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Sonoma County supervisors back study of Fulton Road SMART station

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday capped a month of speculation about behind-the-scenes jockeying over a third Santa Rosa-area SMART station, voting 4-1 to fund a study of a new stop in north Santa Rosa.

The discussion had initially pit supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore against Supervisor Shirlee Zane and board Chairman David Rabbitt, as Hopkins and Gore favored a Fulton Road location in north Santa Rosa and Zane favored a station in southwest Santa Rosa, near Roseland or Moorland Avenue. Rabbitt wanted to know where the $11 million to build such a station would ever come from before agreeing to study it.

In the end, Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents parts of eastern Santa Rosa and the entire Sonoma Valley, was the lone board member to vote against the $50,000 study of the Fulton site.

Supervisors began the discussion with an attempt to dispel reports they had been squabbling about the location. But they ended with a threat from Gorin that Sonoma Valley likely wouldn’t support tax renewal for SMART because it doesn’t directly serve her constituents. Hopkins chimed in that deliberations reflected the board’s need for a therapy dog.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10151507-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-back-study

Posted on Categories Land UseTags

New settlers scoop up lots, new homes in Sonoma County’s burn zones

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood, Bill Wallace walks a vacant lot bordered by blackened oak trees and describes his plans to build the home of his dreams.

Sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with the name of his family’s company — West Coast Diesels of Santa Rosa — Wallace, 32, highlights some of the home’s planned features, including an entryway leading to an open living space and a second-floor master bedroom suite. He’s also installing a water filtration system to guard against toxic benzene, another of the lingering concerns, along with dead trees, of the monster fire that two years ago roared through Fountaingrove, leveling the house that formerly stood on Wallace’s lot, most of the neighborhood around it and more than 3,000 homes in the city.

A Windsor native, Wallace never imagined being able to afford living in the hillside enclave of Fountaingrove, where many homes have sweeping views of Santa Rosa and price tags to match. But the Tubbs fire, which destroyed more than 1,500 homes in the Fountaingrove area — and more than 5,300 across Sonoma County — upended the region’s long-term housing market.

In doing so, it opened up real estate options for people like Wallace and others, settlers who didn’t previously live in the burn zones but who are now plotting their futures there — in Fountaingrove, Coffey Park, Larkfield and Sonoma Valley — where property has become available after the disaster, often at a relative bargain.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10058600-181/new-settlers-see-homes-rising

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County supervisors remove granny unit restrictions on some farm parcels

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Last year, Jennifer Mann sold her home in Santa Rosa’s Junior College District around the same time her son and daughter-in-law sold their home in downtown Sebastopol.

With the goal of establishing a “family compound,” they bought a home in rural Sebastopol, a unique, three-story, dome-shaped house that looks like a cross between a barn and an observatory.

It’s cramped for a growing family. Mann, a retired Santa Rosa Junior College employee, lives on the first floor, her two grandkids on the second and her son and daughter-in-law on the third.

“We have three acres and we always planned to build a second unit for me, so I could live on the land,” Mann said.

Until recently those plans were hindered by a county zoning restriction known as a “Z District,” which prohibits the construction of granny units in certain agricultural zones.

The restriction was aimed at preserving the county’s agricultural resources and preventing nonfarming residences from encroaching into agricultural lands. However, many smaller parcels restricted by a Z District do not qualify for farm-related housing because they do not meet size and agriculture production requirements.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10091428-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-remove-granny

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Rangers’ suit claims Broadway Under the Stars is ‘inappropriate’ use of Jack London park

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An association of active and retired state park rangers has sued over the continued use of Jack London State Historic Park for open-air Broadway-styled musical productions that since 2012 have drawn thousands of enthusiastic patrons to the protected ruins of the late novelist’s old winery on summer nights.

The unprecedented lawsuit by the more than half-century-old California State Park Rangers Association claims the State Parks department improperly approved a five-year extension for the Transcendence Theatre Co., contending its large-scale productions conflict with the park’s general plan and the historic site’s protected status.

“The issue, in its simplest form, is that California State Parks is attempting to legitimize the creation of a large, ongoing, multi-million dollar operation and commercial-style theatrical facility right in the heart of Jack London State Historic Park, a national and state historic landmark, and within the ruins at the Beauty Ranch area of the park,” Mike Lynch, president of the rangers association, CSPRA, said in a written statement.

The lawsuit says State Parks officials should have subjected the operation to more thorough study and public scrutiny under the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s bedrock land-use law.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10104973-181/lawsuit-targets-transcendence-theatre-operations

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , ,

Sonoma County supervisors at odds over location of proposed 3rd Santa Rosa SMART station

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors are jostling behind the scenes on the location of a possible third SMART station in Santa Rosa or on its outskirts, with two members of the five-person board planning to ask for the money to study a site in Fulton at a county meeting next month.

Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins are pressing for the Fulton location and have both recently met with Farhad Mansourian, general manager of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, about a plan that would see the county pay for a feasibility study for the proposed station near Fulton and River roads, just north of city limits.

But Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a 10-year member of the SMART board of directors, would prefer to see a potential third station for the city’s 175,000 people in the southwestern area of Santa Rosa, near Roseland. That part of town has a large Latino population and could benefit from the increased access to public transit, she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10007629-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-at-odds?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

$50 million Santa Rosa compost facility inches ahead as opposition from neighbors grows

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Greg Eicher and his wife, Gulten Eicher, moved to a quiet stretch of Walker Avenue five years ago, they were ready to embrace a more rural lifestyle there in southwestern Santa Rosa.

They’ve got a heap of homegrown fruits and veggies on offer, raise chickens for fresh eggs and even recently began beekeeping. There’s also a farm cat — Tekir, which is Turkish for striped or tabby cat.

Greg Eicher said they knew they were moving in a few blocks from Santa Rosa’s Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant, which handles wastewater for 230,000 residents from Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and portions of unincorporated Sonoma County.

The Eichers occasionally get whiffs of what is treated at the plant. But Eicher said one waste-related facility is enough, and neighbors can’t abide a push by local governments to relocate a commercial-grade composting facility across the street from the Laguna site.

“This neighborhood has been putting up with the noise and the smell and the traffic — to the benefit of the entire city of Santa Rosa — for years,” Eicher said. “You’re doubling down on me.”

There’s no organized opposition yet, but thanks to leadership changes and the fits and starts of governmental negotiations for green-bin waste, neighbors have months, if not years, to coalesce and build their campaign against the proposal.

Until then, and perhaps for many more years, the future of green waste handling in Sonoma County will remain in limbo — with both tons of material and millions of ratepayer dollars continuing to go out of the county.

It’s been more than a year since the board of Zero Waste Sonoma — the renamed Sonoma County Waste Management Agency — voted to begin negotiations with Renewable Sonoma, a private company, to handle commercial-grade composting operations, a service not offered in Sonoma County since that company’s previous site was shut down four years ago in the wake of wastewater violations.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10023046-181/50-million-santa-rosa-compost

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

Op-Ed: Climate change and California’s looming insurance crisis

Michael Smolens, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California is so concerned over the future cost and availability of insurance it’s calling in the United Nations for help.

Recent reports detail how homeowner insurance policies in regions prone to wildfire are being canceled or becoming significantly more expensive.

Developments planned for high-risk fire zones are not only being challenged politically and legally over whether they diminish the quality of life for people living nearby but also over public safety and climate change concerns.

Eventually, homeowners in certain coastal areas are certain to have a similar, if more slow-moving, experience as sea-level rise increases flooding and erosion, making their dwellings a riskier bet for insurers. Some residents on unstable bluffs have for years faced insurance issues, in addition to the challenge of pursuing public or private efforts to shore up the cliffs.

Tens of thousands of beachfront homes across California face the risk of chronic flooding or worse, according to projections. It may be 50 to 100 years before it gets that bad, but property values are likely to be affected along with insurance.

This will extend beyond homeowners to businesses and, to varying degrees, governments.

At the root of the insurance challenge is climate change, which many experts say is exacerbating wildfires and flooding and making storms more destructive. Insurance companies, like governments, are increasingly stressed trying to grapple with that.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9943760-181/smolens-climate-change-and-californias

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

Rohnert Park to review proposal for 1,400 homes on 269 acres north of SSU

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A homebuilder has embarked upon the initial step to develop a major chunk of agricultural land in northeast Rohnert Park, asking the city to increase by a third the number of units allowed on the mostly vacant property long designated for housing.

The development group led by Pleasanton-based Signature Homes submitted an application to the city last month seeking to bump up the number of homes built on the 269-acre site to more than 1,400 — about 350 more units than envisioned in city’s original plan two decades ago. The property, which sits outside city limits, is one of the last sizable pieces of undeveloped land on the city’s northeastern outskirts. It is north of Sonoma State University and east of Snyder Lane, and bordered on the south by the even larger University District housing development.

On Tuesday, the City Council will review the entire proposal, which Signature Homes estimates would add 3,700 residents to the city of about 43,000 people. The study session will allow council members to weigh in on the density of the proposed development.

Moving forward will require the city to formally annex the property into the city. Rural single-family homes sit on a dozen of the 36 parcels.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9943928-181/rohnert-park-to-review-proposal

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Op-Ed: Turning a freeway right-of-way to green space

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

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

In bid to clean Russian River, water regulators adopt strict plan for Sonoma County septic systems

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