Thea Hensel and Tony White, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
For more than 50 years, a two-mile strip of land in southeast Santa Rosa remained vacant and unused. Originally purchased by Caltrans as a right-of-way for Highway 12, the freeway was never built and the land remains neglected. When it was proposed to extend the freeway through Spring Lake Park, community opposition led to abandoning that proposal, and neighbors started thinking of converting this empty land into an asset, an urban greenway.
In 2009, local citizens formed the Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway Campaign, which developed a vision for the land and organized a campaign to plan and promote a greenway. From the start, the project attracted a team of natural leaders with extensive business and government experience. Applying their skills, they recruited a host of volunteers to spread the word and promote the Southeast Greenway.
The campaign forged alliances with local officials and agencies, environmental, educational, running and biking groups and raised funds to engage the community. In 2014, Caltrans decided to rescind the freeway designation and offered to give Santa Rosa the opportunity to purchase the land for a greenway.
Meanwhile, the campaign continued its work, creating a partnership with the Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma Water, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Land Paths and the city of Santa Rosa. It is a shining example of a public-private partnership in which grassroots activists work for the benefit of the greater community.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9903430-181/close-to-home-turning-a
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast water quality regulators have signed off on a sweeping new plan that aims to curb the threat of human waste entering the Russian River by phasing out failing and substandard septic systems, viewed for decades as a prime source of pollution in the sprawling watershed.
Years in the making, the regulations affect a vast swath of Sonoma County — properties without sewer service from Cloverdale to Cotati and from Santa Rosa to Jenner. For the first time, affected landowners will be subject to compulsory inspections and mandatory repair or replacement of septic systems found to be faulty or outdated, at an estimated cost of up to $114 million, according to county officials.
The new rules take effect next year and will apply to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 parcels without sewer service. Once the rules kick in, landowners will have 15 years to comply.
he highest concentration of affected property owners exist in the river’s lower reaches, where contamination from fecal bacteria has long been an open issue, but where officials worry that poorer communities will face the heaviest burden complying with the measures. Upgrades to an individual septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and no pot of money currently exists to help defray landowner costs.
Local representatives, while not standing in the way of the measures, said outside financial support for the overhaul will be needed. North Coast water quality officials pledged to work with Sonoma County to pursue state, federal and private funding to bolster the cleanup effort.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9903962-181/in-bid-to-clean-russian
Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The leading bidder for a 72-acre Santa Rosa site slated for affordable housing has pulled out of the process amid worries about prolonged delays from litigious neighbors and the two-step, county-city approval required to build up to 750 units on the former county hospital complex.
California Community Housing Agency, a public entity that taps into the municipal bond market to craft affordable housing projects across the state, told Sonoma County officials Tuesday afternoon it was dropping its bid to buy the Chanate Road property.
The news, confirmed by multiple county officials, comes a month after the agency and its partners were tapped as the leading bidders, with a complex proposal that promised the county a share of the equity in the project, as well as the option to acquire the property and re-sell it 15 years later while cashing in on market-value increases. It would have given the county a $5 million advance on the equity as well.
The developer’s exit delivers another blow to the county’s yearslong attempt to offload the sprawling former health care campus for redevelopment as housing. Both the withdrawn bid and a preceding proposal put forward under a controversial failed sale to a local developer two years ago stood to be the single largest housing project in Santa Rosa in a generation.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9902915-181/buyer-backs-out-of-multi-million
Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park will have to wait longer on its downtown city center project, but how long is not known.
Officials with Laulima Development, the San Francisco firm that owns the 32-acre former State Farm Insurance property approved in November for a $400 million residential and commercial development dubbed Station Avenue, delivered news of major delays to the City Council on Tuesday night.
The developer blamed continued postponement of the project on rising labor and materials costs — including on lumber and cement — following the North Bay fires, in addition to competitive pressures from the Bay Area’s building boom.
Originally, construction was supposed to start earlier this year, with the 270,000 square feet of retail and office space ready by fall 2020. The 460 rental housing units and a 156-room luxury hotel would follow by spring 2021.
“I’m just very disappointed with where we’re at right now,” said Vice Mayor Joe Callinan, who owns a residential and light commercial construction business. “If we started right now it would be 2022, I bet. We’re not even close to that.”
David Bouquillon, Laulima’s managing partner, said he’d continue to work with the city in the coming weeks to come up with cost-saving measures to build the sprawling development as soon as possible.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9900595-181/developer-again-delays-400-million
Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.
The board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.
The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.
The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.
Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9886319-181/notable-sonoma-county-wine-executives
Julia Rosen and Anna M. Phillips, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
Slashing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants won’t be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, experts say, humanity also needs a new approach to managing the land beneath its feet.
A sweeping new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the myriad ways that rising temperatures have impacted agriculture, wildfire risk, soil health and biodiversity. The report also examines how land and its uses can exacerbate the effects of global warming — or help mitigate them.
“It tells us that land is already doing a lot of service for us, but also that we can do a lot with land,” said Louis Verchot, a forester at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Palmira, Colombia.
A summary of the IPCC’s assessment was released Thursday after a marathon overnight negotiating session in Geneva. It will inform United Nations climate negotiations in Santiago, Chile, later this year, when countries will revisit their pledges to reduce emissions.
One of the report’s major themes is that forests play an important role in absorbing the carbon dioxide generated by human activities, and protecting them is crucial to reining in warming.
The report also emphasizes the need for a new approach to agriculture that would feed a growing population while using natural resources more sustainably.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees [Celsius] will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and land has a critical role to play,” said Jim Skea , co-chair of the climate change mitigation working group.
Read more at https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/environment/story/2019-08-08/ipcc-land-use-global-warming?_amp=true
Guy Kovner and Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
How To Get Involved
To comment on the plan through Sept. 23, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/poregmpa
Two informational meetings are planned on the proposal:
When: Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Where: West Marin School Gym, Point Reyes Station
When: Aug. 28, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito
Tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore could be shot to control their swelling numbers, and cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future and latitude to expand their farming operations under a proposed management plan aimed at bridging a sharp divide over the presence of commercial agriculture in the 71,000-acre national park.
The plan, which cost nearly $1 million to develop and won’t be implemented until next year, was released Thursday by the National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast.
Reviving a controversy that dates back to the agency’s decision in 2012 to evict an oyster farm from a Pacific Ocean inlet in the seashore, the plan — described as “shockingly anti-wildlife” by one conservationist — could also send environmentalists and the federal government back into court over the conflict between farming for profit and land preservation.
The proposal has been identified by the National Seashore staff as the “preferred alternative” of six variations developed over the past two years. The public now has 45 days to review and comment on the document.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9858446-181/point-reyes-seashore-plan-balances
Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg has begun its review of a developer’s proposal to build what would be the city’s largest housing project, a plan on the north end of town that has restoked the fiery debate in this Wine Country destination over the pace of residential growth and hotel development.
Already, the proposal by Southern California-based Comstock Homes has drawn a legal challenge against the city, with opponents asserting the expansive development would run afoul of state environmental regulations.
The project, on a vacant former lumber yard bounded by Healdsburg Avenue and Highway 101 north of Simi Winery, currently calls for more than 350 units of housing and a 120-room hotel.
The housing would be split between 132 income-restricted rental units for the local workforce and a 220-unit senior living community. Plans also call for 20,000 square feet of retail space.
“We have a vision to provide something sorely needed in the community,” said Debra Geiler, Comstock’s director of entitlements. “The mix of housing units and the hotel and all of it is sort of the economic balance. If we succeed, what we will be able to provide to Healdsburg is a paradigm shift in community design and creating neighborhoods.”
But Sebastopol-based California River Watch has filed suit contending that Healdsburg failed to lawfully account for the greenhouse gas emissions the luxury hotel would generate. The lawsuit is a key piece of the group’s goal to force local governments to more closely account for the climate impacts of commercial growth and the region’s tourism economy.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9850091-181/vision-for-housing-and-hotel
Robin KcKie, THE GUARDIAN
Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.
A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.
Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.
In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states.
Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/03/ipcc-land-use-food-production-key-to-climate-crisis-leaked-report
Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Local real estate developer Robert Upton has a novel housing concept for the north end of Acacia Lane in Rincon Valley, a design he says will bring homeowners together.
Upton, a principal partner of Glen Ellen-based Campus Properties, said the 2.5-acre lot at 746 Acacia Lane is perfect for a “pocket neighborhood,” a planned community of smaller homes that often surround a shared open space.
The estimated $16 million development, called Acacia Village, will consist of 25 detached, owner-owned homes, with three floor plans of about 1,000, 1,600 and 2,000 square feet. Most of the parking will be located on the north and south ends of the development and 19 of the homes will face each other, sharing the common green area.
Upton said the pocket neighborhood concept is popular in the Northwest but uncommon in Santa Rosa.
“It encourages a sense of community and encourages interaction between neighbors,” Upton said. “In a neighborhood like this, people will know more than half their neighbors.”
That’s a much larger share than is found in many suburban developments, he said.
The Acacia Village project was approved by the Planning Commission on June 27. Susie Murray, a Santa Rosa senior planner, said the project is consistent with the general plan and meets the “housing requirements of all Santa Rosa residents.”
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9845227-181/santa-rosa-approves-dense-pocket?sba=AAS