Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , ,

Monarch butterfly population critically low on California coast – again

Associated Press, THE GUARDIAN

Study finds 29,000 butterflies, compared with 4.5 million during the 1980s, as experts point to habitat destruction

The western monarch butterfly population wintering along California’s coast remains critically low for the second year in a row, a count by an environmental group released Thursday showed.

The count of the orange-and-black insects by the Xerces Society, a not-for-profit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey. That’s not much different than last year’s tally, when an all-time low 27,000 monarchs were counted.

“We had hoped that the western monarch population would have rebounded at least modestly, but unfortunately it has not,” said Emma Pelton, a monarch conservation expert with the Xerces Society.

By comparison, about 4.5 million monarch butterflies wintered in forested groves along the California coast in the 1980s. Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in the Western US due to the destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases.

Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile migration synced to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/22/monarch-butterfly-population-decline-california-coast

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Montage Healdsburg resort developer recommended for $4.9 million fine for environmental violations

Mary Callahan & Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a luxury Healdsburg resort faces a record $4.9 million fine for egregious environmental violations after allowing an estimated 6.6 million gallons of sediment-laden runoff to leave the construction site during heavy rainfall last winter, threatening already imperiled fish species in tributaries of the Russian River.

Staffers for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board documented 38 violations of the federal Clean Water Act between October 2018 and May 2019 by developer Robert Green Jr., the owner of Montage Healdsburg, previously known as Saggio Hills.

The violations — hundreds of examples of them — were observed during repeat inspections, despite warnings to the developer of inadequate efforts to control erosion and runoff at the 258-acre site, according to regulatory documents.

Board personnel twice suspended construction through work stoppage orders, yet deficiencies still were abundant once crews were given permission to resume work, regulators said.

Even though there were points at which improvements were made, erosion control measures such as straw wattles and coverings for bare, exposed ground were not maintained, said Claudia Villacorta, the water quality control board’s prosecution team assistant executive officer.

Eventually, the controls were removed while wet weather still lay ahead so that a storm that came through in mid-May rained on the landscape without anti-erosion measures in place, she said.

“We felt like the conduct was, frankly, grossly negligent,” Villacorta said by phone. “They repeatedly failed to take action, implement effective practices, and I think that’s the reason why the penalty — the proposed fine — was significant.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10619065-181/montage-healdsburg-resort-developer-recommended

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Trump removes pollution controls on streams and wetlands

Coral Davenport, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands and groundwater, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.

From Day 1 of his administration, President Trump vowed to repeal President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” regulation, which had frustrated rural landowners. His new rule, which will be implemented in about 60 days, is the latest step in the Trump administration’s push to repeal or weaken nearly 100 environmental rules and laws, loosening or eliminating rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and endangered species protections.

Although Mr. Trump frequently speaks of his desire for the United States to have “crystal-clean water,” he has called his predecessor’s signature clean-water regulation “horrible,” “destructive” and “one of the worst examples of federal” overreach.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” he told the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Texas on Sunday, to rousing applause.

“That was a rule that basically took your property away from you,” added Mr. Trump, whose real estate holdings include more than a dozen golf courses. (Golf course developers were among the key opponents of the Obama rule and key backers of the new one.)

His administration had completed the first step of its demise in September with the rule’s repeal.

Mr. Trump’s replacement, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” finishes the process. It not only rolls back key portions of the 2015 rule that had guaranteed protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act to certain wetlands and streams that run intermittently or run temporarily underground, but also relieves landowners of the need to seek permits that the Environmental Protection Agency had considered on a case-by-case basis before the Obama rule.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/climate/trump-environment-water.html?searchResultPosition=2

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

Gallaher Homes executive spends $500,000 to derail SMART sales tax citing broken promises

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A stunning infusion of money from an unexpected source has rocked SMART’s campaign to renew the sales tax that subsidizes the commuter rail line running between Sonoma and Marin counties.

Molly Gallaher Flater, daughter of prominent Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, contributed more than $500,000 to defeat Measure I — and suggested she would be willing to double the amount to kill the March sales-tax extension the rail agency projects would raise nearly $2.4 billion over 30 years to operate and expand service.

“If I end up spending $1 million to save our community taxpayers from a $2.4 billion mistake then I feel it is worth every penny,” Flater said in a written statement Thursday.

Novato resident Mike Arnold, an economist and longtime critic of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, said he was approached by Gallaher in October about funding a campaign against the tax measure, and met his daughter for the first time this week. When he learned the size of Flater’s donation, his reaction was astonishment.

“How’s falling out of my tree? Are you kidding me?” Arnold said Thursday. “I’d never heard of the Gallahers. They’re running the campaign, I’m just the technical advisor.”

The financial contribution blindsided SMART officials and members of the Yes on Measure I campaign. They expressed dismay Thursday at the prospect a single donor could jeopardize the future of the public transit system’s primary revenue stream for decades to come.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10595957-181/wealthy-donor-spends-500k-to

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

Developer Bill Gallaher sues Santa Rosa over natural gas ban as city doubles down on climate goal

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa has a new goal of drastically reducing or offsetting its carbon emissions by 2030, a target set by city leaders this week hours after discussing one of many fronts in Santa Rosa’s fight to shrink its climate footprint: a lawsuit over the city’s pending natural gas ban for new homes.

The City Council in November, seeking to curb future use of fossil fuels in houses, unanimously approved the ban over the objections of home builders, who fear higher prices for all-electric homes will deter buyers. Some concerned residents also pointed to the recent reliance on natural gas during the series of prolonged power outages imposed last fall by PG&E to prevent its equipment from starting wildfires.

The city’s prohibition, which needs approval from state regulators, requires most new homes three stories or less to use appliances — stoves, water heaters, dryers — that run on electricity instead of natural gas.

But the ban now faces a lawsuit from local developer Bill Gallaher, owner of a Windsor-based home building company and a chain of senior living facilities located across California and Nevada. He and a development group also lodged separate lawsuits against Windsor last year over its natural gas ban, which is similar to the measure advanced in Santa Rosa. Dozens of municipalities in the state have considered or adopted a similar ban.

All three suits are pending in Sonoma County Superior Court. At least one mandatory settlement conference on the litigation against Windsor has taken place, and another such meeting with Santa Rosa is set for early February.

Santa Rosa council members discussed Gallaher’s lawsuit Tuesday in closed session, directing City Attorney Sue Gallagher to defend the city’s ordinance. In the open portion of the same meeting, the council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency and setting the citywide goal of carbon-neutrality by 2030 through a combination of reducing emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“I do think it would be a dereliction of duty if we did not take individual and systemic actions to curb our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Councilman Chris Rogers.

At his direction, city staff will develop a public tracker so residents — many of whom urged the council to take action Tuesday — can follow the city’s progress toward achieving its climate goals. In an interview Friday, Rogers noted that city officials were aware of the potential threat of litigation when they voted unanimously to adopt the natural gas ban and that the city might have to fight a lawsuit as a result.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10587634-181/developer-bill-gallaher-sues-santa

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

After another record-breaking year, Sonoma County airport adding more flights on established routes

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Commercial carriers operating out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport will add four direct fights on existing routes early this year, building on the growth in local air travel after another record-breaking year for passenger numbers in and out of Santa Rosa.

American Airlines will add a second daily flight next month to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The world’s largest airline launched service from Santa Rosa to its Phoenix hub in February 2017, and will increase service Feb. 13 with an evening flight, supplementing its existing early afternoon departure.

American Airlines also is set to resume its flights in April to Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles International airports. The routes debuted last summer as seasonal offerings but passenger counts were high enough on each flight that the airline is planning to offer them year-round this year, according to airport officials.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10590414-181/after-another-record-breaking-year-sonoma

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags , , , ,

Experts fear Trump’s weakening of environmental policy could expose North Coast to drilling

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A move by the Trump administration to roll back landmark environmental policy intended to ensure vigorous scrutiny of federal infrastructure projects has struck alarm in the hearts of California conservationists, particularly those striving to safeguard North Coast waters from offshore energy exploration and production.

Proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act would have sweeping effects nationwide, wherever there is federally built, funded or permitted construction or activity. Examples include mining on federal lands, construction of federally funded highways, or work on interstate gas pipelines or federal dams. But on the North Coast, where residents enjoy some of the most scenic and productive ocean waters on Earth, a coastline already subject to renewed drilling pressures and proposed wind generation facilities may be at greater risk if the NEPA revisions go through, experts say.

“Obviously, it’s going to have dramatic impacts on the whole offshore drilling equation,” said Richard Charter, senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and a Sonoma Coast resident.

That’s especially true given increased instability in the Middle East due to tension between the United States and Iran, which could move the White House to try to fast-track plans to reopen the North Coast to oil drilling, he said.

“It’s quite frightening,” said Cea Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk California, headquartered in Sonoma County.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10571585-181/experts-fear-trumps-weakening-of

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , , ,

Sonoma County reviewing pitches for two large hotel projects near Santa Rosa airport

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Developers are proposing to build a pair of large hotels near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, more than tripling the number of hotel rooms to serve travelers at the growing transportation hub.

The two projects, each more than 100 rooms, could help the Santa Rosa airport draw more regional travelers who currently head to Bay Area hubs in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and even east to Sacramento to catch their flights, according to local airport and economic development officials.

The developments, which would open next year, are working their way through the county’s permit review process. The first, a six-story, 166-room luxury Hyatt Place, would offer conference rooms, a roof deck and restaurant about 300 yards away from the airport. The second, a four-story, 101-room Tru by Hilton, would be located near the Highway 101 offramp.

They would join the existing hotel near the airport, a 90-room Hilton Garden Inn next to the highway that also provides meeting spaces for guests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10571140-181/sonoma-county-reviewing-pitches-for

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

Recent wildfires inspire builders to make homes more fire resistant

Matt Villano, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On a ridge above Geyserville, one new house stands alone in the burn zone.

The home, roughly 80% finished when the Kincade fire roared through the area in late October, is perfectly intact — not a single shingle out of place. Everything around it is black and charred.

Yes, firefighters beat back flames to protect the structure. But the home also saved itself.

Tempered windows withstood extreme temperatures and did not shatter. Fire-retardant siding made with cement stopped flames from overtaking the exterior. A metal roof prevented embers from penetrating the top. On top of this, a total of 100 feet of defensible space around the house minimized the likelihood that the place would catch fire.

In short, teams from Santa Rosa general contractor HybridBuild developed the 2,000-square-foot home to withstand a major wildfire and it did.

“The fire couldn’t take the house because of the upgrades,” said Tony Negri, co-owner of the company. “You could look at what happened and say, ‘They got lucky,’ and they did, but really it was just a case of some of these extra (innovations) working the way they were supposed to work.”

The Geyserville house is a perfect example of how careful construction and an emphasis on fire resilience can put homes in a better position to withstand the onslaught of a raging fire.

Put differently, as climate change and other, naturally occurring factors wreak havoc on Sonoma County ecosystems, the anecdote offers textbook examples for the kinds of features and construction methods that homes of the future likely will need as wildfires become a more regular part of our collective reality.

“Nature (will) always be in charge,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. “We can no longer afford to armor our way out of risk with concrete, steel and bunkers. We need to respect nature and work with it.”

As Wick suggested, a key component to making homes more resilient is preparing for the worst.

For many developers, this means abiding by rules and regulations for building in what is known as the Wildland-Urban Interface, or WUI. (Contractors colloquially refer to this as woo-ey.)

These rules are laid out in Chapter 7A of the California Building Code. Currently, at least in Sonoma County, this means all new structures must be “built with exterior construction that will minimize the impact on life and property and help structure to resist the intrusion of flames and burning embers projected by a wildland fire and contributes to a reduction of losses.”

Contractors have responded by implementing several different tools and products to “harden” homes to fire. Negri’s company has turned to tempered glass windows, metal roofs and fiber cement siding. One particular project, a spacious new home under construction in downtown Healdsburg, features fiber cement siding.

Other firms have experimented with rammed earth construction, as well as Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) products such as Rastra blocks, which are made with foam, and Faswall blocks, which are made with wood chips and particles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/specialsections/rebuildnorthbay/10484149-181/rebuilding-sonoma-county-making-the

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

Induction cooktops becoming popular as eco-friendly option

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For technology that has been available since the 1950s, induction cooking sure looks futuristic.

Place a pot on a smooth, glass surface, touch a pad to turn on and watch liquid boil in under a minute. Like an electric glass-top stove, there is no obvious burner. With induction, if you touch the surface, it will feel warm but it won’t burn your fingers. Place paper on it and it won’t catch on fire, or even get hot. Walk away and it will turn itself off.

It all looks like a magic trick. But this form of electrical heat conduction is for real, and finally, after more than 60 years, it’s gaining traction among consumers and builders interested in clean energy and energy-efficient appliances.

“It’s fantastic,” said convert Clio Tarazi of Santa Rosa, who was an early adopter nine years ago. Her husband is from Germany and was familiar with induction. Europe has used it for years.

“I was really tired of those gas cooktops. They’re so hard to clean. And they clog and flare up. When my husband suggested looking at induction, at first I was resistant. But then when I saw how responsive it is, oh, my god. Problem solved. It’s so easy to clean and maintain.”

Like a high-performance engine, induction has a rapid response. It will boil water in a fraction of the time regular electricity or gas requires. Similarly, when you turn it down from boil to simmer, you don’t suffer the messy boilovers while you wait for the liquid to cool down.

While still not the cheapest option, the price of induction ranges and cooktops, once beyond the imagination of most homeowners, has dropped dramatically in the last few years. And with the availability of portable induction burners for under $100 at common retailers, more and more, people are able to test and ultimately turn on to the ease and safety of cooking with a method that doesn’t heat the burner but the pot itself.

Instead of an open flame, an induction cooktop uses an electric current passed though a coil of copper under a glass surface. This creates a magnetic field that wirelessly induces an electrical current in the pot only.

Richard Landen, a salesman for Asien’s Appliance in Santa Rosa, said he used to sell perhaps two induction cooktops a year. Now more customers are asking for them, he said, particularly with all the rebuilds in Sonoma County providing an opportunity for creating greener homes.

Old tech made new

The first patent for an induction cooker was introduced in 1909. It wasn’t until 1933, however, that Frigidaire introduced it to the public at the Chicago World’s Fair. But the timing was off. It was the depths of The Depression, a time when not everyone had even shifted from coal and wood to electric stoves.

Westinghouse tried to market induction in the 1970s with the Cool Top 2 (CT2) Induction range, priced at $1,500 (more than $8,000 in today’s dollars). It included a set of high-quality cookware made of Quadraply, a new laminate of stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum and another layer of stainless steel. But production was halted after two years when the company merged with White.

The technology continued to simmer on the back burner of the market for several decades. But in recent years, rising interest in clean energy over natural gas has brought new attention to an old technology. And with solar power becoming more commonplace, consumers are finding the price savings of gas over electricity is not so significant anymore.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/10539572-181/induction-cooktops-becoming-popular-as