Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

Petaluma ranchers beefing about slaughterhouse access

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS COURIER

Last month, Pam Torliatt loaded 25 grass-fed black Angus beef cows onto trucks and shipped them off for sale. The mass exodus represented a quarter of the herd she raised with partner Leo Ghirardelli on organic pastures in Tomales and Pepper Road west of Petaluma.

Since starting the Progressive Pastures label in 2006, Torliatt has peddled beef at Petaluma Market, giving local customers the satisfaction that their food was raised, harvested and sold within a 16-mile radius.

But all that is coming to an end after this year.

Marin Sun Farms, which owns the slaughterhouse on Petaluma Boulevard North — the only USDA-certified meat processing plant in the Bay Area — has informed ranchers that, starting in January, it will no longer process animals for private labels such as Progressive Pastures.

“This puts us out of the business of selling to the retail market,” said Torliatt, a former Petaluma mayor. “Knowing that our community is losing the ability to harvest locally, it’s going to have a tremendous impact on agricultural infrastructure. It’s going to have a negative affect on local agriculture.”

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/home/a1/10320684-181/petaluma-ranchers-beefing-about-slaughterhouse

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , ,

SMART to begin train service to new Larkspur and Novato stations in mid-December

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SMART plans to launch service to Larkspur, the rail system’s gateway to San Francisco via the nearby ferry, by mid- December after finishing testing on the extension, helping set the stage for an expanded schedule that agency officials branded “a game changer.”

The 2-mile extension is Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s first completed expansion since it began operating in 2017 on 43  miles of existing track from San Rafael to Santa Rosa’s northern outskirts. Completion is a watershed moment for the taxpayer-supported transit system voters approved in 2008. Design, construction and planning service took about 2½ years for the $55.4 million project that includes an accompanying bicycle and pedestrian pathway adjacent to the tracks that is expected to be finished by the end of next year.

The timing of the station’s opening next month and expansion of train service the first week of January is not lost on officials with SMART, who again seek voter support in March for renewal of the sales tax that funds the 2-year-old passenger rail system. Without extension of the commuter rail agency’s primary funding source about a decade early, staff has warned of a need to burn through financial reserves or make deep cuts to SMART’s workforce and service over the next three years.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10340941-181/smart-to-begin-train-service?ref=moststory

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

Santa Rosa homebuilders oppose potential natural gas ban on new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Homebuilders unhappy with Santa Rosa’s plans to prohibit most new homes from relying on natural gas voiced concerns Thursday that efforts to require electric appliances are moving too fast.

The city, one of dozens in California that could require new homes up to three stories to be all-electric, held a meeting to solicit feedback from local homebuilders before a City Council study session Tuesday.

The council has yet to vote on the issue, but the natural-gas ban’s inclusion in city discussions of building codes taking effect in 2020 has stirred up some in the building community who fear a hasty process could elicit negative reactions from customers who prefer gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces and heaters.

“We’re kind of assuming this is a done deal,” said Keith Christopherson, a prominent North Bay builder. “And I gotta tell you, the response that we’ve gotten from people is that they’re really P.O.’d.”

The push to ban gas appliances — a step already taken by Berkeley and being given serious consideration by other locales including Windsor, Petaluma and Cloverdale — is connected to California’s aspiration to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2045. That will necessarily involve ending the use of natural gas in buildings. Eliminating its use in new homes is a first step, while retrofitting existing buildings is a distant but implicit goal.

New state building codes set to take effect Jan. 1 already include a standard requirement for new homes to include solar panel arrays.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10063618-181/santa-rosa-homebuilders-urge-city?ref=related

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Kincade fire cleanup starts with county-funded hazardous waste removal

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As crew members with a private hazardous waste removal company loaded up pickings from one pile of ash Wednesday near Calistoga, two others made their way to another pile with specialized equipment in hand.

Wearing protective suits and respirators, the workers were testing the area for signs of radiation or toxic gases — a crucial first step before work would continue on this plot.

Before the Kincade fire roared through the area in late October, the piles of ash were buildings and homes on the LaFranchi Ranch. Wednesday’s work, which will extend to burned structures throughout the nearly 80,000-acre burn zone of Sonoma County’s largest fire, marked the start of the recovery.

“Once the fire is out, we need to figure out how to return the community to that safe and healthy environment it was previously,” Environmental Health Director Christine Sosko said.

The county-funded hazardous waste cleanup, estimated to cost $500,000-$750,000, is the first step in the recovery, Sosko said. The Kincade fire wasn’t the most destructive in county history, taking only 374  buildings, including  174 homes, compared to thousands lost just two years ago. But the toll is still extensive. Nearly everything on the LaFranchi property was lost.

When workers from Chico-based NRC Environmental Services picked through the rubble, they did so with some expertise and training, scanning the ruins for specific areas: the garage, the laundry room, places used to store cleaning products, paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials.

Anything crews picked out was transferred to plastic buckets, then carried to metal, 55-gallon drums to be hauled to an approved landfill.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10310444-181/kincade-fire-cleanup-starts-with

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Santa Rosa moves forward on plan to ban natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in early 2020, plans for most new Santa Rosa homes likely won’t include natural gas stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to require the exclusive use of electric appliances in most new residential construction below four stories. The measure, which will need a second vote of approval and the California Energy Commission’s backing in the coming weeks, will put the city in the company of Windsor, Berkeley and other local governments across California that have passed a type of natural gas ban in the name of curbing climate change.

The council’s vote came after PG&E shut off electricity to prevent wildfires four times in October, plunging thousands of Sonoma County homes into darkness and raising questions about the wisdom of eliminating natural gas from the range of possible home power sources.

But council members, who made confronting global heating a top priority earlier this year, didn’t waver from their pursuit of an all-electric requirement, which is more stringent than state law requires. Their decision was backed by supporters of climate action such as Chris Thompson, vice president of the Oakmont Democratic Club.

“We are in a state of emergency. We are running out of time,” Thompson said. “Electric homes are the future we need for ourselves, and especially for our children and our grandchildren.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10301069-181/santa-rosa-moves-forward-on

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

As bears move into Sonoma County, wildlife advocates seek to keep them safe, wild

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aaron Bennett’s thinking goes something like this: Black bears had long since claimed territory in the Anderson Valley lands where his parents established Navarro Vineyards decades ago, so when the family planted pinot noir at high elevation in the mid-1990s, it was the humans who would have to learn to share.

That’s why he, his parents and sister so willingly tolerate the nighttime visitors to their vineyard, even supplying a playful Winnie the Pooh soundtrack to a compilation video they’ve posted online documenting hungry bears roaming through the grapevines in recent months.

“I grew up on the ranch. I see the bears just as cohabitants of the land,” said Bennett, 41.

The bears eat a ton or two of grapes each season — perhaps as much as $10,000 worth. It’s a sizable hit, but “it’s not the bear’s fault that we put pinot noir on the hills,” Bennett aid.

But even he acknowledged his view of the situation is not one that’s universally shared.

Data from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reflects a sometimes adverse human-bear relationship in Mendocino County and other rural North Coast counties, where the bear population is particularly dense.

But that could change. And with the increased presence of bears around the wild edges of Sonoma County in recent years has come a budding movement to prepare for their expansion south, in a bid to keep them wild and safe.

The newly formed North Bay Bear Collaborative is the product of conversations going back several years, when early signs began to indicate that what had been mostly transient visitors were beginning to settle in year-round.

The aim is to help humans adjust to their new neighbors and head off any conflicts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10188029-181/as-bears-move-into-sonoma

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County drills wells to study groundwater sustainability

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The shallow wells Sonoma County’s water agency is drilling near 11 waterways have nothing to do with delivering water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties.

Instead, the 21 wells will serve as measuring sticks to determine whether pumping groundwater in the county’s three basins — the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley — is curbing the flow in creeks inhabited by federally protected fish and other species.

The $300,000 project is the latest consequence of a state law, enacted during California’s five-year drought, requiring long-term sustainability of underground water supplies that were heavily tapped during the prolonged dry spell.

And that means assessing the connection between surface water and groundwater and possibly, for the first time in state history, setting limits on use of well water by residents, ranchers, businesses and public water systems.

“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells will act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” county Supervisor Susan Gorin said in a statement.

Gorin is chairwoman of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which covers the basin seen as most susceptible to depletion. Local agencies were formed in 2017 in each of the county’s basins to implement mandates of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in 2015 amid the state’s historic drought.

Farming interests generally have taken a dim view of the increased monitoring and prospect of pumping limits. During the recent drought, when stream flows were greatly diminished statewide, Central Valley farmers especially drew heavily on groundwater at rates that officials said were unsustainable, risking a whole host of related environmental impacts — on drinking water, soil and wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10275251-181/sonoma-county-drills-wells-to

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , , ,

Studies criticize wineries’ effect on rural Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Click here for links to traffic studies

Sonoma County wineries should bear the bulk of the responsibility for improving relations with rural neighbors, according to a pair of recently released county studies calling for fewer events, more coordination and a higher standard of review for new or expanding wineries.

The studies, which waded into the county’s most persistent land-use fight, encompass three of the most popular wine growing and tasting areas: Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road, as well as Sonoma Valley. In the reports, GHD, a private company with offices in Santa Rosa and Walnut Creek, looked at traffic counts, crashes and other symptoms of a long-running battle over the character of rural Sonoma County and expansion of its signature industry.

The reports include some of the strongest criticism of the industry to emerge from the county’s prolonged look at wineries’ rural footprint, including the profusion of events and promotional activities now held by many winemakers. About 450 wineries exist in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Many in the wine industry are not convinced of the need for more strict regulations.

DaVero Farms and Winery owner Ridgely Evers said it’s about balance. The No. 1 problem is a lack of enforcement for current rules, he said. And bad actors will ignore more restrictive rules just like they do now, he added.

“This is a classic issue that you run into any time you intermingle residents and commerce,” said Evers, a 35-year county resident whose winery sits at Dry Creek Road and Westside Road, near the epicenter of the fight. “If you look at it from that perspective, obviously the right thing is some kind of balance.”

But neighbors say the study recommendations don’t go far enough to reduce cumulative impacts, and say many of the suggestions already are standard practice for nearly the past decade.

Judith Olney, co- chairwoman of Preserve Rural Sonoma County and chairwoman of the Westside Community Association, two organizations at odds with continued winery growth in rural areas, said recommendations like expanded shuttle service could actually increase traffic.

And she worries about undue influence from industry leaders, who want to authorize more winery events — and with them, more traffic, Olney said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10273278-181/sonoma-county-studies-take-issue