Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , ,

The wrong way to plan for cannabis cultivation

Ray Krauss and Craig S. Harrison, THE KENWOOD PRESS

On April 16, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to direct Permit Sonoma to address the severe compatibility problems with cannabis cultivation in rural neighborhoods. Last year the supervisors publicly committed to amending the cannabis ordinance to fix these problems, but ultimately failed to do much.

The supervisors need to acknowledge the fundamental problem. The primary reason there are so many “problem sites” with cannabis cultivation is that they turned the planning process upside down. Even if all problem sites today were denied permits, there will be more applications for new problem sites in the future.

The proper way to proceed is to identify sites that are suitable based on a set of planning criteria, not identify sites where there may be problems. That is how all other planning is done. For example, in preparing the General Plan and Zoning Maps, planners identify those areas where specified uses are environmentally suitable and compatible with surrounding uses. Thus, we end up with identified commercial zones, industrial zones, multi-residential zones (apartments and condos) and residential zones. Those areas not so identified do not allow any of these uses.

Similarly, the county should study its environmental and land use information and identify locations where cannabis grows are suitable based on criteria such as:

• Areas where public water and other necessary public services are available including power, sewer, storm water drainage, etc.

• If not on public water, areas located in a groundwater basin where water use will not impact environmental resources.

• Areas served by adequate and safe road access.

• Areas remote from incompatible residential sites.

• Areas remote from public and private schools.

• Areas remote from public and private parks, children’s camps, trails and other recreation sites.

• Areas easily secured and accessible to law enforcement.

• Areas free of extreme or high danger of wildfire.

• Areas free of landslides, flooding and other natural hazards.

• Areas free of rare and endangered or sensitive plants.

• Areas free of historic and/or archaeological resources.

• Areas free of important wildlife habitat and corridors.

• Areas free of other identified incompatibilities.

Once areas meeting these criteria are identified and mapped, planners would normally do an assessment of how much suitable land can be projected as reasonably necessary to meet current and future demand (20 years for a General Plan).

The proposed suitable areas are then presented to the public in hearings, and after considering all public comment, the planners select those areas where permits for grows will be considered.

Individual proposals are then evaluated to make sure that they indeed meet all of the necessary criteria. They go through the Conditional Use Permit and California Environmental Quality Act processes where the public has an opportunity to provide comment and participate in public hearings.

This is how planning has always been done. The county’s failure to undertake the appropriate planning process is why we have problems with grows in unsuitable areas. The county has never previously done planning for any other land use by asking for the public to identify unsuitable or problem sites. They always do an analysis and pick areas that are most likely to be suitable. The county’s approach is like allowing anyone to locate a junkyard anywhere unless enough neighbors show up after the fact and complain.

These controversies could have been avoided if the county had undertaken the usual, normal planning process that is applied to all other land uses. The proposed Phase II compatibility planning process should follow the normal and appropriate planning process described above.

The supervisors should never have assigned the planning effort to Economic Development instead of Permit Sonoma. Economic Development does not have the experience or expertise to manage the land use planning for cannabis grows.

The county got into its public controversy dilemma because it falsely assumed that cannabis grows are “just agriculture.” That’s like saying pig farms and dairies are “just agriculture.”

Most of the remote places proposed for commercial cannabis cultivation would otherwise only accommodate what is called “extensive agriculture.” Perhaps a few cattle at best. The sites in the Mark West Watershed would not be suitable for vineyards or any other intensive agriculture. Most wouldn’t even support grazing.

Growers use imported soil and heated containers in commercial structures with artificial lighting, none of which is normal agriculture.

Once the county assumed cannabis production is the equivalent of a vegetable garden (or a potato patch, as one county official opined) and ignored the accompanying huge water use, fire hazards, multiple employees, traffic generation, pesticide use, noxious odors, crime, and a plethora of other impacts that of necessity accompany cannabis production, the planning process went awry.

To address adequately the compatibility problems with rural neighborhoods, the supervisors need to acknowledge the impacts and quit trying to fit the round cannabis peg in the square “just agriculture” hole.

Ray Krauss is a retired environmental planner who lives in the Mark West Watershed.

Craig S. Harrison is a retired lawyer who lives in Bennett Valley.

Source: http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/10428?full=1

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags ,

Return of long-lost bees creating a lot of Presidio buzz

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The sudden appearance of buzzing insects around Brian Hildebidle’s feet as he surveyed a dune restoration project in the Presidio last week startled him and prompted alarming visions of volunteer workers fleeing from angry yellow jackets.

The stewardship coordinator for the Presidio Trust was about to run when he noticed the insects were a grayish color and swirling in a strange pattern close to the ground.

“I was really curious because I had never seen that flying pattern,” said Hildebidle, who leads volunteers on weekly weed-pulling and planting expeditions and is quite familiar with the park’s bug denizens.

The insects, which he said numbered in the hundreds, turned out to be silver digger bees, a rare sand-loving species that had not been seen in San Francisco in significant numbers for the better part of a century.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/Return-of-long-lost-bees-creating-a-lot-of-13725086.php

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags ,

Straus Family Creamery moo-ving from Marin, hoofing it to Sonoma County

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Strolling past his company’s aging creamery in Marshall on Thursday morning, Albert Straus called to mind a pasteurized version of Willy Wonka:

“We’ve got ice cream here, yogurt over there, and there’s the butter room” said the 63-year-old dairy farmer and CEO of Straus Family Creamery. “Our soft-serve ice cream is made in those vats.”

It won’t be for long.

On Monday, construction begins on the company’s new creamery, a $20 million, 70,000-square-foot structure in Rohnert Park. While the Marshall dairy plant produces 16,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one “will have the capacity to almost double that, and do it much more efficiently,” Straus said. That increased capacity is key: the 25-year-old company is expected to double in size over the next seven to 10 years, according to its founder.

With more and more North Bay dairy farmers switching to the production of organic milk in recent years, prices have softened considerably. Despite that glut, Straus Family Creamery has remained profitable, and is moving full speed ahead on its creamery upgrade.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9434361-181/straus-family-creamery-moo-ving-from

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

For second consecutive year, Sonoma County’s overall health ranking declines

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Read the full report here and explore rankings by county here

For the second year in a row, Sonoma County’s rank in a key national measure of community health and wellness has declined when compared with other California counties.

According to the 2019 County Health Rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, Sonoma County dropped to No. 8 in overall health outcomes of its residents among the state’s 58 counties, a slip from No. 7 in 2018 and a high of No. 5 in 2017.

The annual health ranking includes a variety of issues, such as premature death, low birth weight, education attainment, income inequality, smoking, obesity, insurance coverage and violent crime, in an attempt to show how health is influenced by where people live, learn, work and play.

This year’s nationwide health rankings report zeroed in on the burden of high housing costs and the effect on people’s health.

The report found that more than 11 percent of households in the United States spend more than half of their monthly income on housing costs.

In Sonoma County, 24 percent of county residents experience at least one of four problems with housing: overcrowding; high housing costs; inadequate kitchen and plumbing.

Read more at

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Jury awards $80 million to Sonoma County man who blamed Roundup for his cancer

Sudhin Thanawala, ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal court jury on Wednesday awarded more than $80 million in damages to a Sonoma County man who blamed Roundup weed killer for his cancer, in a potential milestone case his attorneys say could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar lawsuits.

Edwin Hardeman proved that Roundup’s design was defective, it lacked sufficient cancer warnings and its manufacturer, agribusiness giant Monsanto, was negligent, the six-person jury in San Francisco found.

It awarded Hardeman more than $5 million in compensation and an additional $75 million in punitive damages. Hardeman, 70, put his arm around his wife, Mary, as the verdict was read and hugged his attorneys.

Monsanto said studies have established that glyphosate, the active ingredient in its widely used weed killer, is safe. The company said it will appeal.

“We are disappointed with the jury’s decision, but this verdict does not change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic,” according to a statement from Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year.

Hardeman said he used Roundup products to treat poison oak, overgrowth and weeds on his North Bay property for years. The same jury previously found that Roundup was a substantial factor in Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9438003-181/jury-awards-80-million-to?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Shorter season imposed on California’s Dungeness crab fleet to safeguard whales

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California’s commercial crabbing fleet will be fishing significantly shorter seasons going forward and with greater safeguards in place to avoid ensnaring endangered marine life in potentially deadly gear under a legal settlement announced Tuesday.

The deal, reached between state regulators, environmentalists and representatives of the crab fleet, is meant especially to protect whales, some of them endangered, that feed in abundance during the spring off the Central and North Coast.

The framework unveiled Tuesday will cut the current season and future seasons by as much as 2½ months and mandate a near-constant watch on the entanglement risks posed to sealife. If those risks are too high, regulators could trigger mid-season closures of some areas.

“It’s been my view almost always we can do right by our natural resources and do right by Californians, and do it better together than in a courtroom,” state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said during a media call on the settlement.

Other parties to the deal included the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the state in 2017 over a sharp rise in the number of whale entanglements, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

To a large extent, the complex settlement reinforces and formalizes efforts already being developed by wildlife regulators and partners to ensure that imperiled wildlife and the crab fishery can thrive.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, whose North Coast district accounts for most of the state’s crab catch, one of California’s most lucrative fisheries, said the cooperation was a sign of the “extremely proactive” posture the state has adopted “to ensure California’s majestic whale population and our crabbing fleet can co-exist.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9433839-181/shorter-season-imposed-on-californias

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Santa Rosa council members reluctant to support Bay Area plan for affordable housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

CASA Compact website

Santa Rosa council members are looking sideways at a $37.5 billion plan to ease the Bay Area’s intractable housing crisis, voicing their reluctance to subsidize housing development in other areas when the city is seeking to resolve its own dire shortage.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday gave a chilly reception to a set of 10 reforms known as the CASA compact. It came less than two weeks after a panel of eight local elected officials announced its opposition over the regional plan to boost affordable housing — and about two months after the Rohnert Park City Council booted one of its own, Jake Mackenzie, from two notable posts for publicly backing it.

City representatives and planning officials have touted recent local efforts to attract new housing, such as increasing how many units can be built per acre, changing local ordinances to stimulate the building of secondary homes, slashing certain development fees and lifting limits on downtown building heights.

Gov. Gavin Newsom held up Santa Rosa’s housing efforts as a paradigm of “local governments that do what’s right” in his February State of the State address.

Santa Rosa already has done or is trying to take all the measures outlined in the CASA compact, Councilman Chris Rogers said. The city shouldn’t foot the bill so other Bay Area cities can play catch-up, and especially not in the wake of Santa Rosa voters rejecting a $124 million housing bond, he said.

“We’re asking the public to help fund things we are already doing in places that have not taken this as seriously,” Rogers said.

While some of the regional plan’s policies might work for San Jose or San Francisco, he said they might not make sense for towns like Cotati or Sausalito.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9416431-181/santa-rosa-council-members-reluctant

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , , , ,

Op-Ed: What will we do about Stony Point Road?

Eris Weaver, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Richard Burns. Lusiano Garcia. Mathew Eck. Jennell Davies. Sidney Falbo. Three pedestrians and two cyclists have been killed by motor vehicles on Stony Point Road within the past eight months.

That’s one death, on this one street, in this one city, every six weeks. At this rate, we could expect another fatality sometime around Cinco de Mayo.

What are we willing to do to stop these deaths?

After each of these incidents, law enforcement officers call for pedestrians and cyclists to change their behavior: Be more watchful, wear different clothing, walk farther to a crosswalk. Why do we immediately blame the victim?

These soft, unprotected human bodies were struck by heavy, fast-moving machines. Why aren’t we calling for changes in how and where and how fast we operate the machines?

These deaths are preventable. Yes, some of the victims made errors in judgment. But people do.

The Dutch — residents of the most bike-friendly country in the world — recognize human error in their urban design principles. They acknowledge that small children will run around erratically, drivers will become distracted, and they design for it. They separate fast-moving entities from slow-moving entities.

People will always do stupid things, but designing safer infrastructure can keep them from getting killed. For example, requiring seat belts and airbags has saved lives.

We can alter the width of lanes and the timing of lights; add physical barriers between cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles; add controlled crosswalks at those spots where people are crossing anyway because it’s where they need to go and they don’t want to walk an additional mile, and that’s what people do.

Why aren’t we taking this approach to improving safety on Stony Point Road?

We don’t even have to look to the Dutch across the Atlantic for examples of a different approach to traffic safety. We can just look across the Golden Gate.

Within one week of San Francisco cyclist Tess Rothstein’s death, a protected bike lane along the stretch of Howard Street where she was killed was created with temporary barriers. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has made it a priority to fast-track traffic safety projects on the city’s high-injury corridors.

Five deaths in eight months, and we’ve done nothing.

Our community can do better. I urge our city officials to take action now to prevent more deaths on Stony Point Road.

Eris Weaver is executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9417564-181/close-to-home-what-will?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories TransportationTags ,

With only 16 miles finished, cyclists upset by SMART’s delays in completing promised bike path

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly a year and a half since the North Bay rolled out its commuter rail, cyclists in the region feel slighted over how little of the paved path SMART promised along the tracks is finished.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit is scheduled to extend by year’s end its train operations more than 2 miles south to Larkspur, completing 45 miles of the planned 70-mile line that will eventually stretch up to Cloverdale.

However, just 16.2 miles of the separated bicycle and walking trail linking each of the stations has been built. That includes short segments totaling about 5 miles across Novato, San Rafael and Cotati completed in the past two years.

Another 1-mile segment northwest of the downtown Petaluma Station is set to be built this summer.

Still, that will represent about a third of the 54 miles SMART pledged as part of Measure Q, a ¼-cent sales tax hike Sonoma and Marin county voters approved more than a decade ago to create the North Bay commuter rail system. Another 16 miles of existing trail next to the train corridor is to receive upgrades.

Critics, including two cycling advocacy groups in the region that boast thousands of members, contend what’s accessible now falls far short of SMART’s obligation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9413042-181/with-only-16-miles-finished

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

US judge halts hundreds of drilling projects in groundbreaking climate change ruling

Cassidy Randall, THE GUARDIAN

In the first significant check on the Trump administration’s “energy-first” agenda, a US judge has temporarily halted hundreds of drilling projects for failing to take climate change into account.

Drilling had been stalled on more than 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming after it was ruled the Trump administration violated environmental laws by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions. The federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages US public lands and issues leases to the energy industry, to redo its analysis.

The decision stems from an environmental lawsuit. WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center sued the BLM in 2016 for failing to calculate and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from future oil and gas projects.

The agency “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing”, said Rudolph Contreras, a US district judge in Washington DC, in a ruling late on Tuesday. He added that the agency “must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” generated by past, present and future BLM leases across the country.

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/20/judge-halts-drilling-climate-change-trump-administration