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Ted Eliot, Sonoma County conservationist and retired diplomat, dies at 91

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Earlier this week, Ted Eliot lay in bed recuperating after minor surgery and reflected on the meaning of a man’s life. It was an unusual moment of introspection for the former diplomat and fervent conservationist.

Eliot wasn’t one to ruminate, his daughter, Wendy Eliot, said. He was a doer. But on that day, confined to bed in a convalescent hospital, Eliot looked back over his 91 years with the question, “What is the purpose? What is it all for?” He settled on a simple answer to a big question: “To be of service.”

By that definition, Ted Eliot had more than met his purpose when he died Thursday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital of a heart attack. He was a longtime resident of Sonoma, but recently moved to Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa.

Eliot served for 30 years in the U.S. foreign service and State Department, including a post as ambassador to Afghanistan. He served on and headed a multitude of boards both corporate and nonprofit, from the San Francisco World Affairs Council and the World Peace Foundation to the Planning and Conservation League of California and the American Academy of Diplomacy. In Sonoma County, along with his late wife, Pat, he will be best remembered as one of the region’s most vociferous and effective advocates for conservation, open space, public access and environmental protection.

“We all shared the thought that the purpose of life is to leave the world in a little better shape than we found it. I was able to tell him clearly, you accomplished that,” said Wendy Eliot, who followed her parents into environmental service as conservation director for the Sonoma Land Trust.

Read more https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9886334-181/ted-eliot-sonoma-county-conservationist

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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

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Op-Ed: Sonoma County at a crossroads

Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is at a crossroads right now with new and ongoing challenges such as climate change and extreme weather, housing needs and poor public transit that have the potential to change our communities and lands for decades to come. The general plan and zoning code are the tools intended to provide a vision and path forward on land use and to provide certainty for residents and voters.

The county’s general plan update has been postponed for the past three years because of the fires and floods that have devastated our communities. In fact, these extreme events have created a new urgency for updating the general plan. The county must respond to changed conditions since the last general plan update, more than a decade ago, and forge a way forward into an uncertain future and a “new normal.”

That is why Greenbelt Alliance, the Sierra Club, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Wine and Water Watch and Mobilize Sonoma recently joined forces to urge the Board of Supervisors to prioritize the update of the general plan without further delay.

But after a lengthy public hearing on April 16, the supervisors voted in favor of Permit Sonoma’s recommendation to delay work on the general plan for another year or more. They decided to prioritize multiple important existing and new initiatives over the next two years. The Permit Sonoma work plan priorities is to be finalized at the June 4 supervisors meeting.

Most of the priorities are supported by environmental community, but several raise red flags because of conflicts with city-centered growth and the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions. This is even more alarming given that no climate measures were made priorities.

In response to large community turnout at the April 16 public hearing, revising the county cannabis ordinance was put at the top of the priority planning list.

Next in line, with strongest community support, was updating the county tree ordinance, promised for a decade or more. The county’s tree protection ordinance allows trees, including oak woodlands, to be cleared for wine grapes, hay and other agriculture without public review. It is now back on the priority list.

Finalizing the Local Coastal Plan, the general plan for the coast, is also to move forward. A previous draft sparked controversy because of proposals to open up more coastal areas to commercial and vineyard development.

Long overdue winery event regulations were also made a priority, though it is not clear how soon the county will move forward, or whether draft staff guidelines will ever be released, or if county will rely entirely on standards developed by wineries and/or neighbors in each area of overconcentration.

Other priorities include planning for the Sonoma Developmental Center, adding more vacation rental exclusion zones and the Springs specific plan.

Several priorities seem a bit out of whack. Should we really be fast-tracking housing at the Santa Rosa Airport Business Park and in southeast Santa Rosa on county lands outside of voter-approved urban growth boundaries in Santa Rosa and Windsor? Both undermine long-standing city-centered growth policies.

Rezoning and opening up more rural parcels for large accessory dwelling units — as big as double-wide mobile homes — and without affordability requirements won’t solve the housing problem. Doing so will definitely increase greenhouse gas emissions, by adding more people who need to drive everywhere.

If we want to change course, we need to update the general plan first. The Board of Supervisors should provide a date certain timeline for the general plan update to be underway, not later than 2020-2021 and with no further delays.

Teri Shore is North Bay regional director for Greenbelt Alliance in Santa Rosa.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9576123-181/close-to-home-sonoma-county?sba=AAS

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.

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PG&E cutting trees near power lines in high fire-risk areas

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is trimming and removing trees near a high-voltage transmission line along River Road west of Highway 101, an area the utility says has been plagued by outages because of falling trees.

The work, conducted by a PG&E contractor, will cover a 40-foot swath — 20 feet to each side of a 60,000-volt transmission line that runs along the road from PG&E’s Fulton substation to Forestville, said Deanna Contreras, a spokeswoman for the utility.

It comes as the utility, which serves 5.4 million electric customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, is engaged in an accelerated and expanded campaign to clear trees and brush away from overhead power lines.

Standards adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission in the wake of last year’s wildfires require power companies to maintain a minimum 4-foot vegetation clearance around their lines year-round in extreme fire-threat areas, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

These areas, officially designated as Tier 3, cover a broad zone largely in the Mayacamas Mountains from Cloverdale to Sonoma, including the Mark West Creek area, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, as well as the west county wooded areas stretching nearly to the coast.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866874-181/pge-cutting-trees-near-power

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Sonoma County planning discussions crowd the horizon

Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Nearly a year after the Sonoma County Complex Fires destroyed 5,300 homes and ten years after the last housing crash slowed Sonoma County’s economy to a crawl, discussions about the future of housing, transportation and the economy are proliferating.

In the coming months, city, county, regional and business-led planning processes will each form an image of what Sonoma County and the North Bay should look like in the future.

Although many of the problems up for debate preexisted the fires, discussions at public meetings and behind closed doors in the coming months may well determine what course the county and North Bay region take for years to come.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/north-bay-sonoma-county-planning-efforts-proliferate

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Trione-Annadel park struggling to protect hidden treasures

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To help close part of the gap in support to maintain and protect Annadel, a new nonprofit community group, Friends of Trione-Annadel State Park, was formed this year by outdoorsman and retired executive Dan Stamps and other concerned Santa Rosans. Information about the group and their June fundraiser can be found at their website fotasp.com.

From the air, Trione-Annadel State Park — affectionately just “Annadel” to many — stands like a tall, 5-mile- long island, floating between the flat valleys of Santa Rosa on the west and Sonoma to the east. And like an island adrift in a sea of development, the massif carries a trove of lost natural treasures. Despite Annadel’s 40 miles of official trails, many of its treasures lie hidden from casual view: Few know, for example, that Annadel is home to four types of blooming orchids.

That low profile is a mixed blessing to the small team entrusted with its care. Concealed in the wild, Annadel’s unique features are spared the damage that often comes with human contact. But if they’re kept secret, the public may not support the long-term efforts required to protect them.

While the park today is primarily a recreation magnet, the landscape itself has stories to tell, and the natural history of Annadel is a fascinating tour through time and change.

History of wildfires

October’s firestorm was not the first time flames have swept the Annadel landscape, and how often the fires return is an important question. To find out, Mark Finney, a young Berkeley researcher, hit on the idea of examining ancient redwood stumps in Annadel, looking for burn scars amid the tree rings, which he could then count to track time between fires. What he found was unexpected. Before the mid-1800s, there were fires every six to 23 years on average, and as often as every two years.

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Bodega lab scientist Susan Williams was key voice for conservation, mentor to students worldwide

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Susan Williams was a Bodega Bay marine biologist and professor whose scientific expertise was instrumental in a decadeslong effort to expand federal protections for North Coast marine ecosystems.

She directed the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and served as a key advisor to California lawmakers working to protect coastal waters from oil and gas development. Her research showed how ocean health is connected to the wellbeing of coastal communities and humanity at large, and her ability to communicate simply about complicated science made her an essential adviser, said former U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat who relied on Williams’ counsel in her battles for environmental protections.

“What a loss for our country and our oceans and everybody that has ever met her,” said Woolsey, who served in Congress until 2013. “She was able to put words to science and make it real.”

Willams, 66, was the lone fatality Tuesday in a six-vehicle crash on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, where her Toyota Prius was struck head-on by Chevrolet Silverado pickup that authorities said crossed over into her lane.

Williams studied seagrass and coral reefs at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, and her research documented the impacts of warming ocean waters and human activity. Her studies covered the impact of invasive species brought into ports and the prevalence of plastic in the sea.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8257601-181/bodega-lab-scientist-susan-williams?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_daily&utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_daily

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local Organizations, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Hood Mountain Regional Park to grow with donation of Santa Rosa Creek property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A pristine, quarter-mile stretch of upper Santa Rosa Creek will be permanently protected as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve after the Sonoma Land Trust’s recent purchase of a 40-acre parcel on the park boundary.

The new property, located near the Los Alamos Road entrance at the northern end of the park, contains the last stand of redwoods in headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek and a cool shaded creek canyon ideal for rare steelhead trout, one of which was spotted in its waters just last week, land trust representatives said.

The newly acquired property is relatively small — particularly compared to the 1,750-acre wilderness park it adjoins — but it has important value as a buffer between the park and a growing number of estate homes being built in the area, along Los Alamos Road, the nonprofit group said.

It also extends an established wildlife corridor through the hills above Highway 12 and the Oakmont/Kenwood areas. That corridor has become a focal point of local conservation efforts in recent years, as land managers seek to create room for mountain lions, deer, bear and a host of other critters to roam across Sonoma and neighboring counties.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8172398-181/hood-mountain-regional-park-to

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Dr. Lisa Micheli of Pepperwood Preserve earns Bay Nature Environmental Hero of the Year

Nate Seltenrich, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Perched on a ridgeline in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa, Pepperwood Preserve spans 3,200 acres, protecting the headwaters of three watersheds that feed the Russian River and offering refuge to more than 900 species of native plants and animals. President and CEO Lisa Micheli, who took the helm at Pepperwood in 2009, has led the private preserve’s transformation into “a field station of global significance” recognized by the National Science Foundation. More than a dozen research projects—studying anything from climate change and hydrology to grasslands and phenology—are underway at Pepperwood at any given time, while the preserve and its 9,400-square-foot Dwight Center for Conservation Science also serves as a lab and nature-education center for students and citizen scientists of all ages.

Research, teaching, and outreach have come together at the preserve under Micheli, who holds a civil engineering master’s in Environmental Water Resources and a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources, both from UC Berkeley. In recognition of Pepperwood’s commitment to world-class science, environmental education, and community involvement, Micheli has been named Bay Nature’s 2018 Local Hero for Environmental Education.

Read the interview with Dr. Micheli at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/dr-lisa-micheli-of-pepperwood-preserve-earns-bay-nature-environmental-hero-of-the-year