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A startup is turning houses into corporations, and the neighbors are fighting back

Greg Rosalsky, NPR

On a sleepy cul-de-sac amid the bucolic vineyards and grassy hills of California’s Sonoma Valley, a $4 million house has become the epicenter of a summer-long spat between angry neighbors and a new venture capital-backed startup buying up homes around the nation. The company is called Pacaso. It says it’s the fastest company in American history to achieve the “unicorn” status of a billion-dollar valuation — but its quarrels in wine country, one of the first regions where it’s begun operations, foreshadow business troubles ahead.

Brad Day and his wife, Holly Kulak, were first introduced to Pacaso in May after a romantic sunset dinner in their yard. “And we just saw this drone, coming up and over our backyard,” Day says. “And we’re like, what is that?”

Pacaso denies directing or paying a drone operator to film the neighborhood. But its website does have drone photos of the house in question, located at 1405 Old Winery Court. It says it bought the photos after the fact.

Nonetheless, after the drone incident, Day and Kulak got suspicious about what was going on in their neighborhood. About a week later, their neighbors told them they were moving and selling their house to a limited liability corporation, or LLC. But they were super vague about it.

Day and Kulak began speaking with other residents on their cul-de-sac. One of them, Nancy Gardner, had learned from a friend in nearby Napa Valley about a new company called Pacaso that was buying houses in the area. The company was co-founded by a Napa resident, and it converts houses into LLCs. Pacaso then sells shares of these corporate houses to multiple investors. Gardner Googled Pacaso, and, sure enough, the house on their cul-de-sac was on its website. The company had named the house “Chardonnay” and was now selling investors the chance to buy a one-eighth share of it for $606,000.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2021/08/24/1030151330/a-unicorn-startup-is-turning-houses-into-corporations

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , ,

Is it sustainable for Sonoma County to build new homes during an ongoing water crisis?

Ethan Varian, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in 2023, the state wants Sonoma County to approve over 14,500 new homes for residents of all income levels over the following eight years.

Though no final target has been approved, officials in some of the county’s largest cities have made ramping up home construction a priority with the goal of alleviating the region’s shortage of affordable housing.

At the same time, though, the state is also mandating water cutbacks across the region during what is shaping up to be the worst local drought in more than four decades.

The two seemingly competing mandates have some questioning the wisdom of continuing to push growth in the face of a water crisis.

“How are we still approving new development in the midst of a two year drought with no idea what’s going to happen next year?” said David Keller, a Petaluma resident and Bay Area director of Friends of Eel River, a Eureka-based environmental advocacy group.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-qa-is-it-sustainable-for-sonoma-county-to-build-new-homes-durin/

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

California takes a first-of-its-kind step on building decarbonization

Maria Rachal, SMART CITIES DIVE

The California Energy Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to adopt changes to the state building energy efficiency standards that in part heavily encourage the use of electric heat pumps over gas alternatives. The state updates the code every three years. If later approved by the California Building Standards Commission, the changes will apply to all newly built or renovated residential and nonresidential structures beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

The vote follows building decarbonization action in dozens of California cities — including Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland — some of which have taken even more clear-cut steps to prohibit natural gas infrastructure in certain new buildings and make electric appliances standard.

The updated code also has provisions for adding solar power and battery storage features to many new structures and establishes “electric-ready” requirements for homes. According to estimates the commission shared, over a 30-year span the revamped code would provide a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction equivalent to taking 2.2 million cars off the road for a year.

Read more at https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/california-energy-commission-adopts-building-decarbonization-changes/604762/?

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Santa Rosa City Council bans single-use disposable food ware beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Say goodbye to the Polystyrene to-go box.

A variety of single-use food containers will be banned in Santa Rosa beginning Jan. 1, 2022 under a new ordinance passed by the city council Tuesday night.

The city has a Santa Rosa Zero Waste Master Plan that calls for reducing the city’s trash output by more than half — from today’s 2.5 pounds of trash per person per day to one pound per person per day — by 2030.

In pursuit of that goal, the city’s new ordinance will ban the use or sale of food service containers made of Polystyrene foam. The ban will eliminate the ubiquitous white foam “clamshell” food box used by food truck and to-go food vendors.

The city will also outlaw food service ware containing chemicals known as PFAS. Sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found these chemicals to last for a long time in both the human body and environment without breaking down. Research has found various adverse impacts on human health.

Also under the ordinance, restaurants will provide plastic food ware only upon request. Restaurants can only offer reusable dishes and cutlery for on-site dining.

With the council’s vote, Santa Rosa joined a wave of Sonoma County cities passing ordinances banning single use food containers. Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Sonoma and Windsor have all passed some version of the ordinance, though two of those cities are now considering an amendment to include the ban on PFAS.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on an ordinance in late August.

The ordinances have been pushed by Zero Waste Sonoma, a joint powers board governing waste management for both the unincorporated county and Sonoma County cities.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/santa-rosa-city-council-bans-single-use-disposable-food-ware-beginning-jan/

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The recycling myth: Big Oil’s solution for plastic waste littered with failure

Joe Brock, Valerie Volcovici and John Geddie, REUTERS

In early 2018, residents of Boise, Idaho were told by city officials that a breakthrough technology could transform their hard-to-recycle plastic waste into low-polluting fuel. The program, backed by Dow Inc, one of the world’s biggest plastics producers, was hailed locally as a greener alternative to burying it in the county landfill.

A few months later, residents of Boise and its suburbs began stuffing their yogurt containers, cereal-box liners and other plastic waste into special orange garbage bags, which were then trucked more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) away, across the state line to Salt Lake City, Utah.

The destination was a company called Renewlogy. The startup marketed itself as an “advanced recycling” company capable of handling hard-to-recycle plastics such as plastic bags or takeout containers – stuff most traditional recyclers won’t touch. Renewlogy’s technology, company founder Priyanka Bakaya told local media at the time, would heat plastic in a special oxygen-starved chamber, transforming the trash into diesel fuel.

Within a year, however, that effort ground to a halt. The project’s failure, detailed for the first time by Reuters, shows the enormous obstacles confronting advanced recycling, a set of reprocessing technologies that the plastics industry is touting as an environmental savior – and sees as key to its own continued growth amid mounting global pressure to curb the use of plastic.

Read more at https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/environment-plastic-oil-recycling/

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

What the clean energy future looks like from a 262-foot wind turbine

Sammy Roth, Boiling Point Newsletter, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Hundreds of feet above the ground, suspended by ropes and battered by powerful winds, Matthew Kelly is living his best life.

Kelly is a wind turbine technician, and my colleague Brian van der Brug recently took pictures of him repairing a fiberglass blade at a wind farm in California’s Montezuma Hills, at the northeastern end of the Bay Area. Brian’s pictures are worth a thousand words and then some. Here’s a shot of Kelly perched on the damaged blade, putting his rock climbing background to good use:

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/environment/newsletter/2021-06-24/what-clean-energy-looks-like-from-a-262-foot-wind-turbine-boiling-point

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

After 27 years in western Marin County, Straus moves to cutting-edge creamery in Rohnert Park

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In his dungarees and rubber boots, Albert Straus looked every bit the dairy farmer that he is. On this particular morning, however, the 66-year-old founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery was some 25 miles from his family farm.

Straus stood on the floor of a processing plant, amid gleaming silver tanks and conveyor belts that would soon begin moving hundreds of the company’s iconic glass bottles of milk with cream on top.

While those bottles were familiar, the building was not. After 27 years making its highly regarded organic dairy products at a facility in Marshall, the company recently moved its production plant from Marin to Sonoma County, to this brand new, $20 million, 50,000-square foot facility in Rohnert Park. Where the old creamery was surrounded by ranchland, its new neighbors include the Graton Resort and Casino, and a Costco.

“After 27 years in Marshall,” said Straus, gesturing to the machinery around him, “this will give us a road map for the next 30 years.”

While the old plant could process up to 20,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one will be capable of doubling that output — “and do it much more efficiently,” noted Straus. The upgraded plant also features new technologies that allow it to capture and reuse large amounts of water and heat.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/after-27-years-in-western-marin-county-straus-moves-to-cutting-edge-creame/?

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , , ,

Negotiations for new Sonoma County composting site ended over financing issues

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A four-year effort to bring green waste recycling back to Sonoma County has collapsed, scuttling hopes of restoring any time soon a high-volume, locally based compost operation to supply farmers, landscapers and backyard gardeners.

The breakdown came late last month after the company chosen to work with the county waste agency withdrew from negotiations after it failed to secure financing.

The company, Renewable Sonoma, and its principal, Will Bakx, terminated negotiations with the county agency and the city of Santa Rosa after 2½ years of trying to shore up plans for a high-tech composting facility that would convert food scraps and yard waste into valuable agricultural products. The project, estimated to cost $52 million, also was to produce biogas to help power treatment equipment on land leased at the city’s Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant on Llano Road.

Bakx, whose proposal ranked first among nine pitches considered by the county in 2018 for siting and construction of a modern compost facility, said he had to pull the plug on negotiations because he couldn’t put together funding after talking with a variety of investors. He said he was not at liberty to disclose details.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/negotiations-for-new-sonoma-county-composting-site-ended-over-financing-iss/

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

Clover Sonoma remade the milk carton to help reduce greenhouse gases

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Trying to combat climate change, Clover Sonoma is casting a wide net throughout its operations to curb greenhouse gases. That includes the dumpster.

The Petaluma-based dairy processor has for years worked to improve its environmental stewardship. The effort took on even greater importance since 2016 when it became a B Corporation. Such companies are graded on their earth friendly measures, treatment of workers, overall relationship with the local community and business governance.

For Clover, the range of actions include working with the 30 dairies that send their milk to the processor to generate products from organic milk to cream cheese to butter. In addition, a new carbon farming test project is set to begin later this year.

The collaboration with the dairy farmers makes sense because the family-owned company found that about two-thirds of its overall greenhouse gas emissions are tied to farming practices, said Kristal Corson, chief revenue officer of the regional dairy powerhouse with about 260 employees and $235 million in annual revenue the past year.

“In addition to sort of helping farms figure out ways they can be more sustainable and doing those different efforts, we’ve also been trying to attack it on the packaging,” Corson said.

Clover Sonoma’s cartons, containers and wrappings are the second-largest source of its greenhouse gases at about 12%. That even outpaces transportation of milk with delivery trucks, which contribute an estimated 7% of emissions.

The spotlight on packaging led Clover to a notable achievement last summer, when it unveiled the first milk carton in the United States made from renewable sources. While it may not go back to the old days of the milkman picking up the used glass bottles in exchange for new ones, Clover intends to make a big environmental contribution by incorporating the new product design into all of its milk cartons by 2025.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/clover-sonoma-remade-the-milk-carton-to-help-reduce-greenhouse-gases/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Los Angeles Superior Court ruling signals officials must consider California wildfire risks

Press Release, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

In a major victory against a destructive development larger than Griffith Park, a judge has issued a ruling blocking Tejon Ranchcorp’s Centennial. The project would have put 57,000 residents on remote, fire-prone wildlands 65 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff found that the development’s environmental review failed to account for the increased wildfire risk the 12,000-acre project would pose to surrounding wildlands. The ruling sends a clear signal that elected officials across the state must consider the serious risks of building on wildfire-prone land.

Between 1964 and 2015, 31 wildfires larger than 100 acres occurred within five miles of the site, including four within the proposed project’s boundaries. Nearly all contemporary wildfires in California are caused by human sources such as power lines and electrical equipment, and development increases that threat.

“The court’s rejection of the Tejon development highlights the danger of building in high fire-risk areas,” said J.P. Rose, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science is clear that developments like Centennial will literally be built to burn, and our elected officials can’t continue to downplay these risks through inaccurate environmental reviews. This is a wake-up call for policymakers across California.”

The ruling found that the environmental review’s conclusion that “wildfire risk impacts outside of the project site will be reduced to less than significant is not supported by any analysis.” The court’s decision on Tuesday follows a recent Center report showing how construction in high fire-risk wildlands puts more people in harm’s way and contributes to dramatic increases in fire suppression costs. The California Attorney General recently challenged several developments in fire-prone areas, including one in Guenoc Valley, where a proposed project’s footprint includes portions of the recent LNU Complex Fire.

Read more at https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/judge-blocks-massive-tejon-ranchcorp-development-in-la-county-2021-04-08/