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

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , , ,

Belden Barns environmental review questioned

Alec Peters, THE KENWOOD PRESS
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

Teri Shore, GREENBELT ALLIANCE
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.
WHAT THE SUPERVISORS AGREED TO DO NEXT YEAR
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?

Ernie Carpenter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County envisions small start in effort to help new farmers

Sonoma County envisions small start in effort to help new farmers

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.

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on Groundwater management plan approved

Groundwater management plan approved

Press Release, SONOMA COUNTY WATER AGENCY
there's-a-drought-on
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 www.sonomacountywater.org/srgroundwater or email Project Manager Marcus Trotta at MTrotta@scwa.ca.gov.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sonoma CoastTags , Leave a comment on Supervisors give final approval to Ratna Ling expansion

Supervisors give final approval to Ratna Ling expansion

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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.
Jeremy Hay, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ratna-Ling
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.

Posted on Categories WaterTags , Leave a comment on Board of Supervisors takes next step toward fluoridating county water

Board of Supervisors takes next step toward fluoridating county water

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday pressed forward with a controversial plan to put fluoride into most of the county’s drinking water during an emotional hearing in which dozens of speakers debated whether the chemical compound is a panacea or a poison.

Dentists and other health care professionals, along with a larger, more vocal contingent of fluoride skeptics, packed board chambers for the marathon five-hour public hearing.

via Board of Supervisors takes next step toward fluoridating county water | PressDemocrat.com.

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Local OrganizationsTags , , , Leave a comment on County Creates Sonoma Clean Power

County Creates Sonoma Clean Power

CLIMATE PROTECTION CAMPAIGN
The Board of the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today created a joint powers authority to oversee Sonoma Clean Power, a proposed local program to buy and generate electricity for residents and businesses.
Three local organizations hailed the move and pledged to work with the new Sonoma Clean Power Authority, while cautioning that the power provider must be run like a competitive business venture rather than a government program. Climate Protection Campaign, Sonoma County Alliance, and the North Coast Builders Exchange each communicated their concerns to county officials.
“For Sonoma Clean Power to be successful in local job creation as well as greenhouse gas reduction, it must be run by proven energy entrepreneurs with a competitive mentality,” said Ann Hancock, Executive Director of the Climate Protection Campaign.
via County Creates Sonoma Clean Power | Climate Protection Campaign.