is finalizing plans to transform the former Journey’s End mobile home park that was mostly leveled in the 2017 Tubbs fire into one of Santa Rosa’s largest housing projects.

More than 500 new rental apartments are slated for the vacant 13.3-acre site on Mendocino Avenue, where rebuilding has been on hold while hundreds of homes rise across other parts of Santa Rosa burned in the 2017 firestorm.

Though the long-awaited, roughly $340  million project is months away from any approval and years away from construction, it comes with promises of much-needed housing and community amenities on a busy Santa Rosa artery — and a plan to prioritize requests from any displaced Journey’s End resident who wishes to return.

“It’s considerably more than I ever expected them to do,” said Linda Adrain, a longtime Journey’s End resident who plans to return. “It’s fancier than I expected it to be, it’s got more things going for it. I’m probably going to cry, realistically.”

The slow-moving project got a shot in the arm in January, when the City Council unanimously approved a formal closure of the mobile home park in a report required by state law and local ordinance. That report noted that most park residents like Adrain would receive “mitigation” payments of about $4,500, in addition to forgiven rent and utilities since the fire and insurance proceeds.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10657841-181/future-santa-rosa-housing-project

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Petaluma approves controversial Sid Commons apartments

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

For the second time in two weeks, Petaluma’s City Council on Monday opted to move ahead with a controversial housing development, approving the 180-unit Sid Commons apartment project alongside the Petaluma River.

The development, first proposed more than 10 years ago, was downsized after running into a raft of opposition and questions in a Nov. 19 hearing before the Planning Commission.

Those changes failed to mollify a vocal group of citizens and some planning commissioners who remained concerned about environmental impacts.

But the project, approved by the council on a 5-2 vote, has now undergone all required environmental study and will be subject to state regulations and permits. Questions about the adequacy of that review and those safeguards lingered this week, fueling public scrutiny that colored much of the project’s presentation at City Hall.

Petaluma’s senior planner and its environmental planner went through staff findings and recommendations nearly line by line. Council members split over their confidence in the environmental report and thus their support for the project.

“I have to base my decision on objective evidence, and that’s what is laid out here,” said Councilman Mike Healy, who joined in the majority that approved the project and its environmental impact report. “This project is not within the 100-year floodplain, and the (river) terracing will be a benefit for the city.”

Mayor Teresa Barrett and Vice Mayor D’Lynda Fischer formed the opposition on the council, voicing doubts over the environmental study.

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Lytton Pomo tribe secures Windsor reservation, begins work on development

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A sprawling, wooded tract of land west of Windsor is now the fifth tribal reservation in Sonoma County, fulfilling the long-sought goal of the Lytton Rancheria to build homes for its members, along with a resort and winery, on land officially held in trust by the federal government.

An act of Congress adopted with scant notice last month granted the Pomo tribe a 511-acre reservation, where it has long outlined a planned development with county officials, along with millions of dollars in payments to the county, Windsor schools and firefighters.

It also righted a wrong done nearly 60 years ago when the Lytton Rancheria was “unjustly and unlawfully” terminated by the federal government, dispossessed of its land and “any means of supporting itself,” according to the measure sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. Tucked into a 3,448-page defense spending bill, it was approved by 90 percent of the House of Representatives and Senate and signed in December by President Donald Trump.

“Congress needs to take action to reverse historic injustices that befell the tribe and that have prevented it from regaining a viable homeland for its people,” the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act of 2019 said.

Margie Mejia, chairwoman of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, said the 300-member tribe has waited for decades to once again live on its own land.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10640514-181/lytton-pomo-tribe-secures-windsor