J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Nestled among wide rolling hills on the edge of the Two Rock Valley northwest of Petaluma, where generations of farmers have found fertile ground to support their livestock, the McClelland family’s vast open pasture provides ample room for cows to graze and scenic vistas that epitomize Sonoma County’s bucolic beauty.
Family members want their 330-acre property to stay that way forever, so the McClellands secured a deal with county officials this week to make it happen. Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved spending $1.88 million in taxpayer funds to conserve the property, ensuring it won’t be developed for housing and will remain as farmland.
The deal, about three years in the making, signals a landmark moment for the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, because the McClellands’ pasture connects seven other properties the county conserved over the past two decades.Including the latest pasture — known as Hansen Ranch after the family who owned it before the McClellands — the county has now formed a 2,900-acre contiguous stretch of protected farmland in the area, an effort meant to keep dairy farms and other agricultural uses thriving in the southwestern corner of the county.
Read more at: Sonoma County spends $1.88 million to protect McClelland family’s Two Rock pasture | The Press Democrat –
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Deep in northwestern Sonoma County’s thickly forested mountains, about 10 miles from the coast and a world away from the bustle of any population center, Mike Young walked beneath a towering canopy of redwood and Douglas fir trees he’s come to know well over the past several decades.
He was leading a small group last week on a tour of his remote property, an expanse of forest that feels untouched. The trees were too numerous to count and soared hundreds of feet into the sky.
Young stopped at one about 16 feet in diameter — so big that, when three people linked arms around it, they couldn’t get halfway around. Its height and age are a mystery.“It just goes on and on and on,” Young said, guessing it stands more than 250 feet tall and is several thousand years old.
The tree is in good company here on a string of properties acquired by members of the Howlett family beginning in 1949. The owners allowed only selective logging over the years, Young said. Spikes still stand out from tree trunks where the late George Howlett designated areas where logging couldn’t occur.
“Every time they cut a tree, it was like cutting a piece of his arm off,” Young said of George Howlett. When they did harvest trees, it was carefully done.“You could go in afterward and hardly tell where they’d been cutting,” Young said.
The result is this 1,380-acre property still encompasses a dense collection of massive trees, including old-growth redwoods, that are hard to find anywhere else in Sonoma County. So rare, in fact, that in late February, county supervisors — in their role as directors of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District — approved paying $4.5 million to eliminate development rights on the private property. The $6.1 million easement deal, including private and public grant money secured by the Sonoma Land Trust, was completed in April.
Read more at: Towering, remote Sonoma County forest preserved with $4.5 million from local taxpayers | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The meadow for 15 years has been marked by a prominent sign that declares it part of the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve supposedly managed by a partnership of the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the county Water Agency, the county itself and the city.
Bowing to intense political pressure from a group of Santa Rosa neighborhood activists, the chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to guarantee that a treasured undeveloped meadow near their homes won’t be paved over after the county sells the sprawling site of its old hospital complex to a housing developer.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said in an interview this week that she has not yet determined the best way to officially ensure the meadow and some surrounding land remain as open space. The options under consideration include removing the roughly 10-acre parcel from the sale entirely or striking a deal with the developer, Bill Gallaher, to maintain the land as a preserve.
The about-face represents a significant concession from Zane, who previously insisted that neighbors’ concerns about selling the de facto open space would have to be addressed by the city when Gallaher’s project passed through its planning process.
Neighbors, in response, mounted an aggressive campaign, consulting an attorney, filing extensive requests for years-worth of public records on the parcel in question and placing signs — knowingly or not — in Zane’s McDonald Avenue neighborhood and along her route to work.
“It was just time to say, you know, if we have to lose some money on this in terms of renegotiating the proposal, then that’s what we should do,” Zane said. She said the decision came Tuesday after county officials and supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss the sale, though that wasn’t the only factor.
Read more at: Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow up for sale in development deal | The Press Democrat
Tim Stafford, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Early in 2002, I asked then-Mayor Mike Martini if he would like to take a short hike on land that was coming up for a Santa Rosa zoning decision. I knew Martini casually because our kids went to school together. Like a lot of my neighbors, I had concerns about a developer’s plans to build houses on land where we had taken innumerable walks and where my children had spent many hours exploring. He accepted my offer, so on a rainy day I showed him the land.
I didn’t try to discuss the land-use decision with Martini, and he didn’t say much as we hiked. I had the impression, however, that he was stunned by the beauty he saw. That impression was ratified by his subsequent actions. Within days, he had talked to the major players involved and helped arrange for the Open Space District to buy the land.
The arrangement was celebrated as a win for everybody. The Press Democrat wrote an editorial citing it as a great example of government working together for the common good. Chris Coursey, then a columnist for the paper, wrote enthusiastically of the “little slice of wilderness” that had been preserved.
Joined to two adjacent parcels that run along Paulin Creek — one a small pie-shaped county-owned property known as Parcel J, the other a larger parcel owned by the Water Agency for flood control — the open-space property was named Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve and shown on Open Space District maps. A large sign at the head of Beverly Way, the only road access to Parcel J, was put up by a county agency stating the existence of Paulin Creek Preserve as an entity preserved by multiple government agencies and urging that it be used with care. We neighbors believed the matter was settled forever.
In Coursey’s column, he quoted Martini saying, “I didn’t know places like this existed in Santa Rosa anymore.” Fifteen years later, it still does. But it may not, if the county’s plan to include Parcel J in the sale of the old Sutter Hospital property goes through. Parcel J has nothing to do with the hospital properties. They are adjacent, but they don’t access each other, not even on foot. But Parcel J is critical to the Paulin Creek Preserve. Without it, the other two properties are cut off from each other.
To be clear, the neighbors trying to separate Parcel J from the land sale have no objection to the development of the hospital lands. We know that housing is needed, and even though we live very close to that potential development, we aren’t opposed to it. What we hope to preserve is the small, beautiful swath of meadow and oak-studded hills, the wetlands and the creek that make up the Paulin Creek Preserve.
Read more at: Close to Home: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.
Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.
But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.
A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”
Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Open space planning public meetings – All meetings are 6-8 p.m.
March 14: Healdsburg Community Center, Healdsburg
March 15: El Molino High School library, Forestville
March 21: Petaluma Community Center, Petaluma
March 29: Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building dining room, Santa Rosa
March 30: Finnish American Home Association – Heritage Hall, Sonoma
More information: sonomaopenspace.org/vital-lands
Hoping to set a commanding agenda for conserving its landscapes, Sonoma County’s taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is launching its broadest, most extensive planning effort ever to guide its work for the next 15 years.
The open space district on Tuesday will mark the start of its so-called Vital Lands Initiative. Community outreach will include five public meetings throughout the county this month as officials gather input on how best to steward the county’s preserved farmland and natural spaces.
It’s the district’s most ambitious planning project in more than a decade — and likely its most wide-ranging such undertaking ever, according to general manager Bill Keene.
“It’s in all aspects of our work in protecting agricultural land, greenbelts, scenic hillsides, recreation, natural resources and watersheds,” Keene said. “It’s really going to cover everything we do.
Read more at: Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever | The Press Democrat
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Martina Morgan’s black hair whipped about as she gazed out from Stewarts Point in northwest Sonoma County this week at a stunning expanse of Pacific Ocean.
Far below her, waves crashed on a rock-strewn beach where Morgan and her great-grandfather gathered shellfish, seaweed and other dietary staples of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Leonard Marrufo is gone now, but the rope the pair relied on to rappel down the 70-foot cliff to access the beach is still there, attached to a wooden post buried deep in the bluff.
Now vice chairwoman of the Kashia tribe, Morgan said the site between Jenner and The Sea Ranch is sacred ground for the tribe’s 1,000 members, the place where they believe their creator sent down spirits with explicit instructions that they take only what they need and leave the rest.
“That’s our island,” Morgan said, pointing to a large flat-top rock she said her ancestors climbed to access the land.
The tribe’s special connection to what Morgan referred to as “the beginning place” is part of a historic new land use agreement for Stewarts Point Ranch that marries elements of cultural preservation, habitat protection, outdoor recreation and economic development through logging.
Those wide-ranging provisions comprise a $6 million conservation easement recently purchased for Stewarts Point Ranch by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and other public and private agencies.The deal encompasses 868 acres of coastal land that incorporates about a mile of coastal bluff north of Salt Point State Park and extends inland for some 2 miles across grazing lands and mountains straddled by dense forest, including 100 acres of scattered old-growth redwoods skirting more than a mile of the Gualala River.
Read more at: Sonoma Coast’s Stewarts Point becomes part of historic agreement for coastal ranch | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A large illegal marijuana farm trashed part of a remote section of land owned by Sonoma County’s open space district, requiring what is expected to be a costly cleanup and highlighting once more the scourge of renegade pot operations on public land.
The now-abandoned plot, which county officials estimated had more than 1,000 pot plants, was discovered by an ecologist about four months ago on the former Cresta Ranch, which takes in steep, forested land northeast of Santa Rosa. The public property is among some 1,000 acres of land designated to one day become the Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.
Sonoma County supervisors voted Tuesday to pursue $50,000 in grant money from CalRecycle, the state solid waste agency, to help repair the site. The Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District would tap its sales tax revenue for a similar amount to help cover the estimated cleanup cost.
The decision Tuesday, which included the first public report on the pot farm’s discovery, comes as local voters are already casting mail-in ballots for Measure A, a proposed cannabis business tax that is the only countywide issue in the March 7 special election. Measure A funds are intended to help cover the cost of implementing the county’s new medical marijuana regulations and would assist with cleanup of illegal sites like the one found at the former Cresta Ranch, officials said.
Read more at: Sonoma County advances cleanup of illegal pot operation on public open space | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Supplemented by local funding, the venture aims to boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries.
A coalition of Sonoma County resource agencies has been awarded $8 million in federal funds to advance an ambitious series of conservation projects intended to improve water supply and quality and enhance wildlife habitat on local agricultural lands.
The efforts will take in vineyards and farmland and aim to reduce erosion, boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries while restoring habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species.Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is the lead agency and will contribute $14 million of the $15.8 million local match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
Most of the funding will go toward the purchase of conservation easements on farmland along key stream corridors and in areas where flood plains and groundwater basins can benefit.
One objective is to fortify the water supply for growers and wildlife in the face of drought and amid the uncertainty posed by climate change.
Read more at: Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County officials are scaling back their ambitious plan to expand agricultural production on thousands of acres of county-owned land and public open space after the initial effort largely fell apart, with much of the acreage deemed too pricey or environmentally sensitive to be used for farming.
The initiative, launched four years ago, originally called for opening up as much as 1,900 acres on vacant county-owned lots, county park and open space land to budding farmers for crop production and livestock grazing.
But government officials charged with advancing the effort said they ultimately found only one of 17 identified sites suitable for developing as farmland at this point. Most of the vacant parcels lack sufficient water supplies, and many of the park properties contain sensitive wetlands or other wildlife habitat, including land covered by protections for the endangered California tiger salamander, according to Stephanie Larson, director of the University of California Cooperative Extension for Sonoma County.
Still, officials said they did find one grassy 45-acre plot on the eastern edge of Rohnert Park that could serve as a good proving ground for farmers just getting into the business. The idea, unveiled at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, is to lease plots to budding farmers and ranchers who are interested in growing produce or raising livestock, akin to the business incubators that help entrepreneurs with funding and expertise to advance their ideas.
Supervisors this week endorsed the concept, pointing out that the county will benefit threefold — by supporting agriculture, encouraging a new generation of farmers and boosting the amount of food grown locally.
Read more via Sonoma County envisions small start in effort to | The Press Democrat.