Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Sonoma County renews effort to sell Chanate Road property for housing

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Call it Chanate 2.0.

Sonoma County supervisors are once again seeking to sell a nearly 72-acre property in northeast Santa Rosa to an affordable housing developer, reviving an effort started more than three years ago that triggered a neighborhood rebellion and a legal challenge that ultimately forced the county to cancel a deal with a prominent local homebuilder.

The property in question is at 3313 Chanate Road, site of the old county hospital and later Sutter Medical Center. It was slated by the county to be one of Santa Rosa’s largest single housing projects in recent memory.

But the legal setback prompted the county in October to walk away from a multimillion-dollar deal with developer Bill Gallaher, who wanted to build 867 housing units on the sprawling site, including rental apartment buildings three or four stories tall, a prospect that neighbors vehemently opposed.

In December, supervisors voted to start all over again, and county staffers last week solicited financial offers from about 650 organizations, including five local Native American tribes.

Prospective buyers are limited, under state law, to designated public agencies and “housing sponsors” that would focus on building affordable housing, with parks, schools or other government facilities as alternatives. For housing sponsors, the property would carry a 55-year deed restriction for affordable housing.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9284804-181/sonoma-county-renews-effort-to

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’

Damian Carrington, THE GUARDIAN

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.
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The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Sonoma County hotel sector poised for expansion

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s hoteliers are playing catch-up to make room for the growing number of visitors.

The lodging industry is undergoing unprecedented expansion with about a dozen properties slated to open in the next few years.

The hotel building boom comes after a dearth of new lodging in the earlier part of the decade. Developers and hoteliers now appear to be making up for inactivity in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the county remains a prime destination for wine tourism and an array of other activities and places to visit.

“This is a very strong county. … The occupancy level is very, very high,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president for STR, a Tennessee research firm and longtime tracker of the global hotel industry. “Developers see a hot market and say, ‘Let’s get into it.’”

Developers are betting Sonoma County can keep delivering more tourists. It’s averaging about 7.5 million visitors a year. Those visitors are staying in more than 7,000 hotel rooms and 3,700 campground and recreational vehicle spaces, according to Sonoma County Tourism figures.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9247313-181/sonoma-county-lodging-sector-bustling

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety

A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.

But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Santa Rosa’s new granny unit policies spur secondary home spike as city works to build housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

New data shows Santa Rosa received more applications to build “granny units” last year than it had in the entire preceding decade, evidence that the city’s efforts to spur housing just about any way it can is starting to yield results.

Property owners last year applied for permits to add 118 secondary homes, small living spaces adjacent to traditional single-family residences, according to new city data. The number of applications was well above the previous record of 33 in 2017 and exceeds the 85 applications for secondary homes from 2008 to 2017.

Vice Mayor Chris Rogers recently touted the record application figure on Twitter and emphasized the “symbiotic relationship” between a homeowner with a secondary unit and the renter living on their property.

“It creates, hopefully, an affordable housing unit while also helping somebody who may be struggling to live here as well,” Rogers said in an interview.

Thirty nine applications for secondary homes in 2018 were submitted in areas leveled by the October 2017 fires, which destroyed about 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock. Rogers noted that efforts to make it easier and less expensive to build secondary homes were not the sole change Santa Rosa made to address its housing shortage but was part of “a whole array of housing reforms we needed to make to give people places to live.”

The number of units jumped after the City Council, acting in the wake of the 2017 fires, approved a set of changes to make it easier for homeowners to build additional small housing units on their property in conjunction with state deregulation efforts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9207543-181/santa-rosas-new-granny-unit

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Move back or move on? Thousands with burned lots in Sonoma County are confounded by their futures

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Lots for sale or sold:  https://www.pressdemocrat.com/multimedia/9162508-181/map-database-burnt-empty

Like other Tubbs fire survivors, Kris and Allen Sudduth initially wanted to rebuild their two-story home in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

After the October 2017 wildfire, the Sudduths met with a builder and tentatively selected a home design for their lot on Hopper Avenue. After further consideration, they concluded a contractor couldn’t rebuild the life they once had in the fire-ravaged neighborhood in the northwest section of the city.

“They would build a house, but it wouldn’t be my home,” said Kris Sudduth, a part-time nurse.

The Sudduths realized what they really wanted was a chance to start over in a different area with a home in the countryside. So in May 2018, they bought a single-story ranchette on a half-acre property west of Santa Rosa. A month earlier, they had sold their charred Coffey Park lot to an investor, who has yet to begin rebuilding a house on it.

This will be a pivotal year of decision for about 2,100 Sonoma County fire survivors — those who unlike the Sudduths have yet to commit to rebuilding or selling their burned lots. These survivors constitute about 40 percent of people who lost 5,334 homes in the 2017 wildfires, predominantly from the Tubbs fire, which ranks as the second-most destructive wildfire in California history.

 

The neighborhood between Mark West Springs Road and Pacific Heights Drive was completely destroyed by the Tubbs Fire, in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, October 10, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

What they ultimately decide to do will determine whether the pace of rebuilding on the large swath of north Santa Rosa, blackened by the infernos, accelerates this year. Only 150 of the houses destroyed in the fires have been rebuilt as of last week, according to city and county records.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/9060028-181/move-back-or-move-on

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

Santa Rosa townhouse project in Fountaingrove cleared for construction

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The biggest new housing development in a Santa Rosa neighborhood torched by the Tubbs fire in October 2017 has been cleared by city officials to start construction.

The Santa Rosa Design Review Board on Thursday gave final design approval for the Round Barn Village, a 237-unit townhouse project in the Fountaingrove neighborhood.

San Francisco developer City Ventures plans to build and sell the three-story, three- to four-bedroom townhomes on a 40-acre tract. They are expected to have price tags in the $600,000 range. Twelve of them will be priced below market levels to make them more affordable.

Construction is expected to begin in April. Sales would start in the fall, with the first owners expected to move in during the summer of 2020, City Ventures’ development director Charity Wagner said Friday.

This final go-ahead for the development came almost a year after City Council approved the project. Council members initially hesitated because of concerns about building in a hillside area in the northern part of the city prone to wildfires.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9179365-181/santa-rosa-townhouse-project-in

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

California monarch butterfly population down 86 percent in one year

Tiffany Camhi, THE CALIFORNIA REPORT, KQED

“We think that it has to do with habitat loss, the increasing high use of pesticides and the loss of the milkweed populations, which is the plant the monarch needs to lay its eggs on,” Monroe said.

California’s coast, from Bolinas to Pismo Beach, is a popular overwintering site for the western population of monarch butterflies. Historically, you could find millions of the orange and black winged invertebrates around this time of year, using coastal eucalyptus trees as shelter.

But there’s been a troubling trend over the past few decades. Each year, fewer monarchs have been showing up to overwinter on the state’s coast, according to preliminary numbers from the Xerces Society, an environmental conservation nonprofit. The group’s annual Thanksgiving count found the 2018 population of these butterflies is down to 20,456 compared to 2017’s 148,000. That’s a one year, 86 percent decline.

“It’s been hard for me, as I remember the millions of monarchs of the 1980s,” said Mia Monroe, a Bay Area-based Xerces Society member who helps lead California’s monarch population count. “We only have less than one percent of the monarchs that we once historically had.”

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11715197/california-monarch-butterfly-population-down-86-percent-in-one-year

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

Owners give up developmental rights to protect critical watershed land in Mark West

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ambling through a forest on his rural Mark West area property, Ray Krauss bent over to pinch a fir tree sprout and pull it from the rain-damp ground. If the tiny green seedling grew much larger, Krauss would have to nip it with pruning shears, and were it to become a substantial tree he would fell it with a chainsaw.

But the 76-year-old retiree, who wears a bright red bicycle cap to keep his bald head warm, is considered a patron saint — not a plunderer — of the 63 acres of critical watershed land he has stewarded for nearly half a century.

“It’s been an utter privilege to live here all these years,” Krauss said. “It’s such a special location.”

Were the land and the wildlife on it able to speak, they might thank him for his dedication.

Sonoma Land Trust, which has protected more than 50,000 acres of land for future generations, embraced the early Christmas gift it got last week from Krauss and his wife, Barbara Shumsky. The couple donated a conservation easement, prohibiting development and guaranteeing the land will remain largely unchanged in perpetuity, foregoing the potential for substantial profit.

“We have a special affection for the Mark West watershed,” Ariel Patashnik, the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s land acquisition program manager, said while visiting the property on a foggy afternoon.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9088793-181/owners-give-up-developmental-rights

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Wildland development escalates California fire costs

Bay City News, NPR

The sky above Ron Beeny turned black.

The 71-year-old was stuck in traffic as he evacuated from his home in Paradise on the morning of Nov. 8.

Trees and brush lined both sides of the two-lane road. In the darkness, Beeny had no idea where the fire was. A former firefighter, he knew that getting trapped between walls of fuel could be deadly.

“[When] daytime turns to night, the fire is burning extremely intense,” he said.

For more than an hour Beeny inched forward in his red Toyota pickup, heading west toward Chico. His home of 41 years was incinerated by the Camp Fire. The blaze that destroyed Beeny’s home is just the latest mega-fire in California — and the cost of fighting such fires has risen dramatically.

California dwarfs other states in fire-suppression costs, an analysis by a Stanford journalism class has found. The Stanford class analyzed daily reports from the most expensive fires in every state from 2014 to 2017, and found that dense development at the border of wildlands — in communities like Paradise, Cobb, and Santa Rosa — helps explain California fires’ exceptional damage and expense to put out.

A 2015 federal audit showed that fire suppression costs vastly more in these transition zones between wild and developed areas — Wildland Urban Interface areas, or WUIs, for short.

The Stanford analysis of fire costs found that, among the states that spend the most on suppression, California fires overlapped far more with the WUI: More than 30 percent of the 2015 Butte Fire, for example, burned on WUI lands, destroying almost 1,000 buildings. Much of the state’s WUI is made up of chaparral — dry shrubland — that burns fast and hot.

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11713393/wildland-development-escalates-california-fire-costs