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Montage Healdsburg builder seeks to renegotiate deal with city as resort nears opening

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Initial discussions are underway between the builder of a long-planned luxury hotel just months away from completion in Healdsburg and city officials over public benefits in the original development deal that the builder wants to forgo, including on-site construction of affordable housing.

Montage Healdsburg, touted as the city’s first five-star hotel, is set to open by December, about 15 years after the previously named Saggio Hills project was put forward on 258 wooded acres on the north side of town. It includes 130 rooms and suites ranging from $695 to $1,695 a night, and plans for up to 70 villa-style homes.

But as the finishing touches on the hotel are put in place, the Robert Green Company, the Encinitas-based developer, and project subsidiary Sonoma Luxury Resort, are seeking to renegotiate some of the public amenities called for in the 2011 approval that paved the way for the project, previously estimated to cost up to $310 million.

In exchange for a $7.25 million cash payment to the city, Robert Green Jr., the company’s president and chief executive officer, wants to forgo on-site development of affordable housing and other public amenities he was required to provide, including a fire substation, construction of a community park, a trail network and two public roadways meant to aid emergency evacuation and link with the nearby Parkland Farms subdivision.

On the 14-acre affordable housing site, which Green was to grade for the city before handing over for construction, the developer instead wants place an open space easement, barring future building. The cash payment would be intended in part to help finance equivalent housing elsewhere in the city.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/montage-healdsburg-builder-seeks-to-renegotiate-deal-with-city-as-resort-ne/

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

Sorax, the Ghost of Salmon Past, speaks at the Board of Supervisors in 2012 on the passing of the VESCO ordinance

I am a ghost of Coho Salmons past, once born and raised in Dutch Bill Creek below Occidental. My last reported sighting there was in the 1960’s. I speak for all salmon and wildlife species not able to attend your meetings.


Do you realize that as public servants and supposed stewards of the Russian River that it is the only river in California to have three listed Salmonid species: Coho, Chinook and Steelhead? That is three distinct species of unique, ancient animals. Shall I remind you that humans, all 6 billion of you, compromise only one distinct species, which at this point ought to be renamed “Homo consumous.”

We as salmon, as recently in our evolution as 150 years ago, used to live in peace with the humans of this land, and we co-evolved with the harbor seals and sea lions and our natal forested creeks. The abundance of our families was so great that your early pioneering families remarked “that we were so numerous” they could “walk on our backs.” This all changed with your arrival. In the last 100 years, or during the time of those 3rd, 4th & 5th generation families who so proudly and loudly exclaim in your newspapers to be stewards of the land, it was they who cleared this land of over 95% of its old growth forests, 95% of its riparian forests, drained 95% of its wetlands.

I ask you where are my friends the Grizzly, the Elk, the Antelope, the Marbled Murrelet? My Coho ancestors used to number 500,000 in California rivers and now our runs number less than 5,000, to as low as 1,000 individuals! We are nearing the brink of functional extinction simultaneously with such gloating of stewardship.

It is critical for all of you to recognize that, compared to the past, this land is actually in a highly degraded state. You all need to own up to the fact that your ancestors are indisputably responsible for the overwhelming genocide of the Pomo and Miwok peoples, the silvacide of the great forests, the soilacide (as your activities have eroded and compacted the once rich fertility) and the salmonicide (as I stand before you at the tail end of our existence). If you have the vision and courage, this can change, you can turn this around if you act in earnest now.

This erosion ordinance you pass today with its especially inadequate riparian setbacks is a feeble first step and leaves me with fear for my children, but a critical move in the right direction if you decide to take more steps and begin walking towards a future vision of ecological watershed integrity.

Remember, I am a fish of the forest. Without trees, my breeding streams fill with sediment, dry up due to lack of groundwater recharge and what water remains becomes lethally hot for my young. Every aspect of your development paradigm must be questioned and reevaluated with restorative criteria. You must question your roads, parking lots, housing, industrial, agricultural, logging and mining practices. We the salmon are dying from the cumulative impacts of your collective inabilities to think like a watershed. If we go extinct and fade from memory, so will you!

In closing, since my spawning gravels are so embedded with silt from the denuded, compacted hillsides, I want to offer each of you, as servants of the public trust, an egg of mine that hopefully will help your thoughts to incubate on taking the recovery of Totem Salmon seriously and birthing a new vision of a shared watershed commons for the sake of all our relations.

Thank you,

The Sorax, aka Brock Dolman, Director of the Water Institute at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

Source: https://oaec.org/our-work/projects-and-partnerships/water-institute/

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Op-Ed: A greenbelt is no place for a resort

Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, political unrest and economic uncertainty, Sonoma County is seeking to bypass voters and flout open space protections to push forward a luxury resort and major event center in the heart of the voter-protected Windsor-Larkfield-Santa Rosa community separator greenbelt.

The site on Old Redwood Highway also is also on the edge of Santa Rosa’s voter-approved urban growth boundary.

In one fell swoop, this development would trod on two critical legacy land-use policies overwhelmingly supported by the voters of Sonoma County. In 2016, voters approved Measure K to expand community separators by 81%. The Santa Rosa growth boundary was renewed in 2010 with 67% of the vote.
Teri Shore
Teri Shore

While everyone is tackling multiple crises, county planners want to allow construction of a luxury resort subdivision of a dozen one-, two- and three-bedroom Wine Country party houses, a warehouse-sized event building, commercial kitchen, pool bar, huge party tents and a new paved road in the community separator.

The plan is for a hundred events serving 10,000 people per year and open daily for high-end drinking, dining, weddings and music until 10 p.m. on what is presently undeveloped land next door to a youth summer camp and a residential center for seniors.

Even worse, the resort is to be located in the Tubbs fire burn zone at the foot of Fountaingrove, putting more people in harm’s way.

The resort would bring low-paying service jobs that would only exacerbate inequity and the housing crisis. It would compete with struggling local businesses.

Strangely, county planners have determined that there would be no significant environmental impacts from the intensified commercial use of the property to Piner Creek or to a large pond, which is home to yellow-legged frogs and giant salamanders on the property once known as Buzzard’s Gulch, but renamed Sonoma Solstice.

The resort and event center violate critical community separator protections, the general plan and the zoning code, and it would override the will of the voters by intensifying development and increasing density on rural land. There is nothing this big or with this many events in any community separator or any property designated for rural and resource development. There are other options for small-scale, low-intensity lodging that would be allowed.

The resort needs to be denied, delayed or sent to a vote of the people.

The county is accepting public comments on the proposal and environmental review until Tuesday. A public hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments is tentatively set for 1 p.m. Thursday for a vote on the environmental review and the project. Send your comments to permitsonoma@sonoma-county.org.

Teri Shore is North Bay regional director for Greenbelt Alliance.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-a-greenbelt-is-no-place-for-a-resort/

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , ,

Gualala River estuary conservation effort takes a $2.1 million step toward success

THE MENDOCINO BEACON

Sometimes it does take a small group of passionate locals to conserve a river estuary forever.

In 2017, 113 acres of scenic and environmentally sensitive coastal wetlands and adjacent uplands surrounding the Gualala River went up for sale for the first time in over 70 years. The community came together, signaled their desire for open space with sensitive public access versus development. The movement began.

Thursday, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy announced that it has received three grants totaling over $2.1 million for the Gualala River Mill Bend Conservation Project that they are stewarding for the community. The US Fish & Wildlife Service awarded the project $1 million through the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program. An $845,000 award came from the California Natural Resources Agency through the Environmental Enhancement & Mitigation Program. The third grant award of $300,000 came from the California State Coastal Conservancy and will allow for initial site assessment and a conservation master plan.

“(Redwood Coast Land Conservancy) feels fortunate to share conservation goals with our federal and state partners. The Mill Bend project will clean up a degraded area from a century of timber mill use and enable wildlife habitat restoration, estuary enhancement for steelhead and salmon and thoughtful public access including continuing the California Coastal Trail,” said Kathleen Chasey, project manager for the conservancy.

Founded in 1992, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is the local land trust for the Mendo-noma coast. The conservancy has taken the lead role to secure the funds for the Mill Bend acquisition, planning and stewardship and is conducting a $2.7 million “Campaign to Preserve Mill Bend.”

“We plan to raise enough funds through additional smaller foundation grants and community contributions to preserve and protect this vital property in perpetuity, said President Christina Batt.

In addition to the three grants awarded, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy must raise $600,000 for stewardship since funders for the acquisition require substantial stewardship funds be in place to demonstrate adequate resources to manage and protect the property forever. The group has been quietly contacting key donors and has lined up $300,000 in lead gifts. The official launch of the campaign to raise $600,000 was to begin in March but was postponed to now because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Contributions toward the Mill Bend campaign are welcomed.

More information about RCLC and the Campaign to Preserve Mill Bend can be found on the RCLC website at www.rclc.org. Contributions to RCLC can be made via its website or by sending a check to P.O.Box 1511, Gualala, CA 95445

Source: https://www.mendocinobeacon.com/2020/05/22/gualala-river-estuary-conservation-effort-takes-a-2-1-million-step-toward-success/

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

Seattle will permanently close 20 miles of residential streets to most vehicle traffic

Michelle Baruchman, THE SEATTLE TIMES

Nearly 20 miles of Seattle streets will permanently close to most vehicle traffic by the end of May, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday.

The streets had been closed temporarily to through traffic to provide more space for people to walk and bike at a safe distance apart during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now the closures will continue even after Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will replace the temporary closure signs on the so-called Stay Healthy Streets with permanent markings, guiding drivers to other routes.

The program, which has rolled out in phases, has been implemented in the Aurora-Licton Springs, Ballard, Central District, West Seattle, Greenwood, Othello, Rainier Beach and Beacon Hill neighborhoods.

Residents, delivery drivers, garbage and recycling workers, and emergency response vehicles can continue to use the streets, but no through traffic is allowed.

“Our rapid response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 have been transformative in a number of places across the city,” SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said. “Some of the responses are going to be long lasting, and we need to continue to build out a transportation system that enables people of all ages and abilities to bike and walk across the city.”

More streets could be closed to through traffic in the coming months, depending on community demand. SDOT will evaluate streets based on whether they reach dense areas, allow people to stay close to home and keep parks from getting crowded, among other factors.

Read more at https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattle-will-permanently-close-20-miles-of-residential-streets-to-most-vehicle-traffic/?amp=1

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COVID-19 stimulus measures must save lives, protect livelihoods, and safeguard nature to reduce the risk of future pandemics

Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Dr. Peter Daszak, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us. As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.

Diseases like COVID-19 are caused by microorganisms that infect our bodies – with more than 70% of all emerging diseases affecting people having originated in wildlife and domesticated animals. Pandemics, however, are caused by activities that bring increasing numbers of people into direct contact and often conflict with the animals that carry these pathogens.

Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people. This often occurs in areas where communities live that are most vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Our actions have significantly impacted more than three quarters of the Earth’s land surface, destroyed more than 85% of wetlands and dedicated more than a third of all land and almost 75% of available freshwater to crops and livestock production.

Add to this the unregulated trade in wild animals and the explosive growth of global air travel and it becomes clear how a virus that once circulated harmlessly among a species of bats in Southeast Asia has now infected almost 3 million people, brought untold human suffering and halted economies and societies around the world. This is the human hand in pandemic emergence.

Yet this may be only the beginning. Although animal-to-human diseases already cause an estimated 700,000 deaths each year, the potential for future pandemics is vast. As many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and water birds. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.

Read more at https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus

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Natural and working lands most cost-effective among our climate solutions

Grace Perry, CALIFORNIA CLIMATE & AGRICULTURE NETWORK (CALCAN)

The natural and working lands recommended carbon sink actions were selected by scientists from more than 50 carbon storage pathways because of their low cost and productivity estimates. In total, the study estimates that natural and working lands can sequester an estimated 25.5 million tons of carbon annually. Other studies suggest that natural and working lands climate strategies can sequester even greater amounts of carbon, but not without scaling up and accelerating better management of natural and working lands.

Natural and working lands solutions

Aligning with the variety of natural and working landscapes present throughout California, the LLNL report recommends a suite of natural and working lands interventions to achieve emission reductions—including forest, wetland and grassland restoration, and healthy soils practices. Additionally, the report acknowledges the importance of reducing the likelihood of natural and working lands to act as a carbon emitter through land preservation and wildfire management.

Forest, wetland and grassland practices

Forest, wetland and grassland interventions consist of scaling up restoration practices that enhance carbon sequestration capacity. Reforestation and changes to forest management are among the recommended practices.

Soil practices

The potential for increasing carbon sinks in soils is well documented. As such, the LLNL researchers focused heavily on the potential of soil emission reduction drawing on their own extensive research. They propose California adopt a broad range of healthy soils practices—including cover cropping and composting—to meet the carbon sequestration potential of natural and working lands. They also acknowledge the importance of reducing the rate of carbon emission from soils, which can be achieved by limiting physical disturbance through reduced or no-till farming. In total, the near-term potential for carbon sequestration in California soils is estimated to be around 3.9 million tons of CO2 per year. This yields a total of 25.5 million tons of CO2 per year of sequestration potential by 2045 when combined with other natural and working lands solutions.

Read more at http://calclimateag.org/natural-and-working-lands-most-cost-effective-among-our-climate-solutions-from-lawrence-livermore-national-laboratory/

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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

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

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’”

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

‘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