Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , , , , , , ,

Wetlands advocates work to raise Highway 37

Dan Ashley & Tom Didion, ABC7 NEWS

There’s a vocal debate over building a better Bay Area, by building a better highway. At stake is not just traffic, but potentially vast stretches of restored wetlands.

When Kendall Webster gazes across the levees and farmland in southern Sonoma County, she can envision the tidal marshes that once flushed water back and forth from meandering waterways to San Pablo Bay.

“And so this whole flatland here was a mosaic of tidal wetlands,” she explains.

It’s a vast expanse of wetlands that the Sonoma Land Trust and their partners are working to restore.

“And you know, California is investing in climate, the way no other state in the country is right now. So we think that this is the natural infrastructure project that the state should be highlighting,” Webster maintains.

To make that vision a reality, the Trust has joined with Save the Bay and more than a dozen environmental and land management groups, urging Cal/Trans and the state to remove the one barrier that could open up natural marshland across the entire North Bay.

Read more at https://abc7news.com/highway-37-restoring-sonoma-county-wetlands-san-pablo-bay-land-trust-restoration/12117895/

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , ,

Sonoma County releases draft environmental report for Sonoma Developmental Center

Phil Barber, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A long-anticipated draft report released Wednesday calls for approximately 1,000 housing units — including 283 affordable units — to go along with 940 on-site jobs and a resident population of 2,400 at the site of the historic Sonoma Developmental Center near Glen Ellen.

Those numbers, which are in line with previous proposals, are bound to add fuel to the ongoing debate about how best to use a property that has been called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by neighbors and officials alike.

“I think 1,000 is too big, and 283 is too small,” said Tracy Salcedo, a longtime Sonoma Valley resident, writer and advocate for the former institution for the developmentally disabled. “And we are stuck in a conundrum where financial feasibility is dictating how we do right thing. The right thing should be to provide more affordable housing, and turn our creative energies toward that rather than inundating the north end of the valley for what’s essentially too few affordable units.”

Sonoma County’s land use planning and development agency released the draft Environmental Impact Report and accompanying Specific Plan on Wednesday.

Totaling more than 800 pages, the two reports constitute the first narrowly drawn proposal for redevelopment of the iconic 945-acre site, which was home to a state-run hospital for the developmentally disabled that was established in 1891 and closed in 2018.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-releases-draft-environmental-report-for-sonoma-developmental-center/

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

Salamander protection tied to permit streamlining in Sonoma County vineyards

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

The origins of a new public-private solution for the longstanding environmental quandary facing Sonoma County grape growers operating in critical habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander can be traced to recent reforms of county permits for erosion control on vineyard projects.

Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the North Bay Water District will oversee a program in which owners of participating vineyards that have adopted and implemented best practices to preserve or add salamander habitat can avoid being sued by third parties for “incidental take” of the rare amphibian under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The deal also offers participating growers assurance that vineyard operations can continue without additional permits.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Sonoma County population of the salamander as endangered in March 2003. Shortly after, the agency designated a wide swath of the Santa Rosa Plain as critical habitat. That put in place a regulatory system requiring costly studies and special permits for farming and many other activities in the area.

The most affected properties were near the species’ breeding grounds in seasonal wetlands and existing ponds or reservoirs, along with surrounding areas at higher elevations.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/industrynews/deal-for-salamander-protection-in-sonoma-county-vineyards-builds-on-permit/

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , ,

Sonoma County vintner, his business and DA’s Office reach $925,000 environmental damage settlement

Alana Minkler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Sonoma County wine executive and his business have reached a $925,000 settlement with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office following an environmental complaint that accused them of causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale, county District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced Friday.

Deeply ripping apart the terrain, tearing down trees and pushing them down streams without permits under the county’s Vineyard & Orchard Site Development Ordinance, and lacking permits for grading roads and installing culverts were among acts that Hugh Reimers and Krasilsa Pacific Farms, LLC were accused of in August 2019.

Uprooting oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries caused major environmental damage, which violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act, according to a 2019 investigation by the Regional Water Control Board.

The business also did not comply with the terms of a 2019 cleanup and abatement order, which required the full restoration of the 2,278-acre property to its previous condition.

A statement in May said the impact of these actions are still evident, as they threaten the migration, spawning, reproduction and early development of cold-water fish in the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-his-business-and-das-office-reach-925k-environment/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , , ,

North Coast rail dispute intensifies with competing bids from Skunk Train and coal export company

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A mysterious Wyoming-based firm believed to be pushing a controversial coal-by-rail export proposal along the Northern California coast has made a new filing with a powerful federal board to advance its bid to seize control over the defunct lines running between Willits and Eureka.

The June 1 filing indicated the so-named North Coast Railroad Company, which wants to ship Rocky Mountain coal out of the port at Humboldt Bay, had at least $15 million in the bank — enough to clear an initial federal hurdle in which a company must prove it can cover the cost of a line’s scrap steel and two years of maintenance.

But that company is not the only entity vying for control of abandoned track running through Mendocino and Humboldt counties — along a right of way state lawmakers hope will one day welcome a 320-mile multiuse trail stretching south to San Francisco Bay.

In an unrelated venture, Mendocino Railway, owners of the tourist excursion Skunk Train, are petitioning the federal rail board to restore 11 miles of track north of Willits to run loads of gravel. Mendocino Railway also filed with the board indicating it had the resources to take on that project.

Either bid could complicate the more broadly-supported venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a recreational route planned from Eureka in the north to Larkspur in Marin County on the south. A state agency has already begun planning the conversion of abandoned segments of the rail line in Mendocino and Humboldt counties for the trail.

The three competing ventures must now vie for the endorsement of the U.S. Transportation Board, a body that aims to preserve the nation’s rail corridors but has proven amenable to allowing recreational trails along disused rights of way.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-coast-rail-dispute-intensifies-with-competing-bids-from-skunk-train-a/

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

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 Land UseTags , ,

Developer terminates agreement with Windsor, leaving civic center project in limbo

Kathleen Coates, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a controversial Windsor civic center project has withdrawn from an exclusive negotiating agreement with the town, according to a letter received this week by officials, leaving the development’s future uncertain.

Robert Green of the eponymous Robert Green Co. sent a letter Thursday to interim Windsor Town Manager Mark Linder that said the company was exercising its right to terminate the agreement, which was a pact giving the developer the sole right to design the project.

Windsor Town Council had voted Dec. 1, 2021, to halt any work on the project until June 30. A vote on whether to continue the agreement and allow work on the project to move forward would have been held before that.

Mayor Sam Salmon said he anticipated a letter from Green, and wasn’t surprised that he was pulling out of the pact. He said the April 6 election was likely a referendum on the civic center project.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/developer-terminates-agreement-with-windsor-leaving-civic-center-project-in/

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

Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage

Emily Wilder, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.

A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.

The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-business-face-3-75-million-fine-for-alleged-environ/

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Proposed hotel sparks controversy among Healdsburg residents

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

Many Healdsburg residents are up in arms over a proposed four-story 16-room hotel — called Hotel Healdsburg Residences — that would be segmented into three separate buildings at 400, 412 and 418 Healdsburg Avenue.

While residents and planning commissioners share some of the same concerns regarding the scale of the project and its proposed design elements, the main concern for several community members is the project in relation to the city’s hotel ordinance, which limits the amount of hotels built in the Plaza retail area and in the city’s Downtown Commercial District (CD) near Piper, Vine, East and Mill Streets.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/proposed-hotel-sparks-controversy-among-healdsburg-residents/article_19536ba2-82ba-11ec-8cb7-b31ba0b8200c.html

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/