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/
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/
Carolee Krieger, CALMATTERS
We do not have a water crisis. We have a water management crisis, and we must revamp our water policy to reflect a drier future.
Water that is promised in a contract but can’t be delivered is called “paper water” – shorthand for water that does not exist except in legal documents.
During its mid-20th century frenzy of dam and canal construction, California allocated much more water than it actually had. These paper water commitments far exceed the amount of water than is available in our reservoirs and rivers. According to a study from the University of California, Davis, “appropriative water rights filed for consumptive uses are approximately five times greater than estimated surface water withdrawals.”
What this restrained academic language reveals is a management crisis: no matter how much it rains and snows in California, we will always have a chronic water shortage because of overallocation.
Why is this happening? As the UC Davis study found, the state has promised five times more water than could ever be delivered. Accelerating climate change only compounds the problem: Virtually all reputable computer models confirm California will receive less snow in coming decades, meaning our water deficit will only grow.
Meanwhile, overallocation remains at the core of California Department of Water Resources policy. In 2021, the State Water Project could deliver only 5% of its contracted water.
Read more at https://calmatters.org/commentary/2022/01/here-is-the-first-step-to-a-sustainable-water-policy/
Paige Bennett, ECOWATCH
It happens to everyone — the holidays roll around, and your great aunt, your co-worker, or your second cousin gets you a gift that is thoughtful, but not quite your style. Even with the tags intact and the packaging in good shape, that gift may not go back to sit on a store shelf after you’ve returned it. Instead, many gift returns end up in a landfill.
Last year, the National Retail Federation forecasted that in 2021, retail sales in the U.S. would exceed $4.4 trillion. With the pandemic raging on, many people spent more time shopping online, perhaps trying to achieve an Insta-worthy kitchen or to try out trendy new fashions for which they saw targeted ads. Holiday shopping ramped up, too, as people rushed to buy in fear of delayed shipping or supply chain issues.
But much of those purchases were returned. Hitendra Chaturvedi, a supply chain management expert and professor at Arizona State University estimated that returns for 2021 would reach around $500 billion, even higher than the National Retail Federation’s findings from 2020 that returns reached $428 billion. Chaturvedi also told NPR reporter Alina Selyukh that many returns likely go to landfills.
That’s not always the case. Some clothing retailers, particularly higher end clothing shops, may dry clean and resell returned items. Electronics may be clearanced and sold at a special “open box” or “used” price, as is the case at many major retailers like Best Buy and Amazon. But even so, many returns are tossed out.
As reported by NPR, retailers are estimated to throw away about 25% of returns. In 2020, returns solutions company Optoro said returns likely led to about 5.8 billion pounds of landfill waste in just one year. As if those returns going to the trash wasn’t enough, the shipping of those returns also contributed to 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Read more at https://www.ecowatch.com/holiday-gift-returns-landfill.html
Chase DeFeliciantonio, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Dawn has just broken over Recology’s vast Blossom Valley Organics composting facility, about 70 miles east of San Francisco in Vernalis (San Joaquin County). The cold fall air hits like a slap to the face as orange light creeps over the horizon.
As the sun rises over the site, one of six the company operates statewide, a fine grit rides on the air, which is thick with the smell of earthy decomposition.
Operations Supervisor Clifford Reposa casts a wary eye on a 25-ton trailer of organic waste as it is hoisted on a hydraulic lift almost vertically against the pale and reddening sky.
“Not good. Lots of plastic bags,” Reposa mutters, his arms crossed as he watches a flood of pumpkins, apple cores, bits of wood and piles of leaves trucked in from San Francisco tumble out, adding to the towering piles of refuse that dwarf huge bulldozers moving it around in a deafening, mechanical dance.
This load of refuse is just a fraction of the roughly 1,500 tons of compostable material the 120-acre facility takes in every day from San Francisco and parts of the East Bay and South Bay. It comes here to be reborn as natural fertilizer used on vineyards and farms, and in varietals that are crafted specifically for different types of soil.
After those plastic bags and nonorganic materials are plucked out by men, women and gargantuan machines with names like The Titan, what remains will be placed into heaping piles that eventually break down into dark compost some farmers call “black gold.” Those heaps that stand higher than a person are spritzed with water and heated and cooled for two months to help trillions of microorganisms turn the solid waste into rich food for hungry crops.
Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2022/california-compost-law-climate-change-effect/
Colin Atagi, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Highway 101 pedestrian and bicycle crossing, which has been pursued for decades, is closer to reality now that construction is funded and its design is essentially finalized, Santa Rosa officials and bicycle advocates say.
Over the past several months, city officials announced they acquired enough funding to build the $14 million bridge that will link Elliott and Edwards avenues and provide a safe way for non-motorists to cross the freeway.
It’s design has also gone before the city’s Design Review Board and members of the public, including area bicyclists, whose glowing reviews pave the way for construction.
“It’s great for us to feel that positive benefit of bringing this project to the finishing touches, which would be finalizing its design and getting it out to bid,“ Santa Rosa Assistant City Manager Jason Nutt said.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/highway-101-pedestrian-bicycle-crossing-progressed-in-2021/
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
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/
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/?
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/