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Veteran official selected as new head of Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Misti Arias, a 25-year veteran of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, has been selected to lead the tax-funded agency as its fourth-ever general manager.

Arias is expected to be appointed formally May 11 to succeed Bill Keene, who resigned last fall after 11 years as head of the 30-year-old open space district.

“It is an honor to be considered for the position of Ag + Open Space general manager,” Arias said in a news release. “I am inspired to further the community’s vision to protect natural and agricultural lands throughout our county.”

Arias has spent her entire career with the agency, starting in 1995 when she took a job as planning technician after graduating from Sonoma State University with a degree in environmental studies and urban planning.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/veteran-official-selected-as-new-head-of-sonoma-county-agricultural-preserv/

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Op-Ed: New year resolution: a transparent Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

THE WINDSOR TIMES
Editor’s Note: The following was a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors by a coalition of citizens, associations and nonprofits in early January, and recently shared with us.

We are writing to you because we are gravely concerned that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor (BoS) appears to be moving toward less transparency rather than inclusion.

To begin addressing the issue, we respectfully request:

1) The Board of Supervisors form a Transparency Committee to ensure ease of public access to county documents, information, departments and the internet. This is particularly needed in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic; the board give direction to staff that public access is not to be unduly limited due to the pandemic; the board make its processes transparent and public friendly, as is required by law.

2) That all agenda items and key issues coming before the Board be made available to all board members at the same time they are provided to the chair; that preliminary agenda topics be available and posted with accurate descriptions on the county website and, where requested, available via the U.S Postal Service.

3) That the Ad Hoc Committee work of the board be recognized and open to the public. Ad Hoc Committees should have an expiration date when established, and have their single purpose described. They cannot be perpetual committees under the Brown Act.

4) That the Local Coastal Plan update, planning ordinance updates, and any consideration of major changes in the processes of the county (e.g. changes in terms of the chair) be postponed until public meetings are allowed. There appears to be no urgency that would require a Zoom update, recognizing that public input is necessary to make informed public decisions.

Despite the pandemic, citizens deserve open, transparent government.

The Santa Rosa City Council in December voted to approve a transparent government proposal that has labored through subcommittee and council consideration for six years. The impetus was mass public demonstrations against the shooting of teenager Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. The Council recognized that openness in government makes for a happier, more informed citizenry and better decision making.
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Biden and regulatory review

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

Big changes may be coming to White House regulatory oversight.

President Biden seems to be poised to dramatically change how the White House reviews proposed agency regulations. I argued in a recent post that it would be better to expand the focus of regulatory review beyond cost-benefit analysis to include important values such as social justice and environmental quality. Biden may be moving in that direction.

Since Reagan took office, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has reviewed the cost-benefit analyses submitted for all significant proposed regulations. Progressives have never bought the idea of OIRA as the technocratic guardian of value-neutral economic analysis. This is partly because they view cost-benefit analysis as inherently biased against regulation, and partly because they view OIRA as a backdoor for industry lobbying.

There are several signs that Biden is reconsidering OIRA’s intense focus on cost-benefit analysis. One of his executive orders establishes a task to modernize regulatory review. He instructed the task force to provide “concrete suggestions on how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.” The executive order emphasizes the need to ensure that “regulatory initiatives appropriately benefit and do not inappropriately burden disadvantaged, vulnerable, or marginalized communities.” This dovetails with another executive order that attempts to reorient agencies toward social justice issues. But economics is still in the picture, as shown by an executive order requiring the government to establish a new estimate of the social cost of carbon.
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Santa Rosa panel floats redesign for dangerous stretch of road

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is looking to revamp a stretch of Stony Point Road bisected by Highway 12 in a bid to provide more protection for cyclists, a move that would follow a string of deaths that underscored the area’s status as one of the most treacherous in the city for cyclists and pedestrians.

A package of new bike paths, pedestrian crossings, curb expansions and lane adjustments is in the cards for Stony Point Road from Occidental Road to the Joe Rodota Trail — the heart of a half-mile highly trafficked stretch between West Third Street and Sebastopol Road that includes two highway on-ramps and two exits.

The area has been highly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. In one seven-week span of 2018, three people on foot or bike were fatally struck along Stony Point Road near Highway 12.

They included Sidney Falbo, a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student on her way to class. On Thursday, cyclist Wayne Morris trained his camera on a memorial to Falbo that sits close to where she was struck and killed by a truck, at the point were the Joe Rodota Trail crosses six lanes of Stony Point Road.

Morris, 82, said that cycling at his age is a great way to keep his legs in shape. But while taking the trail from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa five weeks ago, he was badly shaken up when he was struck in the Stony Point crosswalk.

“I was waiting to cross on the light. It changed, I got up on the pedal to go across and bang, this lady hit me,” Morris said. “I hit the ground and cracked some ribs and my clavicle.”

The dangers of that stretch of road are called out in Santa Rosa’s latest bicycle and pedestrian safety master plan, adopted in early 2019. It’s one of only three traffic corridors in the city labeled as a “high-injury network” for both those on foot and bike.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/santa-rosa-panel-floats-redesign-for-dangerous-stretch-of-road/

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Op-Ed: Divest public funds from fossil fuels

Shelly Browning and Philip Beard, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In December 2019, following a spirited discussion by supervisors and citizen commentators, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted unanimously a remarkable resolution. Making note of the manifest connection between burning fossil fuels and the appalling frequency of catastrophic wildfires, they directed Treasurer-Tax Collector Erick Roeser in part as follows:

“… Investment in the fossil fuel industry is inconsistent with (environmental/social/governance) investment principles. (The supervisors) request that the County Treasurer make no new or renewed investments in fossil fuel development corporations to the extent that other, more socially responsible investments achieve substantially equivalent safety, liquidity, and yield.”

The Sonoma County treasurer manages money on behalf of scores of public agencies. They entrust surplus resources to the Sonoma County Pooled Investment Fund to guarantee secure, responsible management of public money. To name just a few: Animal Welfare, the Office of Education, Health Services, Homeless Emergency Aid, Public Health and virtually all fire and school districts.

As the fund’s manager, Roeser enjoys considerable latitude and bears fiduciary responsibility in deciding where and how to invest these funds.

Since December 2019, however, Roeser has contravened the spirit of the supervisors’ resolution by maintaining and adding to the county’s deposits in several large banks that appear prominently in the Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020. The report, published by the Rainforest Action Network, lists the major banks financing fossil fuels globally. Roeser’s new or renewed certificates of deposit in these banks amount to $236 million of Sonoma County pooled investment funds in the third quarter of 2020 alone.
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West County environmentalists recognized

Camille Escovedo, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Sonoma County Conservation Council’s “Environmentalist of the Year” award to Rick Coates, Chris Poehlmann and Maya Khosla

The Sonoma County Conservation Council bestowed this year’s Ernestine I. Smith “Environmentalist of the Year” award upon three local luminaries of the environmental justice movement at its holiday networking and environmental awards ceremony Friday, co-hosted with the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club.

The council named Maya Khosla, Rick Coates and Chris Poehlmann as its three “forest champions.” Khosla is a wildlife biologist, filmmaker and poet laureate of Sonoma County whose recent Legacy Project sought to address the 2017 Tubbs Fire and regeneration with poetry in open spaces, as stated by her website. Meanwhile, the careers of Coates and Poehlmann draw them deep into the West County forests and often the courtroom, maneuvering the legal system to prevent logging projects that jeopardize regional watersheds and forests.

“Not all grassroots organizers are really good at the technical bureaucracy of multi-page permits, understanding the fine details, but these two men have been really, really good at both of those, and try to do as much as possible within the regulatory framework,” according to Wendy Krupnick, council secretary and a member of the annual event’s organizing committee. “But occasionally, when that does not work, the only avenue left is a lawsuit.”

She said the Sonoma County Conservation Council (SCCC) receives nominations from the broader environmental justice community for review by a subcommittee of primarily members of the SCCC’s board of directors. The awardees receive a certification from the California state legislature honoring their contributions to environmental advocacy, Krupnick said.
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Supervisor Gore Elected President Of CA Association Of Counties

Maggie Fusek, PATCH.COM

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore has been elected to serve as the 2020-2021 president of the California State Association of Counties, a statewide organization that serves as the voice of California’s 58 counties at the state and federal levels.

The CSAC election took place during the organization’s 126th Annual Meeting; Gov. Gavin Newsom inducted Gore and his fellow officers virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Throughout California, the historic has become commonplace and the unprecedented has become standard,” said Gore in his new role as CSAC president. “The rubber meets the road at the county level, and as CSAC President, I am committed and determined to protect our communities, our families and the future of California.”

In Sonoma County, Gore represents the constituents of the Fourth Supervisorial District, which encompasses Cloverdale, Windsor, Healdsburg, and portions of Santa Rosa, as well as the unincorporated communities of Geyserville, Fulton and Larkfield-Wikiup. The district is home to the Russian River, the Geysers, Lake Sonoma, and the premium wine growing regions of Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

Gore also holds several leadership positions with the National Association of Counties.

Prior to his election as CSAC president, Gore most recently served as the organization’s First and Second Vice President. He has also served on the association’s Board of Directors, Executive Committee and as Chair of the CSAC Resiliency Advisory Board.

Read more at: https://patch.com/california/healdsburg/supervisor-gore-elected-president-ca-association-counties

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Lower Russian River to get first big regional park near Monte Rio

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County has acquired 515 acres of forest on the southern edge of Monte Rio that will be protected and opened to the public as the first major regional park in the lower Russian River area, offering a new outdoor destination for residents and the region’s steady stream of visitors.

The property, long eyed by park planners as a potential gem in the growing collection of preserved open space in west county, contains towering stands of mixed redwood and Douglas fir forest, as well as more than a mile of Dutch Bill Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.

In addition, its location offers options for future links to the Sonoma Coast State Beach and an envisioned 5½-mile “parkway” south through the redwoods between Monte Rio and Occidental.

“There are so many things about this site that are incredible,” said Misti Arias, acquisitions manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which helped fund the $3.9 million purchase.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who championed the deal from its earliest stages, touted the economic benefits of expanded outdoor opportunities, imagining the new park as a recreational hub that spurs and sustains commerce and community in nearby Monte Rio, which struggles with some of the highest unemployment rates countywide.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/former-sonoma-county-parks-director-to-serve-as-interim-chief-at-open-space/

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Sonoma County business coalition fails in costly bid to sink local tax measures

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Some local officials who split sharply with the anti-tax group said the voting results represented the fall of an inflexible coalition that had lost touch with the electorate.

A powerful coalition of Sonoma County business groups that spent tens of thousands of dollars to fight local tax measures up and down the ballot appears to have lost every race, the group conceded Wednesday, a stinging blow for industry leaders who were piecing together what went wrong.

The 2020 Tax Moratorium Coalition, a group comprised of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the North Bay Leadership Council and the North Coast Builders Exchange, spent nearly $80,000 to oppose eight county- and city-level tax measures, including a countywide sales tax extension for roads and transit projects and a new countywide tax to bolster mental health and homeless services.

But with preliminary results showing a solid majority of voters backed all measures, rejecting the group’s message countywide, county leaders and political experts say the coalition is due for a reckoning.

“I was dumbfounded when they took this position,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin said Tuesday night. “And I think this is a repudiation of any coalition of groups to take an inflexible position on every tax measure across the board.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-business-coalition-fails-in-costly-bid-to-sink-local-tax-meas/

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Huge old ranch straddling Sonoma, Napa to become parkland after sale

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Jim Perry was silent for a moment as he took in the panoramic view from his favorite place, 2,500 feet high on Big Hill, a golden, oak-dotted ridge above St. Helena with a view all the way to San Francisco.

His late wife’s family has owned the spectacular promontory dividing Sonoma and Napa counties for five generations, and now he is about to give it up.

“This is the best part,” Perry said, his eyes moving from Pole Mountain on the Sonoma Coast, past Geyser Peak and over to Bald Mountain in the east. “It’s just a great place to come and see the whole world.”

The rugged, 654-acre hilltop parcel is part of the historic McCormick Ranch, which the Sonoma Land Trust will announce Wednesday it has agreed to buy for $14.5 million. It’s the fulfillment of a promise he made to his late wife, Sandra Learned, as she lay dying of a rare autoimmune disease in 2015: to preserve the nearly pristine, wild property.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Huge-old-ranch-straddling-Sonoma-Napa-to-become-14830048.php