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Focus on the SDC: Open space and the public trust

Tracy Salcedo, THE KENWOOD PRESS

The SDC’s wildlands are public now. Do they have to be privatized to become public again?

From day one, my community activism has focused on preservation of the open space at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). Of all the worthy transformations contemplated for the storied property, ensuring the wildlands remain forever wild has been my highest priority.

From day one, I’ve heard promises from elected officials at the county and state levels, along with planners, consultants, and bureaucrats, that preserving the open space was a done deal.

From day one, I’ve asked: If that’s the case, why do we have to wait? Why don’t we set it aside now?

Don’t worry, the officials have responded. There’s a process. Have faith.

I’m worried. In its recently released request for proposals (RFP), the California Department of General Services (DGS) has reiterated its intent to sell the entire 945-acre SDC property, including the open space, to a private party. That’s not preservation in the public trust. That’s creation of private property.

I’m worried.

The process trumps the promise

The timelines for Sonoma County’s specific planning process and the state’s disposition process have always overlapped, but the original idea was that by the time the property was put up for sale, the specific plan would be done, the open space boundaries would be delineated, and a means of transfer to state parks, regional parks, or a land trust would be in place.

Enter wildfire, pandemic, inflexibility, and bureaucracy. Now, if the state sticks to its timeline, it will sell the property before the Board of Supervisors adopts the beleaguered specific plan. If a sale goes forward, the buyer will own not only the campus, but also the surrounding wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, trails, and much of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor.

Read more at https://www.kenwoodpress.com/2022/06/01/focus-on-the-sdc-open-space-and-the-public-trust/

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Developer terminates agreement with Windsor, leaving civic center project in limbo

Kathleen Coates, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a controversial Windsor civic center project has withdrawn from an exclusive negotiating agreement with the town, according to a letter received this week by officials, leaving the development’s future uncertain.

Robert Green of the eponymous Robert Green Co. sent a letter Thursday to interim Windsor Town Manager Mark Linder that said the company was exercising its right to terminate the agreement, which was a pact giving the developer the sole right to design the project.

Windsor Town Council had voted Dec. 1, 2021, to halt any work on the project until June 30. A vote on whether to continue the agreement and allow work on the project to move forward would have been held before that.

Mayor Sam Salmon said he anticipated a letter from Green, and wasn’t surprised that he was pulling out of the pact. He said the April 6 election was likely a referendum on the civic center project.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/developer-terminates-agreement-with-windsor-leaving-civic-center-project-in/

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Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage

Emily Wilder, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.

A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.

The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-business-face-3-75-million-fine-for-alleged-environ/

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This impending state regulation could have huge implications for fire safety and development

Marisa Endicott, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Changes to the state development standards have sparked a heated debate.

The tension between development and safety in fire-prone areas is a hot-button issue in Northern California and my inbox.

A major factor that extends beyond a proposed project’s property lines is how new businesses and more people affect everyone’s ability to evacuate when the next big fire sparks.

Just last month, a judge blocked Lake County’s plans for a new luxury resort that failed to convincingly take into account how an extra 4,000 people on the roads might impact a fire evacuation in the area.

So, for today’s column, I want to focus on the state fire regulations going through a revamp that could dictate the landscape, literally, for years to come.

It’s a complex issue, which means I’m going to focus on just one piece of it — a piece that has raised alarms for some fire professionals.

Since 1991, there have been baseline safety standards for development in fire-prone areas managed by the state. As California faced increased wildfire threat, the legislature in 2018 expanded these rules — the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection’s minimum fire safe regulations — to very high fire hazard areas overseen by local jurisdictions, too.

This triggered a general makeover for the 30-year-old regulations that has led to 18 months of fierce debate and landed in a place that, according to a number of fire experts, weakens, rather than strengthens, safety standards.

The big fear: It could jeopardize safe escape from wildfires in the future.

“These regulations fail to provide adequate standards or State oversight and enforcement to ensure the safety of firefighters and civilians for firefighting and evacuation,” a group of wildfire professionals wrote about the latest draft to the Board of Forestry in a January letter.

Of particular concern are proposed changes to rules affecting the conditions and specifications of existing roads. Your eyes probably glossed over reading that sentence, but bear with me because the devil really is in the details.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/this-impending-state-regulation-could-have-huge-implications-for-fire-safet/

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Proposed hotel sparks controversy among Healdsburg residents

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

Many Healdsburg residents are up in arms over a proposed four-story 16-room hotel — called Hotel Healdsburg Residences — that would be segmented into three separate buildings at 400, 412 and 418 Healdsburg Avenue.

While residents and planning commissioners share some of the same concerns regarding the scale of the project and its proposed design elements, the main concern for several community members is the project in relation to the city’s hotel ordinance, which limits the amount of hotels built in the Plaza retail area and in the city’s Downtown Commercial District (CD) near Piper, Vine, East and Mill Streets.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/proposed-hotel-sparks-controversy-among-healdsburg-residents/article_19536ba2-82ba-11ec-8cb7-b31ba0b8200c.html

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County moves ahead with preliminary plan for Sonoma Developmental Center, but likely with less housing

Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT

More than three hours into the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ discussion Tuesday on the future of the 930-acre Sonoma Developmental Center property in Glen Ellen, supervisor Susan Gorin cut to the chase, advocating a reduction of proposed housing units from the 900-1,000 range to between 450 and 700.

There were few tangible outcomes beyond that.

County staff stressed repeatedly that Tuesday’s agenda item would not lead to a vote. Instead, the lengthy conversation would serve as what Permit Sonoma Planning Manager Brian Oh referred to as an interim checkpoint.

“What we have presented today is a framework for the project description that would go into the environmental impact report,” Oh said. “We have started on broad concepts based on feedback that we’re hearing from the community.”

But judging by the comments that followed Oh’s presentation Tuesday, Sonoma Valley residents do not believe the county is being responsive to that feedback.

Speaker after speaker called for a scaled-down footprint, additional time to study wildlife impacts, more public transportation and bike lanes, services for people with disabilities, and a greater concentration of affordable housing.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-moves-ahead-with-preliminary-plan-for-sonoma-developmental-center-b/

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Op-Ed: Heart of Sonoma Valley at risk of urbanization?

Teri Shore, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen), remains uncertain after public hearings on county plans to create a new town. The plans are widely opposed due to the size and scale of the proposed development. The abandoned campus is surrounded by open space, agricultural lands and voter-approved community separator greenbelts.

At the end of 2021, Sonoma County planners released three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that features 1,000 homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will get environmental review.

The plans were widely opposed by environmentalists, housing advocates, labor, community groups and the public at large. Hundreds of letters were lodged with the county and state. The Sonoma City Council and Sonoma Valley’s two county-appointed Municipal Advisory Councils, and the public opposed the plans and made recommendations. Many are also asking that the land remain in public hands and not be sold to a developer.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/opinion-heart-of-sonoma-valley-at-risk-of-urbanization/

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Citing inadequate wildfire plans, Lake County judge deals setback to Guenoc Valley resort development

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A judge has issued a blow to the developers of a proposed sprawling luxury resort and housing project in southeastern Lake County, ruling that the environmental impact report for the 25-square-mile development inadequately addresses wildfire impacts and evacuation safety.

The Jan. 4 ruling by Superior Court Judge J. David Markham is also a setback for elected officials who hoped the Guenoc Valley project would be an economic development boon for the struggling county, one of California’s poorest.

“If the ultimate result of this decision is the project not moving forward, that will be a tremendous loss,” south Lake County Supervisor Moke Simon said Thursday.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta is counting the decision as a win for the public.

The lawsuit was a result in part of a strategy unveiled by his predecessor to ensure greater scrutiny of development proposals in fire-prone areas through more aggressive intervention by the Department of Justice in environmental lawsuits.

The ruling “affirms a basic fact: Local governments and developers have a responsibility to take a hard look at projects that exacerbate wildfire risk and endanger our communities,” Bonta said in statement Thursday. “We can’t keep making shortsighted land use decisions that will have impacts decades down the line. We must build responsibly.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/lake-county-judge-rules-against-environmental-review-for-16000-acre-guenoc/

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Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley

Teri Shore, SIERRA CLUB SONOMA GROUP

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen) remains uncertain and contentious after the first round of public hearings on potential land use and planning options released last month.

Sonoma County planners proposed three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that featured hundreds of single-family homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will be reviewed under CEQA next year.

The surrounding 745 acres of open space were prioritized for conservation. However, the protection of the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features were given little attention. The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-valley-wildlife-corridor/ is a critical link for multiple keystone species such as mountain lions, bears and badgers to travel from as far as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain Wilderness to the East to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast. Millions of public and private funds have been invested in acquiring lands and protecting the wildlife corridor for decades.

As proposed, the draft alternatives would comprise the biggest subdivision and development in the history of Sonoma Valley – equal in housing units to the sprawling Temelec, Chanterelle and & Flags subdivisions on the south end of Sonoma Valley. All three alternatives would drastically increase driving and associated Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and undermine decades of city-centered growth policies. The plans also conflict with local, county, regional and state polices to reduce climate-changing emissions, achieve equitable housing and preserve biodiversity.
Continue reading “Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley”

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Train lines: How two Press Democrat owners finessed a Petaluma real estate deal

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Last week, we reported that two owners of the Press Democrat, Darius Anderson and Doug Bosco, helped craft a state-funded bailout deal benefiting Bosco’s privately owned Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company while Anderson’s Platinum Advisors was a contract lobbyist for SMART from 2015 to 2020.

This week, we report the details of a real estate transaction in downtown Petaluma in which the A. G. Spanos Corporation paid $1.4 million to SMART and $1 million to another public rail agency which is financially intertwined with Bosco’s railroad company for their “right of ways” on less than 600 feet of railroad track traversing the triangular lot upon which Spanos is currently building the North River Apartments. A right of way is a perpetual, transferable easement allowing its owner to traverse the property of another. Without securing these easements, Spanos’ project was dead in the water and could not move through Petaluma’s planning process.

The Spanos property abuts the Petaluma tidal estuary, a row of historic businesses and restaurants on Petaluma Blvd. North, and Hunt & Behrens livestock, poultry and pet-feed operation. Public records show that SMART’s executive director, Farhad Mansourian, allowed Anderson to guide SMART’s easement sale to Spanos. Simultaneously, Bosco negotiated Spanos’ purchase of an overlapping right of way on the short spur owned by the North Coast Railroad Authority. “NCRA” is a state-chartered rail agency which critics say was largely operated to benefit Bosco’s company, commonly known as NWP Co.

Mansourian allowed Anderson to work on several projects that were outside the contracted scope of work of Platinum Advisors’ role as SMART’s Sacramento lobbyist, which began in 2015. Last week, we reported on how Anderson’s firm, as part of its work for SMART, lobbied on state legislation which helped the interests of his business partner, Bosco, as the NCRA and the NWP Co foundered. This week we report another instance of Anderson leveraging his position as SMART lobbyist to benefit his media business partner and political mentor, Bosco.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/train-lines/