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Op-Ed: New year resolution: a transparent Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Editor’s Note: The following was a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors by a coalition of citizens, associations and nonprofits in early January, and recently shared with us.

We are writing to you because we are gravely concerned that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor (BoS) appears to be moving toward less transparency rather than inclusion.

To begin addressing the issue, we respectfully request:

1) The Board of Supervisors form a Transparency Committee to ensure ease of public access to county documents, information, departments and the internet. This is particularly needed in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic; the board give direction to staff that public access is not to be unduly limited due to the pandemic; the board make its processes transparent and public friendly, as is required by law.

2) That all agenda items and key issues coming before the Board be made available to all board members at the same time they are provided to the chair; that preliminary agenda topics be available and posted with accurate descriptions on the county website and, where requested, available via the U.S Postal Service.

3) That the Ad Hoc Committee work of the board be recognized and open to the public. Ad Hoc Committees should have an expiration date when established, and have their single purpose described. They cannot be perpetual committees under the Brown Act.

4) That the Local Coastal Plan update, planning ordinance updates, and any consideration of major changes in the processes of the county (e.g. changes in terms of the chair) be postponed until public meetings are allowed. There appears to be no urgency that would require a Zoom update, recognizing that public input is necessary to make informed public decisions.

Despite the pandemic, citizens deserve open, transparent government.

The Santa Rosa City Council in December voted to approve a transparent government proposal that has labored through subcommittee and council consideration for six years. The impetus was mass public demonstrations against the shooting of teenager Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. The Council recognized that openness in government makes for a happier, more informed citizenry and better decision making.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: New year resolution: a transparent Sonoma County Board of Supervisors”

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Supervisor Gore Elected President Of CA Association Of Counties

Maggie Fusek, PATCH.COM

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore has been elected to serve as the 2020-2021 president of the California State Association of Counties, a statewide organization that serves as the voice of California’s 58 counties at the state and federal levels.

The CSAC election took place during the organization’s 126th Annual Meeting; Gov. Gavin Newsom inducted Gore and his fellow officers virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Throughout California, the historic has become commonplace and the unprecedented has become standard,” said Gore in his new role as CSAC president. “The rubber meets the road at the county level, and as CSAC President, I am committed and determined to protect our communities, our families and the future of California.”

In Sonoma County, Gore represents the constituents of the Fourth Supervisorial District, which encompasses Cloverdale, Windsor, Healdsburg, and portions of Santa Rosa, as well as the unincorporated communities of Geyserville, Fulton and Larkfield-Wikiup. The district is home to the Russian River, the Geysers, Lake Sonoma, and the premium wine growing regions of Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

Gore also holds several leadership positions with the National Association of Counties.

Prior to his election as CSAC president, Gore most recently served as the organization’s First and Second Vice President. He has also served on the association’s Board of Directors, Executive Committee and as Chair of the CSAC Resiliency Advisory Board.

Read more at:

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Sonoma County moves to give rural residents greater voice in local government

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday paved the way for creation of more regional citizens groups designed to give certain unincorporated areas a greater voice in local government and decision making.
The panels are meant to allow more neighborhood-level input and advice on such issues as roads and land-use planning, and result in recommendations to county supervisors, who are the only elected local representatives for many rural areas.
“This is really participatory democracy at its base level,” said Supervisor James Gore, pointing to his experience last year establishing a council for the Mark West area north of Santa Rosa.
While the community does not wish to incorporate, residents there do want to play a larger role in decisions shaping their community, Gore said.
Advisory councils will also help the county better manage small unincorporated communities, where supervisors become “the de facto mayor,” he said.
Supervisors Susan Gorin and Lynda Hopkins indicated they want to establish new councils along the Russian River, the Sonoma Coast and in The Springs area of Sonoma Valley. Some of the same areas — along the river and in Sonoma Valley — were once represented by appointed redevelopment committees, but those entities were dissolved in 2012 when the state eliminated redevelopment agencies.
Read more at: Sonoma County moves to give rural residents greater voice in local government | The Press Democrat

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Belden Barns environmental review questioned

At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, some residents of Sonoma Mountain Road challenged the findings and analysis of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) prepared for the Belden Barns winery and creamery project.
The Belden Barns development proposal, the first of its kind on Sonoma Mountain Road, is asking the county for a use permit for a facility that would process 10,000 cases of wine and 10,000 pounds of cheese. There would be public retail sales and by appointment tastings, and eight agricultural promotional events a year with 60-200 attendees.
Current structures on the property would be torn down, and 15,851 square feet of new buildings would be constructed – a production facility, tasting room, and employee housing unit.
The 55-acre property is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road, about one and a half miles east of the Pressley Road/Sonoma Mountain Road intersection.
The voluminous DEIR concluded that any environmental impacts could be reduced to a “less than significant level” with the implementation of mitigation measures, a finding that speakers at the July 19 Board of Supervisors meeting took issue with.
Specifically, speakers said that no efforts could mitigate the road safety issues on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 7.5-mile, two-lane road that is narrow and windy in places, and considered one of the worst roads in Sonoma County.
In addition, some speakers questioned the hydrology analysis of the DEIR and whether it accurately represented the project’s impacts on nearby water sources.
Also discussed by the public and board was the DEIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project as proposed, including eliminating the tasting room or having it be off-site, such as in Santa Rosa or Rohnert Park. Another alternative under review is one that eliminates the events component.
Throughout the entire time since the Belden Barns first filed their use permit request in 2012, a number of neighbors have been concerned about future development in the Sonoma Mountain Road area if Belden Barns was approved. Those concerns were voiced again at the July 19 hearing.
“Please keep in mind there are 16 vineyards in the immediate area that are in line to follow the Beldens,” said Donna Parker, who lives right across from Belden Barns. “And why not? They can make more money right where they are. So the precedent setting nature of this proposal cannot be ignored.”
The hearing on the DEIR was held to receive oral comments on the document. County planners and an environmental consultant have been receiving written comments as well. The next step involves responding to all the comments and bringing a final EIR back in front of the Board of Supervisor, who at that time will consider the overall merits of the project as well, likely this Fall.
That hearing will mark the second time the Board of Supervisors has been asked to approve the Belden Barns Project. By a 4-1 vote in November of 2014, the board approved the project. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin voted against issuing the use permit.
A group of Sonoma Mountain road residents, the Friends of Sonoma Mountain, soon filed a lawsuit against the county. In June of 2015, a settlement was reached, which required that an EIR be conducted. The settlement set aside the board’s initial approval of the project and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” a legal term barring Friends of Sonoma Mountain from suing again on the same claims.
Source: The Kenwood Press – Belden Barns environmental review questioned

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Green light for greenbelts

In a big year-end win for greenbelts, all five Sonoma County supervisors came out strongly in favor of extending voter protections for community separators and adding to them in 2016! Community separators are one of the important tools protecting the greenbelt lands between Sonoma’s cities and towns from sprawl development.
In a room filled with about 50 supporters wearing “Strengthen Community Separators” stickers, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to develop a ballot measure for November 2016 to renew county community separators. See the front page Press Democrat article for more.
All five supervisors also made a commitment to consider adding as many as 22,000 acres of priority greenbelts to community separators in a parallel public process through the General Plan. Hear it in their own words in this short KRCB radio interview.
Ballot Measure: The Sonoma County supervisors voted unanimously to develop a ballot measure to extend voter protections for the county’s eight community separators for the November 2016 general election.
The supervisors agreed to extend voter protections to existing and future community separators between unincorporated communities for 30 years, a strong new policy that opens the door to community separators between places like Forestville and Graton.
They decided to keep the voter protections linked to urban growth boundaries.  The revised policy maintains voter protections for community separators in perpetuity – as long as a city maintains voter protections for its Urban Growth Boundary. A uniform long-term expiry date for all community separators are more protective by preventing lapses in voter protections.
They did not agree to add any new designations through the ballot measure.
General Plan Amendment: The supervisors voted to designate priority greenbelts and consider designating other at-risk county lands by amending the General Plan in a parallel public process in 2016 for adoption no later than January 2017.
Please note that they will consider adding more than 22,000 acres of Sonoma County lands that qualify as priority greenbelts by the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The final acreage will be determined through the public process. Lands around Penngrove and Cloverdale will also be considered.
The supervisors agreed to modify some of the policies including the “commercial development” loophole that has allowed several community separators to shrink.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Op Ed: Is Big Wine the Big Oil of Sonoma County?

Op Ed: Is Big Wine the Big Oil of Sonoma County?

The Sonoma County wine industry is starting to look like big oil. Its leaders crow about preserving the environment when they have created an unmitigated environmental disaster. They recently received $374,000 of taxpayer money to implement “sustainability” in Sonoma County. A good thought. Suspicions arise when the first thing they did with their taxpayer grant was buy a full page ad and label themselves “sustainable.”
The history of the local wine industry is “Paint it green and buy the supervisors.” The industry is just too big to be told what to do by mere citizens or politicians. It just throws some more money at redefining the problem until it expires.
You be the judge. Sustainability is a stool with three legs: the environment, the economy and social justice. The wine industry will cut water use, cut chemicals and do lots of advertising telling us what a good job it did. It will come with a sack full of facts and figures to show it is in the right, but it will not change, if the past is to be judge.
The wine industry will not join the chorus in support of raising minimum wages, an essential part of sustainability. They want cheap workers. The industry will not provide housing. They never have beyond a few “floor show” units. They fail on the social justice aspect and must add a housing component and higher wage if they want to be sustainability advocates.
Are you up for it industry?
Environmentally, grape farming is predicated on killing all organisms and keeping them that way — dead. Poison nematodes, poison weeds, poison birds, poison critters. They clear-cut zones around the vineyard. The topsoil leaves Sonoma County vineyards to our waterways by the tons. Why no sheet mulching?
They continue to plant in riparian and wetland areas. Go to Mill Station Road near Atascadero Creek to see this sustainable approach. And, support for limiting wineries in “mapped water scarce areas” to protect neighbors, not a chance.
Read more at: Close to Home: Is Big Wine the Big | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County envisions small start in effort to help new farmers

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.

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Groundwater management plan approved

On October 7th the Sonoma County Water Agency Board of Directors adopted a Groundwater Management Plan (Plan) for the Santa Rosa Plain (Plain). The Plan sets a framework to locally and voluntarily manage groundwater resources.
The Plan was developed by the Basin Advisory Panel (Panel), a balanced stakeholder group. A comprehensive study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that found that the Plain is experiencing an average annual loss of stored groundwater, which, if not modified, could lead to issues such as declining or dry wells, reduced water flows in creeks and streams, and a loss of water supply flexibility. The Plan promotes activities and programs that aim to create sustainable groundwater levels in the Plain.
One of the first actions of the plan is to better characterize groundwater conditions by increasing streamflow measurements and voluntary groundwater level monitoring. This data will be used to prioritize groundwater sustainability projects and programs, such as rural water use efficiency programs and groundwater recharge projects.
The Plan will continue to be a living document that can adapt to changing conditions and new information. Plan Implementation is structured to encourage an open, collaborative and cooperative process for groundwater management activities.
To view a copy of the Plan or find ways you can be involved visit or email Project Manager Marcus Trotta at

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Supervisors give final approval to Ratna Ling expansion


A prolonged public hearing that highlighted divisions on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and in the rural community of Cazadero concluded Tuesday night with a 3-2 vote finalizing an expansion plan for a Buddhist retreat in the coastal hills.

The four-hour hearing before a crowd that spilled into a hallway focused on whether Ratna Ling Retreat Center’s book storage and printing press — the latter described by critics as an “industrial” facility — posed a fire hazard in the wooded hills.

But the vote, with Board Chairman David Rabbitt and Supervisors Efren Carrillo and Mike McGuire voting to approve the expansion plan, did not cover the press used to print Tibetan Buddhist texts. The county signed off on the press in 2004, according to a county planning staff report.

Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin applauded Ratna Ling’s goal of preserving sacred texts in four existing buildings on the Hauser Road property, but voted against the project, calling it a poor land use precedent in an era of prolonged drought.

via Supervisors give final approval to Buddhist printer's expansion | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Sonoma CoastTags , Leave a comment on Supervisors give Buddhist printer, retreat OK to expand

Supervisors give Buddhist printer, retreat OK to expand

EU: For more information on opposition to the Ratna Ling expansion, see Coastal Hills Rural Preservation.
A Buddhist retreat on the Sonoma Coast will be allowed to expand its bitterly contested printing operation after the Board of Supervisors, following a 6 1/2-hour hearing in a packed chamber, denied an appeal challenging its use permit.
The Ratna Ling Retreat Center has run a printing press — staffed by retreat attendees — to create Buddhist texts since 2005. The printing takes place in a plant half the size of a football field above Salt Point State Park, and is allowed only because it is considered a religious practice ancillary to the retreat.
via Supervisors give Buddhist printer, retreat OK to expand | The Press Democrat.