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

County beginning hazard mitigation plan update

Zoe Strickland, THE HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Feb. 25 will mark the first in a series of public meetings being held to update Sonoma County’s hazard mitigation plan. The five-year update of the 2016 Sonoma County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan will have a more multi-jurisdictional approach.

According to Permit Sonoma’s website, the update will include Sonoma County; the cities of Santa Rosa, Cotati, Sonoma, Sebastopol, the town of Windsor; the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District; the Timber Cove, North Sonoma Coast, Cloverdale, Sonoma County and Rancho Adobe fire districts; and both the Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts.

Hazard mitigation plans provide a profile of the community, a catalog of likely hazards — the county’s 2016 plan notes floods, fires, landslides and earthquakes — and outlines plans, goals and progress when it comes to mitigating possible hazards.

“The Hazard Mitigation Plan assesses hazard vulnerabilities and identifies mitigation actions the county will pursue in order to reduce the level of injury, property damage and community disruption that might otherwise result from such events,” according to Permit Sonoma. “In addition, adoption of the plan helps the county remain eligible for various types of pre and post disaster community assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state government.”

The plan update is being headed by a steering committee made up of community members who have emergency management knowledge. The public, however, is also encouraged to attend.

Read more at: https://www.sonomawest.com/the_healdsburg_tribune/news/county-beginning-hazard-mitigation-plan-update/article_f4b3ab02-733a-11eb-9cf5-8b9c205f2d90.html#utm_source=sonomawest.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F%3F-dc%3D1614013221&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline

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

Park Service pushes back on ‘Apocalypse Cow’

Staff, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) responded last week to an investigative report published in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun in early December.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, PRNS staff sent out an email newsletter titled “Corrections to Media Coverage on the General Management Plan Amendment” to an unknown number of recipients. The agency posted the same text to a Frequently Asked Questions page of its website under the subtitle “Corrections regarding misinformation published in the press.”

The newsletter presents itself as an effort to correct alleged “factual inaccuracies” in “Apocalypse Cow: The Future of Life at Point Reyes National Park,” an investigative article by Peter Byrne published in the Bohemian and Pacific Sun on Dec. 9, 2020. However, PRNS management’s statements about the facts presented in the article are demonstrably inaccurate.

Two month’s prior to the seashore park’s posting of these public facing messages, on Dec.15, PRNS’s Melanie Gunn emailed the Pacific Sun’s editors contesting the accuracy of several facts as reported in “Apocalypse Cow.”

The editors reviewed Gunn’s allegations and decided that the article was accurate. In a Dec. 21 email, news editor Will Carruthers informed Gunn that the article was factually correct and offered to participate in an electronic meeting with Gunn and Byrne to discuss the documentation of the facts.

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/park-service-pushes-back-on-apocalypse-cow/

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Santa Rosa approves $38 million in loans for affordable housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa Housing Authority has approved the use of about $38 million in federal disaster relief funds to build hundreds of new affordable homes in the next few years.

A short-handed Housing Authority on Monday afternoon voted to loan $38,353,107 to the developers of five projects in Santa Rosa that initially offer the promise of 377 units combined, almost all restricted to low-income residents.

The largest single award, notable for both its circumstances and its size, went to the first phase of the 3575 Mendocino Avenue project, which when fully built envisions 532 homes on the site of the former Journey’s End mobile home park. Linda Adrian, a former park resident and vocal supporter of the redevelopment effort, praised the $11.9 million award to the project, which would create 370 market-rate apartments as well as 162 units in an affordable development to replace the 160 Journey’s End homes, most of which were destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire.

“At the moment, I’m still living in a temporary apartment which is only 320 square feet, and I’ve been waiting for this — for Journey’s End to be rebuilt so I can move back in,” said Adrian, who lived at the park for 25 years.

The funds represent a bittersweet windfall for a city in desperate need for additional affordable places to live. While the money offers a rare chance to boost several large projects simultaneously, Santa Rosa wouldn’t have had access to the funds if it hadn’t suffered through the enormous disaster of the Tubbs fire.
Continue reading “Santa Rosa approves $38 million in loans for affordable housing”

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

Point Reyes Seashore is one step closer to national dairy farm

Joe Sweeney, THE CALIFORNIA AGGIE

The Park Service’s proposed management plan of the Point Reyes Seashore prioritizes agriculture over wildlife in a national park

In Marin County, ranching is more than just a nine to five for many residents, but a way of life. Roughly half the land in Marin County is designated for farming or ranchland. Ranching has existed in the Marin for years, going back to the first settlers’ arrival in the area. Nestled within this agricultural landscape are a few conservation gems like Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods and most of all the iconic Point Reyes National Seashore. Keeping this lengthy history in mind, agriculture has outstayed its welcome in the Seashore. The Point Reyes peninsula was just narrowly saved from development and remains a slice of wilderness in the rapidly changing landscape of California. There are thousands of acres of farmland across the Golden State, but only one National Seashore on the entire West Coast.

Point Reyes is so unique in fact, it is designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an international biosphere preserve—home to hundreds of species which are endangered and only found in the peninsula. Despite this status, roughly a third of the park’s land is designated for agricultural use. This prevents visitors from using a large portion of the park and contributes to growing concerns about the environmental impact of ranching on the Seashore’s ecosystems. To truly understand this complex issue, we have to understand its history.

The modern history of Point Reyes has been characterized by compromise. When the park was founded in the ‘60s, it was not without controversy. Initially both sides, parts of the federal government and the ranching community, were vehemently against the Seashore’s establishment, but the Ranchers’ tune quickly changed realizing that federal subsidies would help keep the industry afloat.

Additional concerns were raised by members of Congress about leasing the park land as a national park, which would be a first. When the park was established, there was no mention of permanently establishing ranching in the 1962 legislation. Although later amendments added the possibility of extending leases, the intention that ranches be phased out is present from the very beginning of the Seashore. The original agreement was that the ranchers were allowed to reserve a right to use the land for 25 years or the life of the original owner. As that period came to an end, ranches were still there and coming up with any reason to stay.

“I know the people who put [The Point Reyes Act] together. At the 40th anniversary I talked to Stewart Udall, the Secretary of Interior. He remembered the same thing I did, that ranching was never intended to be permanent,” said Ken Brower, an environmental writer and son of David Brower. “The founder’s idea had nothing to do with what you’re hearing now from ranchers, that they’d be here forever.”

You may often hear that the Seashore ranches are “historic” and must be preserved on that basis for future generations. This is blatant propaganda. If these ranches truly had historic value, this “historic” status would logically also be applied to the oyster farms, which had been in business for nearly a hundred years before being shut down by the park service due to a variety of reasons.
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Second SMART station, affordable housing shell game blocked by new Petaluma City Council

Kathryn Palmer, PRESS DEMOCRAT

In the new Petaluma City Council’s first meeting, a tie vote has all but killed the revised Corona Station project meant to create more than 500 homes and usher in the city’s second SMART train station.

It was an unceremonious end to a proposal that has dominated public meeting agendas for more than a year, sparked heated controversies and prompted a lawsuit from new Council member Brian Barncale that forced developer Todd Kurtin to go back to the drawing board.

“Unless some miracle gets pulled out of a hat, this whole thing is basically over,” Kurtin said the day after the vote. “At the end of the day, the economics of the project and the politics of the city just didn’t mesh, so it all fell apart.”

The convoluted project, its most recent iteration proposing 131 affordable units at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard, was inexorably tied to the funding of the proposed east side SMART station as well as the future of a 402-unit apartment project next to the current downtown train station.

The vote Monday night effectively denied a linchpin request made by the downtown apartment developer Hines Co. to count affordable housing units on Corona Road toward requirements related to the downtown project. Representatives for Hines say the refusal makes their project financially untenable and scuttles the web of agreements that linked all three projects.

“We wanted to use the affordable housing units at the Corona Station as the (downtown project’s) alternative housing compliance,” Kurtin said, referring to the city policy that requires developers either to include on-site affordable units or place them in an alternative off-site location. “Since we can’t use the Corona Station affordable units to fulfill that, then everything is going to be collapsing.”

The evening meeting marked the first time newly elected officials Barnacle and Dennis Pocekay virtually joined the dais. The inaugural council session resulted in a rare stalemate 3-3-1 vote, with Pocekay joining Mayor Teresa Barrett and Councilmember D’Lynda Fischer in denying the request, while Councilmembers Dave King, Mike Healy and Kevin McDonnell supported the project. Barnacle’s lawsuit against the Corona Station project was a clear conflict of interest, requiring the new council member to recuse himself on the vote.

The split vote could signal a new progressive bloc headed by Barrett and Fischer, after this week’s rebuke of a project that former Council members Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller historically supported.
Continue reading “Second SMART station, affordable housing shell game blocked by new Petaluma City Council”

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Russian River, backed up at coastal mouth, threatens flooding in Jenner

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

High waves and heavy surf that have battered the Sonoma Coast for days and sealed the Russian River mouth with a great mound of sand have raised the water high enough to threaten flooding in the town of Jenner over the next few days.

Water already surrounded the Jenner Visitor Center at the river’s edge by Thursday afternoon, rising over the back deck and flooding into the parking lot adjacent to the post office and Highway 1. Farther inland, the river’s surface swelled to a height of 10 feet at the Highway 1 bridge.

But because of continued wave action on the beach, it has not been safe for Sonoma Water, the county water agency, to send out a heavy equipment operator to breach the beach dam by digging a channel through from the river estuary to the ocean. And though there has been some recent rain, the river flow remains low enough that it’s not exerting sufficient pressure to break through the sand on its own.

That combination of factors has allowed the mouth to close a “crazy” number of times this winter, said Suki Waters, who grew up in the area and owns Water Treks EcoTours in town, running boat rentals and guided kayak tours in the estuary.

“There’s not enough pressure in the river, not enough current to keep the river open during these high waves, high sand-pushing events,” she said.

At various times, the waves have been high enough to wash over the sand berm, adding even more water to the estuary, Sonoma Water said.

This is the fifth time in two months that the mouth has closed, in large part due to a dearth of rainfall that this year is sitting at around 30% of normal in most of the North Bay and wider Bay Area, National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle said. Santa Rosa, as of Thursday, had received 5.3 inches of rain since Oct. 1, compared to 15.5 inches in an average year, Mehle said.

The outlook is for dryer than normal weather through the end of the month, as well, Mehle said, and another high-surf advisory taking effect at 6 a.m. Friday, with waves up to 25 feet in the most exposed coastal areas.

Sonoma Water, the region’s drinking water supplier, and charged with managing conditions at the river mouth, normally would consider mechanical breaching of the sandbar once the water reaches between 7 and 9 feet high, said Barry Dugan, a community and government affairs specialist. It already has done so on three occasions over the past two months — Nov. 19, Dec. 10 and Dec. 30. One other time this winter, the mouth closed but the river breached on its own Dec. 24.

At more than 10 feet, the river “is pretty high,” said Waters, whose boats were moored near the visitor center, formerly the town’s boat house, and being monitored.

“Normally, it either breaks or, if the county can open the river mouth, it usually happens before it gets to 10 feet,” Waters said. “This is a rare event.”

The river usually runs at a rate of several thousand cubic feet per second at this point in the season, but even with the rainfall early this week, it flowed only at 459 cfs by 4 p.m. Thursday at the Hacienda Bridge in Forestville.

That’s at least high enough to allow sport fishing once again in the main stem, where between Oct. 1 and April 30 angling is shut down at 300 cfs under a 2015 regulation designed to reduce stress for imperiled fish species already challenged by drought.

Though the river rose to 300 cfs briefly Dec. 18 and again between Dec. 26-28, the river was not opened until Wednesday, when it peaked at 559 cfs before beginning to drop.

“Last year, it opened right before Thanksgiving. The year before that it opened in late October, closed, and then opened again in mid-November,” said Scott Heemstra, a longtime fishing guide and manager at King’s Sport & Tackle in Guerneville. “So this is pretty late for opening.”

With the river mouth closed, only smaller steelhead trout that came in early were available to be caught, however, and once the mouth is opened, the river flow could be too low to fish.

Whether the water in Jenner rises high enough in the meantime to mimic December 2015, when people were canoeing and kayaking through riverside parking lots, remains to be seen.

Dugan said the visitor center floods when the water reaches around 10.3 feet and the southbound lane of Highway 1 at 12.3 feet.

He said the CHP, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and public safety and park agencies had been notified of the situation.

But he said it remained difficult to predict what might happen.

“All I can say with any certainty is there continues to be the potential for localized flooding,” Dugan said.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-backed-up-at-coastal-mouth-threatens-flooding-in-jenner/

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

Infill housing is critical for a healthy region and climate

Zack Subin & Zoe Siegel, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Bay Area cities and the state government have taken great steps recently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the climate crisis. Recent bold action to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy include the exclusion of fossil gas from new buildings in major Bay Area cities, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s series of executive orders to phase out gasoline-powered cars, and state legislation to bring a carbon-free power grid.

In order to more completely address climate change, we need to think beyond energy infrastructure and tackle our housing crisis as well. To do this, we need to change the way we build, and in doing so change the environmental rhetoric around new housing. This change requires us to build dense infill developments as well as “missing middle housing” (like townhouses, fourplexes, and courtyard apartments) in existing communities, while discouraging sprawl development in high risk zones most vulnerable to climate change.

Simply allowing for more people to live in Bay Area cities is one of the most potent means of reducing climate pollution with local policies. According to research led by UC Berkeley’s Chris Jones (available interactively at coolclimate.org), it could be the single most impactful measure for Bay Area cities ranging from San Francisco to Oakland to Mountain View. This is because cities in the inner Bay Area already have relatively low carbon footprints, particularly within the transit-rich core.

Housing we don’t build in cities ends up in outlying suburbs where folks are forced to drive for most daily activities, burning gasoline and necessitating far more asphalt, steel and concrete. A drumbeat of reports from state and national organizations, including the California Air Resources Board, have said that the continued upward trend in miles driven is a threat to our emissions goals, even considering a continued shift to electric cars. Moreover, continued development on the suburban fringe threatens the very natural and working lands we need intact to reach carbon neutrality.
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Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?

Deborah Eppstein, Craig Harrison & Marylee Guinon, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Amid another extreme fire season, concerned Sonoma County residents wonder why their Board of Supervisors is fervently working to exempt new development on unsafe roads from Cal Fire safety standards.

Residents as well as the following advocacy groups submitted opposition letters: Bennett Valley Residents for Safe Development, Forests Unlimited, General Plan Update Environmental Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Council and Wine and Water Watch.

For the fourth time this year, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) has refused to certify Sonoma County’s Fire Safe Ordinance, as it does not meet safety standards. Subsequently, on November 4, the BOF unanimously adopted a moratorium on considering county certifications, having wasted untold hours and public dollars during 2020 evaluating Sonoma County’s flawed ordinances.

Cal Fire standards require new development to provide concurrent emergency vehicle access and egress of residents during a wildfire. We question why our Supervisors refuse to protect firefighters and the public in the wildland urban interface.

• What motives could justify knowingly sacrificing lives and property? Is it to promote unfettered housing and commercial development in high fire hazard locations?

• Does the County strive to eliminate all constraints to new development thereby preserving its micro-management of the approval process? Given the Supervisors have put off the General Plan indefinitely, perhaps the County lacks the strategic framework and fortitude to lead with policy?

• Or were the Supervisors woefully misinformed by County Counsel concerning the Ordinance’s lack of standards, which failed to meet Cal Fire standards?

An October 23 BOF letter (p. 2) stated BOF staff “have significant concerns” that Sonoma County’s standards do not “allow concurrent civilian evacuation.” It emphasized (p. 8) the County’s failure to cooperate, refusing even to respond to direct questions: “Sonoma County has had repeated opportunities to identify and provide citations for these standards. Sonoma County repeatedly declines to do so.”

Sonoma County finally acknowledged this fiasco and removed its request for certification from the November BOF agenda.
Continue reading “What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?”

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Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State water quality regulators have fined the developer of Montage Healdsburg, the ultra-luxury resort set to open Saturday, more than $6.4 million for environmental violations tied to hotel construction during the stormy winter months of late 2018 and early 2019.

The fine — the largest environmental penalty of its kind on the North Coast — was approved Friday by the Santa Rosa-based North Coast Water Quality Control Board following a nearly eight-hour virtual hearing.

The board’s 5-0 vote affirmed a fine recommended by agency prosecutors as part of a two-year enforcement action against Sonoma Luxury Resort, a subsidiary of Encinitas-based developer the Robert Green Co.

“Today, the prosecution team proved that there were widespread, persistent stormwater violations at the discharger’s construction project,” Dan Kippen, prosecuting attorney for the State Water Resources Control Board, told the regional body Friday. “Ordering the discharger to pay the proposed liability will send a message not only to this discharger that its conduct was unacceptable and must be avoided for its future projects, but will also send a message to all future developers that they flout the (construction general permit) and other water laws at their own peril.”

The 38 violations put forward by regulators included woefully and repeatedly inadequate erosion control measures documented over several months by water quality investigators at the 258-acre resort property at Healdsburg’s northeastern edge, last estimated to cost $310 million. Prosecutors said nearly 9.4 million gallons of prohibited runoff and sediment-filled stormwater escaped the heavily sloped construction site and into streams of the Russian River watershed, leading to two forced work stoppages. The affected tributaries included Foss Creek, a steelhead trout stream.

“I can stand here before all of you right now and tell you in my 20 years, I’ve yet to see a site this nasty,” Jeremiah Puget, senior environmental scientist with the regional board, said Friday. “If you take this case in its entirety, we believe that we went above and beyond our role — as did the city of Healdsburg — in trying to return this site into compliance.”
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Apocalypse cow: The future of life at Point Reyes National Park

Peter Byrne, THE BOHEMIAN

The North Bay community is divided by conflicted views on whether commercial dairy and cattle ranching should continue at Point Reyes National Seashore. This reporter has hiked the varied terrains of the 71,000-acre park for decades. Initially, I had no opinion on the ranching issue. Then, I studied historical and eco-biologic books and science journals. I read government records, including the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Point Reyes released by the National Park Service in September. The 250-page report concludes that the ranching industry covering one third of the park should be expanded and protected for economic and cultural reasons. This, despite acknowledging that the park ranches are sources of climate-heating greenhouse gases, water pollution, species extinctions and soil degradation.

The Bohemian/Pacific Sun investigation reveals that the EIS is deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically. It is politicized.

Sixty million years ago a chunk of granite located near Los Angeles began moving northwards. Propelled by the energy of earthquakes over eons, Point Reyes slid hundreds of miles along the San Andreas fault at the divide between two colliding tectonic plates.

During the last Ice Age, 30,000 years ago, much of the Earth’s waters were locked up in glaciers, and the Pacific Ocean was 400 feet lower than it is today. “The Farallon Islands were then rugged hills rising above a broad, gently sloping plain with a rocky coastline lying to the west,” according to California Prehistory—Colonization, Culture, and Complexity.

Humans migrated from Asia walking the coastal plains toward Tierra del Fuego. Then, 12,000 years ago, the climate warmed and glaciers melted. Seas rose, submerging the plains. A wave of immigrants flowed south from Asia over thawed land bridges. Their subsequent generations explored and civilized the Americas, coalescing into nations, including in West Marin and Point Reyes.

Novelist and scholar Greg Sarris is the tribal chair of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria. The tribe’s ancestors are known as Southern Poma and Coast Miwok. In The Once and Future Forest, Sarris tells the story of how the first people came to be in Marin and Sonoma counties. “Coyote created the world from the top of Sonoma Mountain with the assistance of his nephew, Chicken Hawk. At that time, all of the animals and birds and plants and trees were people. … The landscape was our sacred text and we listened to what it told us. Everywhere you looked there were stories. … Everything, even a mere pebble, was thought to have power … Cutting down a tree was a violent act. … An elder prophesied that one day white people would come to us to ‘learn our ways in order to save the earth and all living things. … You young people must not forget the things us old ones is telling you.’”

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/apocalypse-cow-the-future-of-life-at-point-reyes-national-park/