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SMART says it faces multimillion-dollar deficits without sales-tax renewal

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s commuter rail system could face crippling multimillion-dollar deficits within three years if voters in Sonoma and Marin counties don’t pass a proposed sales-tax extension in March, SMART officials revealed for the first time Wednesday.

Starting in 2022, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit would need to slash at least $9 million annually — about a seventh of its operating expenses — resulting in cuts to service and SMART’s workforce if the 12-member board opts not to seek early renewal of the tax next year, or if the extension is put to voters and they reject it, officials said.

The agency’s financial forecast showed operating expenses climbing from $58 million this fiscal year to about $63 million two years from now, with tax and fare revenues not expected to keep pace. The rise is driven mostly by escalating payments on debt accrued in SMART’s buildout, as well as rising labor, fuel and maintenance costs.

“We just need to call a spade a spade as we see it today,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, told the board. “Doing nothing is not an option and pretty bad for everybody. We’re being straightforward. We don’t want to mislead the members of the public. We want to tell them what the pains are, what the chokeholds are and what our options are.”

The newly unveiled forecast marked the first public acknowledgment by SMART officials that the 2-year-old line already faces a potentially deepening near-term shortfall in its budget. The projections did not account for the possibility of a recession, which would carve an even larger hole into the system’s budget. More than 70% of SMART’s spending on operations is supported by the quarter-cent sales tax.

It isn’t set to expire for another decade, but SMART officials say early renewal would allow them to restructure and reduce debt payments, which are now set to rise to $16 million next year and $18 million by 2022.

Without the tax renewal and financial adjustments it would support, SMART would be forced to cut commuter service in half, according to the agency’s finance chief, effectively sidelining 18 of the 36 train trips. Dozens of jobs could be also eliminated from the workforce of about 200, officials signaled.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9874597-181/smart-says-it-faces-multimillion

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , ,

Automakers, rejecting Trump pollution rule, strike a deal with California

Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, THE NEW YORK TIMES

An executive at another large automaker said his company was considering joining the agreement because it includes meaningful concessions by California. The executive, who spoke on condition that neither he nor his company be identified, said that the Obama-era fuel economy standards were difficult for the industry to meet because car buyers increasingly prefer sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks that tend to have much lower fuel economy than sedans.

Four of the world’s largest automakers have struck a deal with California to reduce automobile emissions, siding with the state, and against President Trump, in a bitter fight over one of the president’s most consequential regulatory rollbacks.

In coming weeks, the Trump administration is expected to all but eliminate a signature Obama-era regulation designed to reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. However, California and 13 other states have vowed to keep enforcing the stricter rules, potentially splitting the United States auto market in two, with car companies forced to build different lineups of vehicles for different states.

The prospect of that nightmare scenario for automakers spawned secretive talks in recent weeks between California regulators and four auto giants — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — in which the automakers won slightly less restrictive rules that they can apply to vehicles sold nationwide.

The agreement provides “much-needed regulatory certainty,” the companies said in a joint statement, while enabling them to “meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/25/climate/automakers-rejecting-trump-pollution-rule-strike-a-deal-with-california.html

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , ,

Santa Rosa requires 200-plus home development in Roseland to improve circulation plan

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A development calling for more than 200 new homes in southwest Santa Rosa is headed back to the drawing board.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday night to send the proposed Dutton Meadows subdivision back to the Planning Commission, which voted against the project in February.

City staff took the rare stance of opposing the housing project, based on concerns about how the developer, San Ramon-based Trumark Homes, planned to build nearby roads in conflict with the city’s vision for the area.

The council’s move gives city staff and Trumark more time to negotiate the layout of future roads connecting the project’s 130 two-story homes and 81 secondary units to the rest of the city. It also allows Santa Rosa’s elected officials to avoid shooting down a large housing project, which the city has generally welcomed with open arms as it seeks to create new places to live and rebuild from the October 2017 fires, which destroyed roughly 3,000 homes in the city.

City planners didn’t object to the new housing — located on about 18.5 acres near the intersection of Hearn Avenue and Dutton Meadow — but to Trumark’s plans for building out local roads significantly different from older city plans envisioned for the greater Roseland area. Trumark’s position, which did not budge Tuesday, is that Santa Rosa’s preferred street alignment removes the potential for 52 homes, which prevents the project from penciling out.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9765683-181/santa-rosa-sends-200-plus-home?sba=AAS

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BoDean asphalt plant moving to Windsor, with aim to convert Santa Rosa site to housing

Will Schmidt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The owners of a prominent asphalt plant in central Santa Rosa are planning to move their business to Windsor, laying the groundwork for affordable housing to replace an industrial operation that the owners acknowledge no longer fits into a neighborhood the city has targeted for dense residential development.

BoDean Co. founders Dean and Belinda “Bo” Soiland said their new, larger site in Windsor is better suited for continued industrial use than the current site south of West College Avenue, where the city has taken a stronger regulatory stance in recent years as complaints have mounted from neighbors.

Paperwork to build the new plant will be submitted to Windsor officials in July, Dean Soiland said. The Soilands had not finalized plans for their Santa Rosa property, though planning work there could proceed on a parallel track to development of the new Windsor plant.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9658672-181/bodean-asphalt-plant-moving-to

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , ,

As deaths mount on Santa Rosa’s Stony Point Road, city is pressed to do more for safety

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The city’s own master plan for bicycling and pedestrian upgrades has singled out the area as exceptionally dangerous. It is one of three areas citywide known as a “high-injury network” — where people walking or riding bikes are most often injured or killed — according to the updated bike plan.

Jennell Davies was almost home.

On a cool, clear night last October, the 39-year-old preschool teacher was walking home from dinner. It was about 9:50 p.m. when she tried to cross Stony Point Road, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares — and one of its deadliest for pedestrians and cyclists.

She and her boyfriend approached the intersection of Stony Point with Occidental Road, also a busy route for motorists driving through west Santa Rosa. They were at the intersection’s northwestern corner and were heading east across Stony Point.

She must have crossed there hundreds of times before, her father, Tom Davies, said he thought to himself on a recent visit to the site. An Oliver’s Market grocery store and a KFC fast-food restaurant are right there, a quick stroll from the apartment where she’d lived for more than a decade.

But that fateful night last year, Davies was more than halfway through the crosswalk when she was struck by a northbound pickup, throwing her body about 70 feet north along the eastern side of Stony Point. Her boyfriend had stopped on a concrete median that abuts the crosswalk. He could only watch, helpless.

She died after a police officer and then fire and medical crews could not revive her.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9440594-181/as-deaths-mount-on-santa

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Sonoma plans new traffic, bike lanes on Broadway

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

If Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson has her way, the route of Broadway from MacArthur to the Plaza will have room for more parking, bike paths in each direction, and encourage foot traffic to support local businesses – without costing the city an extra dime.

“The city’s planning documents definitely show bike lanes on both sides of Broadway,” said Ferguson. “And it’s clear that the volumes of traffic on Broadway now can be accommodated by one travel lane until you get to the Plaza – you don’t need two lanes like we have now.”

What would it take to bring Ferguson’s vision to fruition? Apparently just some paint, thanks to the planned repaving of Broadway – aka Highway 12 – by Caltrans slated to begin next summer.

The majestic street, the so-called “gateway” to historic Sonoma, is far wider than it needs to be (and without the military rationale Napoleon needed to build the Champs de l’Elysee, a similarly over-wide boulevard in Paris).

That’s one reason there’s almost never a traffic jam on Broadway – though the T intersection at the Plaza where it runs into Napa Street can be congested.

“It’s 70 feet from curb to curb,” said Frank Penry of GHD, the city’s consultant for the Broadway Streetscape Enhancements & Traffic Circulation Project, part of the city’s annual budget currently under review.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9696161-181/sonoma-plans-new-traffic-bike

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Neighbors sue to halt Safeway gas station construction in Petaluma

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A controversial Safeway gas station project is on hold pending approval of a city permit. Meanwhile, a group of residents that has filed a lawsuit to stop the east Petaluma project will likely seek a temporary injunction to pause work on the site while the case makes its way through the courts.

Save Petaluma, which is attempting to overturn the city council’s April 1 decision to deny an appeal and approve the 335 South McDowell Blvd. project, filed the suit in Sonoma County Superior Court this month, naming Petaluma as the respondent and Safeway as the real party of interest.

So far, Safeway has applied for a demolition permit for the current structure at the corner of the Washington Square Shopping Center, but the permit application is still under review, according to city officials.

Patrick Soluri, the Sacramento-based attorney representing Save Petaluma, said he will likely pursue an injunction to freeze construction efforts at the site until the case has been decided. Had Safeway been authorized and demolition had gotten underway, the corporation would have been protected under what’s known as a vested rights doctrine.

“We would seek injunctive relief if necessary to protect the citizens of Petaluma and also preserve the integrity of land-use and environmental decision-making in the city,” Soluri said in an email.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9625724-181/petaluma-reviews-safeway-gas-station

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Study of public trail along lower Russian River to kick off with Saturday meeting

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Russian River Trail Feasibility Study

The vision of a 19-mile bike and pedestrian trail linking lower Russian River communities from Forestville to Jenner is still just that, but Sonoma County officials are taking the first steps toward what they hope might make for a concrete plan one day.

Armed with more than $750,000 in grant funding for the purpose, regional parks personnel are launching a feasibility study to figure out where they might try to route a multiuse trail that would provide a safer alternative than River Road or Highway 116 for cyclists and pedestrians, offering recreational opportunities to locals and visitors.

The high-speed, high-traffic route through west Sonoma County hosts an average of 11,000 daily vehicle trips, and has a history of bicycle and pedestrian crashes, officials said.

“We’re looking at providing a trail that is actually separate from the roadway, if we can provide a safe place for folks to walk and bike,” Sonoma County Regional Parks Planner Ken Tam said. “If we can keep them away from the shoulder it will actually provide safety for the vehicles, as well.”

But “it’s a pretty daunting task,” given the breadth of the study area, significant development up to the roadways in some areas and other obstacles — like bridges, steep embankments, private property rights and the like, Tam said.

A public meeting scheduled Saturday morning in Guerneville is part of the process. County consultants want to hear from the public about priority areas for safe passage and important linkages or destinations, like schools, beaches and service centers, Tam said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9583267-181/study-of-public-trail-along

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Lawsuit launched to protect Sonoma County residents from airport lead pollution

Press Release, April 30, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

Environmental groups filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect northern Sonoma County residents from deadly airborne lead emitted by planes using local airports.

California has repeatedly submitted air-permitting rules for northern Sonoma County that failed to include emission standards for lead, a deadly neurotoxin. Under the Clean Air Act the EPA is required to develop air-quality plans when states submit deficient plans. The plans are designed to help states keep their air pollution below federal limits.

“The EPA needs to act expeditiously and develop new permitting rules that will protect our communities from the irreversible effects of lead poisoning,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health. “Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure and deserve regulations that provide the highest protections available.”

Lead pollution is a serious problem in northern Sonoma County, where several local airports, including the Sea Ranch, Healdsburg Municipal and Cloverdale Municipal, service small piston-engine powered aircrafts typically used for corporate and private travel. Such planes use aviation gas, the only remaining type of gasoline containing lead. According to the EPA, the more than 167,000 piston-engine planes in operation are responsible for nearly half of all lead emissions nationwide.

“There’s no excuse for allowing small planes to continue to poison Sonoma County’s air,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA needs to take immediate steps to reduce the dangerous threats posed by toxic lead.”

A 2011 Duke University study reported that as far back as 2010, EPA research showed that “the lead in air surrounding airports can be inhaled directly, or the lead may be ingested by children after it settles into soil or dust.”

The Duke study found that higher levels of lead were detected in North Carolina children living within half a mile of an airport where planes use leaded gas. The study concluded there was a “significant association” between leaded aviation fuel and higher blood lead levels in children.

Lead is a heavy metal that can persist in the environment indefinitely. Continuous exposure causes it to accumulate in the body’s organs and bones. Short-term exposure to lead can result in abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, memory loss, pain or tingling in the hands or feet and weakness. Long-term exposure can result in kidney and brain damage, hypertension, impairments to the immune and reproductive systems and even death.

Lead poisoning is also a threat to wildlife. Northern Sonoma County is home to endangered steelhead trout, as well as protected coho and Chinook salmon, which rely on the Russian River to spawn. The successful recovery and health of the Chinook salmon is critically important to Southern Resident killer whales, which depend almost exclusively on the fish as their food.

SOURCE: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2019/sonoma-county-lead-pollution-04-30-2019.php

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , ,

Greta Thunberg’s train journey through Europe highlights no-fly movement

Richard Orange, THE GUARDIAN

When Greta Thunberg stepped on to the platform at Stockholm Central station on Thursday after completing her European tour to raise awareness of climate change, an unassuming 69-year-old who runs a tiny travel firm was there to greet her.

Ivar Karlsson has found his business in the spotlight as appetite grows for alternatives to flying. It was Karlsson, whose company specialises in rail-only holidays, that Greta and her father contacted to book their trip, which took in stops in Strasbourg, Rome, London before heading back to Sweden.

The success of Sweden’s “flygskam”, or “flight-shame”, movement means that Karlsson struggles to respond to calls or emails from less high-profile customers than Greta. He said he had been working 16-hour days, nearly seven days a week, trying to meet the surge in demand, with bookings at his Centralens Resebutik agency increasing eightfold this January compared with two years ago.

“We were already stretched to a limit last year and now we’ve doubled that,” said Karlsson, who is based in the city of Kalmar. “If we had greater resources, then we could have done much more. The demand and interest is much, much bigger than we can cope with.”

Karlsson, his co-owner Maria Petersson, and their six permanent staff, have been unable to answer the volume of calls and emails coming in, leading to much grumbling on the Tågsemester (train holidays) Facebook group.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/26/greta-thunberg-train-journey-through-europe-flygskam-no-fly