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

Can rooftop solar save California’s open space?

Hayley Davis, BAY NATURE

This spring, Alameda County approved of the Aramis Renewable Energy Project, dividing East Bay environmentalists who disagree about whether the undeveloped North Livermore Valley should remain open ranchland and wildlife habitat, or whether part of the flat, sunny valley would be put to better use as a solar farm to help the Bay Area transition away from fossil fuels.

All around California, the development of open space to produce renewable energy has put climate and biodiversity goals at odds. To meet the state’s 2045 goal of 100 percent renewable energy will require between 1.6 and 3.1 million acres of wind and solar, according to projections from The Nature Conservancy, and much of that land, like the North Livermore Valley, has wildlife living on it. The debate has become acrimonious, framed as a choice between stopping the extinction of the desert tortoise or the extreme heat killing people in the Pacific Northwest.

But some scientists and activists say there’s another way: the deployment of distributed solar systems, such as those on rooftops and over parking lots. After federally threatened desert tortoises died as a result of the Yellow Pine Solar Project in the Mojave Desert, Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, wrote, “Does using renewable energy mean we have to push species toward extinction? No, these solar panels can easily go on rooftops and brownfields.” Already over a million homes in California have rooftop panels, and more residential rooftop solar is installed here each year than any other state by far.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/07/15/can-rooftop-solar-save-californias-open-space/?

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

Board of Forestry set to weaken Wildfire Safety Regulations

Daniel Barad, Sierra Club California CAPITOL VOICE

Sierra Club California’s fight for common-sense wildfire safety continues. Later this month, the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection will consider revised regulations that would drastically weaken road safety standards that have been in place for 30 years.

If adopted, these regulations would make it more difficult for communities to evacuate during wildfires and more dangerous for firefighters to access existing, substandard roads.

Sierra Club California has been a steadfast advocate for fire-safe communities at the Capitol and in state agencies. We have called for more funding for defensible space and home hardening. We have supported legislation that would require wildfire safety planning to be incorporated into cities’ general plans.

So naturally, we’ll be urging board members not to adopt these harmful regulations.

In addition to making it more dangerous to evacuate during emergencies, these harmful regulations could also make it easier to build new homes and buildings in fire-prone wildland areas — putting more families in harm’s way and increasing economic risk from future fire. To make matters worse, the board is unlikely to examine the major environmental impacts that these regulations could have under the Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Without a CEQA analysis, it is much more difficult for the state of California to plan for and avoid these environmental consequences.

California wildfires have destroyed countless homes and taken far too many lives, and the climate crisis will only make wildfires more severe in coming years. The state must take steps that make wildfire-prone communities safer. The proposed regulations would do the opposite.

Join us to fight against these dangerous regulations. Send a message to the Board of Forestry at PublicComments@BOF.ca.gov and tell members to reject the proposed road safety regulations and to complete a CEQA analysis. Click here for a sample email.

Thank you for taking action!

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , , ,

Negotiations for new Sonoma County composting site ended over financing issues

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A four-year effort to bring green waste recycling back to Sonoma County has collapsed, scuttling hopes of restoring any time soon a high-volume, locally based compost operation to supply farmers, landscapers and backyard gardeners.

The breakdown came late last month after the company chosen to work with the county waste agency withdrew from negotiations after it failed to secure financing.

The company, Renewable Sonoma, and its principal, Will Bakx, terminated negotiations with the county agency and the city of Santa Rosa after 2½ years of trying to shore up plans for a high-tech composting facility that would convert food scraps and yard waste into valuable agricultural products. The project, estimated to cost $52 million, also was to produce biogas to help power treatment equipment on land leased at the city’s Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant on Llano Road.

Bakx, whose proposal ranked first among nine pitches considered by the county in 2018 for siting and construction of a modern compost facility, said he had to pull the plug on negotiations because he couldn’t put together funding after talking with a variety of investors. He said he was not at liberty to disclose details.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/negotiations-for-new-sonoma-county-composting-site-ended-over-financing-iss/

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

As disasters worsen, California looks at curbing construction in risky areas

Christopher Flavelle, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The state’s insurance regulator endorsed proposals that could reshape the real estate market, the latest sign of climate shocks hitting the economy.

At the start of wildfire season, California’s insurance regulator has backed sweeping changes to discourage home building in fire-prone areas, including looking at cutting off new construction in those regions from what is often their only source of insurance — the state’s high-risk pool.

The proposals, many of which would require approval by the State Legislature, could remake the real estate market in parts of California and are the latest sign of how climate change is beginning to wreak havoc with parts of the American economy.

On Friday, the insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara, endorsed proposals that include halting state funding for infrastructure in certain areas prone to fire, leaving vacant lots undeveloped and the expansion of more stringent building codes.

“These ideas are going to be challenging,” Mr. Lara said at the beginning of a meeting of the Climate Insurance Working Group, which he established and which recommended the changes. “We are really going into uncharted territory.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/climate/climate-California-wildfires-insurance.html?searchResultPosition=3

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

Sonoma County winery events could be limited by Planning Commission

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After years of wrangling, Sonoma County officials are moving forward this week with a measure that will spell out what wineries can and can’t do when it comes to hosting events.

It’s the latest chapter in a long debate that has pitted the politically powerful sector against local activists and residents who say an influx of tourists is threatening their quality of life with traffic congestion and noise.

The county’s Planning Commission will hold a Thursday meeting in which the panel intends to vote on a draft ordinance that has been crafted by staff.

Planning Commission Meeting information

Planning officials searched for a middle ground between the interests of a main economic driver in the county against mobilized community groups in the areas of Sonoma Valley, Westside Road and Dry Creek Valley where the issue has become a flash point. Permit Sonoma held a virtual forum in February to solicit suggestions from stakeholders and their input went into the document.

The ordinance would set new standards for winery events, spelling out rules covering parking and traffic management; food service; event coordination with neighbors; and noise.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-winery-events-could-be-limited-by-planning-commission/

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

Press Release: Sonoma County Planning Commission to hear draft winery events ordinance

Bradley Dunn, PERMIT SONOMA

Permit Sonoma has published Sonoma County’s first draft Winery Events Ordinance, which would set new standards for winery events like parking requirements, food service, event coordination, traffic management, and noise standards to address the impact of winery visitor-serving uses on agricultural land.

“The wine industry plays a critical role in Sonoma’s economy,” said Tennis Wick, Director of Permit Sonoma. “We are proud to work with the industry and neighbors to develop regulations which balance winery needs while protecting our rural communities and agriculture.”

The standards will provide a baseline for how the County balances preservation of agricultural areas with sustainable development of wine industry events when evaluating individual projects and their impacts. Permit Sonoma will utilize these standards when considering new and modified use permit applications for winery visitor-serving uses. The draft Ordinance provides consistency and clarity to the use permit evaluation process, reduces impacts to surrounding properties, protects agricultural lands, and preserves rural character.

Staff will present the draft to the Planning Commission at a virtual public hearing on June 3 at 1:50 p.m. The Planning Commission public hearing will be conducted via videoconference. Members of the public may watch, listen and participate in the hearing through Zoom or by phone. Additionally, written comments can be submitted through May 28, by 5 p.m. via email at PRMD-WineryEvents@sonoma-county.org.

After the Planning Commission Hearing, staff expects to present a final draft Winery Events Ordinance to the Board of Supervisors for approval on Aug. 17.

The draft Ordinance is posted on the Winery Events website.

The agenda for the virtual Planning Commission hearing and project staff report will be posted one week before the hearing on the Planning Commission calendar. https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Planning-Commission/Calendar/Planning-Commission-Meeting-May-20-2021/

For more information about the public hearing, to submit comments, or to review project files digitally, members of the public can send an email to PRMD-WineryEvents@sonoma-county.org, call (707) 565-1900, option 5, or visit the project website: www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/WineryEvents

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-planning-commission-to-hear-draft-winery-events-ordinance/

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , , ,

Veteran official selected as new head of Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Misti Arias, a 25-year veteran of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, has been selected to lead the tax-funded agency as its fourth-ever general manager.

Arias is expected to be appointed formally May 11 to succeed Bill Keene, who resigned last fall after 11 years as head of the 30-year-old open space district.

“It is an honor to be considered for the position of Ag + Open Space general manager,” Arias said in a news release. “I am inspired to further the community’s vision to protect natural and agricultural lands throughout our county.”

Arias has spent her entire career with the agency, starting in 1995 when she took a job as planning technician after graduating from Sonoma State University with a degree in environmental studies and urban planning.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/veteran-official-selected-as-new-head-of-sonoma-county-agricultural-preserv/

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , ,

West County Trail extension opens near downtown Forestville

Elissa Chudwin, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An extension of the West County Trail that connects to downtown Forestville now is open, according to a news release from Sonoma County Regional Parks.

The .2-mile extension connects the trail’s northern end at Parajo Lane to Front Street in Forestville for the first time in the trail’s history. An 8-foot-wide raised boardwalk also was constructed on a section of the extension so cyclists and pedestrians can access the trail despite seasonal flooding.

The West County Trail is part of a 13-mile network that links Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Graton and Forestville.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/west-county-trail-extension-opens-near-downtown-forestville/

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Sonoma County’s largest freshwater lake, sacred site was drained by a farmer with dynamite

Susan Minichiello, PRESS DEMOCRAT

One thing you won’t see at Tolay Lake Regional Park: a giant lake.

It was once Sonoma County’s largest freshwater lake, according to Sonoma County Regional Parks. But Tolay Lake was drained by a 19th-century German immigrant farmer using dynamite, and with his action a sacred gathering place for Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo tribes for thousands of years washed away.

Thousands of charmstones were found at Tolay Lake after it drained, and many are more than 4,000 years old, according to a 2017 Bay Nature magazine article by Greg Sarris, chair of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

Charmstones were usually flat, rectangle or oval-shaped stones a few inches long and used for a variety of reasons, including for luck in hunting or healing. At Tolay the charmstones came from places as far away as Mexico, Sarris wrote.

“What we’ve always known is that Tolay Lake was a great place of healing and renewal, that Indian doctors came from near and far to confer with one another and to heal the sick,” Sarris wrote.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-countys-largest-freshwater-lake-sacred-site-was-drained-by-a-farm/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

County’s cannabis update may be headed for a detour

Rollie Atkinson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Narrow planning commissioners vote calls for a more comprehensive environmental impact study

Plans of the Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors to streamline the permitting process for commercial cannabis cultivation may be headed for a detour following a close Sonoma County Planning Commission vote held last week that is recommending a “more comprehensive update” in conjunction with a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR.) If approved by the supervisors, the EIR process could take more than a year to complete, several attendees of the April 15 commission session predicted.

New cannabis permits can still be filed under current rules included in the older 2018 ordinance while the supervisors consider their next steps, but there is already a large backlog of pending applications.

Last week’s planning commission action follows two years of county staff work and monitoring by a supervisor’s cannabis ad hoc committee (led by Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins) seeking to replace lengthy public review and planning commission hearings with a “ministerial” process led by the county’s agricultural commissioner’s office.

That goal was also stymied when the planning commission voted 3-2 to not classify cannabis operations as “agriculture” and “agricultural use” and to vacate earlier recommendations to include a broader General Plan update. Defining cannabis as a crop would better support the streamlined permitting process sought by the ad hoc committee and others.

A public hearing in front of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on the updated ordinance is tentatively scheduled for May 18. The April 15 commission resolution was introduced by commissioner Cam Mauritson and supported by Lawrence Reed and Gina Belforte. It was opposed by chair Greg Carr and member Pam Davis. Reed said he favored the motion to “try to get relief to small growers” while a new EIR process proceeds. Davis said she was “not totally comfortable” with the proposals and favored designating cannabis as an “ag activity.”

Read more at https://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/county-s-cannabis-update-may-be-headed-for-a-detour/