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Two major southwest Santa Rosa developments set for review

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A landmark Roseland project featuring new housing and public space is poised to move forward while another nearby planned subdivision appears stalled ahead of hearings before the Santa Rosa Planning Commission this week.

The commission will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to consider the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center project and the Dutton Meadows subdivision in southwest Santa Rosa. The two projects combined could create up to 386 new housing units in the least developed corner of Santa Rosa.

Trumark Homes initially proposed building more than 100 townhomes on about 18 acres it bought nearly two decades ago near Hearn Avenue and Dutton Meadow, a project the city approved in 2006. However, the San Ramon-based developer abandoned the project because of the recession.

Environmental studies already were taken care of, he said, but “the project never penciled” out, said Robin Miller, Trumark Homes planning director. The Dutton Meadows project was revived after the 2017 wildfires, he said.

The current proposal calls for up to 130 single-family homes and 81 detached secondary housing units, with about 20 of the homes designated as affordable housing.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9322585-181/two-major-southwest-santa-rosa

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Board of Supervisors approves mining amendment, employee fire leave, more

Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday heard public comment on six lawsuits against the county, approved an amendment to the county’s mining ordinance and granted county employees affected by the fires 40 hours of leave time.

Friends of Chanate

The Supervisors received public comment on six lawsuits against the county before discussing the cases behind closed doors. One of the suits, Friends of Chanate vs. County of Sonoma, alleges that the County gave a local developer a sweetheart deal in its sale of a plot of public land.

Friends of Chanate argues that Bill Gallaher, a local developer, bought the 82-acre parcel of county land for between $6 and $12.5 million, far below the assessed value of the land, $30 million.

“That property was worth more than $6 million, even if you build only 40 luxury homes on the land,” a Friends of Chanate member said during the public comment period.

In late July, a judge in the lawsuit canceled the sale, disagreeing with the County’s assessment that the land deal was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Mining Ordinance Amendment

The Board of Supervisors amended a sentence of the County’s Mining Ordinance to “clarify that setbacks to critical habitat do not retroactively apply to quarry sites” affected under a new definition of critical habitat passed as part of the 2012 General Plan.

The amendment will allow two quarries located within 47,383 acres defined as Tiger Salamander critical habitat based a map from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to operate.

The two affected quarries – Stony Point Quarry and Roblar Road Quarry – were granted permits to operate before the new rules went into effect.

Stony Point Quarry has been active for 90 years while Roblar Road Quarry received permission to operate in 2010, before the new definition was passed, according to a staff report.

“There was never any expectation that the setbacks would apply to these quarries, and these setbacks were not intended to apply retroactively,” the staff report states.

John Barella, the owner of the quarry, first applied to develop the land in 2003 but the project has been significantly delayed by environmental lawsuits. In 2014, a three-judge panel approved Barella’s plans in a lawsuit brought by the Citizens Advocating for Roblar Rural Quality.

In 2017, Barella restarted the process of applying forpublic approval for the quarry and applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year.

When asked by Zane why the item was before the board, a county staff member said that Roblar Road Quarry “will be proposing some changes to their conditions of approval and you will see that project come before you next month.”

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-board-of-supervisors-september-11-2018

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Local habitat may be at risk

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Trump administration is seeking to alter key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a 45-year-old federal law that has shaped growth in Sonoma County during repeated battles between builders attempting to develop land and environmentalists seeking to protect rare plants and animals.

Federal officials contend the changes to the act — which protects local species like the coho salmon and the California tiger salamander — will streamline and improve it. Local environmentalists have called them a “coordinated attack” on science that could push fragile species into extinction.

The act, passed in 1973 during the Nixon presidency with strong bipartisan support, protects critically imperiled species and their habitats. In Sonoma County, development conflicts have arisen over those species, sometimes requiring costly mitigation measures for projects to advance. But the law has also been a salvation for wildlife on the North Coast, like the gray whale, the bald eagle and osprey, said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

A major change would eliminate language instructing officials to ignore economic impacts when determining how wildlife should be protected.

Other reforms include changing limits on the designation of critical habitat — areas with biological or physical features necessary for the conservation of a species. It also seeks to end to the automatic regulatory process that gives threatened plants and animals the same protection as those listed as endangered, and streamlines consultation between agencies when actions from the federal government could jeopardize a species.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8551721-181/sonoma-county-awaits-clarity-on

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Santa Rosa settles salamander dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa reached a settlement with a litigious local environmental group that threatened to sue over the city’s management of land that may be habitat for endangered tiger salamanders.

The city recently agreed to pay $25,000 to Sebastopol-based California River Watch, which has been pressuring government agencies for decades to comply with environmental regulations such as the federal Clean Water Act.

In this case, the group alleged the city may have violated the federal Endangered Species Act, improperly managing its agricultural properties in the Santa Rosa Plain near the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

The city denied any wrongdoing. But it agreed to settle after concluding it would likely pay more to challenge the group in court, said Mike Prinz, a deputy director of Santa Rosa Water.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8362344-181/santa-rosa-settles-salamander-dispute

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife finally produces recovery plan for the California tiger salamander in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A federal plan for preserving the endangered California tiger salamander and three wildflower species calls for the purchase of 15,000 acres of land in the Santa Rosa Plain for an estimated $385 million over the next 50 years.
The 144-page plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not legally binding on any public or private landowners, but serves as a road map for recovery of the black-and-yellow amphibian that has frustrated Sonoma County builders and piled millions of dollars onto the cost of major developments, like the expansion of runways at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
But biologists are committed to saving the seldom-seen salamanders that have lost more than 80 percent of their habitat, primarily because of urban growth that has intensified over the past 20 years, according to the federal blueprint.
“With a recovery plan we can fight threats like habitat destruction that have pushed these salamanders to the brink of extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, the conservation group whose lawsuit in 2012 prompted work on the plan released Monday by the federal wildlife agency.
The federal document aims to bolster three endangered flowering plants — Sonoma sunshine, Burke’s goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam — that grow only in seasonal wetlands.
The size of the salamander population is difficult to estimate, given the animal’s reclusive habits, but its historic range in Sonoma County of about 100,000 acres has been pared to about 20,000 acres of “fragmented habitat,” the plan said.
Tiger salamanders inhabit the Santa Rosa Plain, a narrow band of land from Cotati to Windsor, with a concentration of the amphibians between southwest Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.
“They are in trouble,” said Josh Hull, a recovery division chief for Fish and Wildlife. The species’ endangered classification means they are “likely to become extinct in the foreseeable future.”
Read more at: Feds say $385 million needed to save California tiger salamander, endangered plants on Santa Rosa Plain | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , , Leave a comment on 167-home Santa Rosa townhome project in tiger salmander habitat to start construction

167-home Santa Rosa townhome project in tiger salmander habitat to start construction

Cynthia Sweeney, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
After a decade and a half of delays procedural and economic, a 167-townhome development in west Santa Rosa is set to come out of the ground in coming months, in quite a different market than when initially conceived and with cutting-edge rooms-as-modules construction.
Groundbreaking for three model dwellings in the Paseo Vista Homes project, located off Hearn and Dutton avenues, is set for May 15. Santa Rosa-based HybridCore Homes expects to complete them by Aug. 1.
The remainder of the units would start to come out of the ground in early July. The entire project is expected to be completed in about two years.The 12-acre project includes 122 single-family homes and 45 low-income rental units, built as 15 triplexes. Prices for the homes are anticipated to be in the low-$300,000 range.
Started by a homebuilder and an architect in 2009, HybridCore Homes has designed room units, called “cores,” outfitted with appliances, cabinetry, electrical wiring and plumbing that can be trucked from the factory to the job site. One or more cores are moved into place on the foundation, and the rest of the structure is completed around them.
“This new construction technology helps to keep costs low and cuts construction time in half,” said Otis Orsburn, partner and vice president of construction.
The company has a “ton” of projects on the horizon, he said.
Read more at: 167-home Santa Rosa townhome project to start construction | North Bay Business Journal

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed winery off Highway 12

Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed winery off Highway 12

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sebastopol City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to urge Sonoma County officials to deny approval for a large-scale winery and distillery being proposed on former dairyland off Highway 12 about 2 miles east of town.
The application for the proposed Dairyman Winery and Distillery is still months away from formal consideration by county planning bodies, but the plan already is generating opposition among conservationists and Sebastopol-area residents concerned about potential impacts on wildlife, traffic, water supply and the area’s status as a community separator. Many feel the project is more industrial than agricultural; the property is zoned for farming.
Among the issues is the project’s location in the middle of protected habitat for the California tiger salamander, which is federally listed as an endangered species. There also are seasonal wetland areas on the site associated with Gravenstein Creek, which runs through the property and is a tributary to the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
Opponents also fear gridlock on an already congested two-lane stretch of Highway 12, given estimates for event attendance at the winery and trucking of up to 1,000 tons of grapes per year to the site, some of which would be held in cold storage for later processing.
There are about 40 acres of vineyards on the property that would stay in production, said Napa Valley vintner Joe Wagner, who owns the 68-acre property and is proposing the project.
Wagner, whose Belle Glos winery is among several labels owned by his family — the same clan behind Caymus Vineyards — envisions a full-scale winemaking and bottling operation large enough to eventually make 500,000 cases of wine a year, as well as 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits.
Read more via Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service releases voluntary recovery plan for California Tiger Salamander and three vernal plant species

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service releases voluntary recovery plan for California Tiger Salamander and three vernal plant species

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A 50-year recovery plan for endangered species in the Santa Rosa Plain, including the California tiger salamander, will require the purchase of thousands of acres of habitat from Cotati to Windsor and continued study at a cost of $436 million.
That’s according to officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which recently released a draft plan for recovery of the imperiled amphibian and three plants — Sonoma sunshine, Burke’s goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam.
The plan, part of a settlement agreement with the Arizona- based Center for Biological Diversity, is recommended to ensure survival of the species.
“The salamander is suffering so many threats pushing it to the brink of extinction,” Collette Adkins Giese, a senior attorney with the center, said Friday. “We need to do everything we can to make sure they don’t vanish.”
Fish and Wildlife officials are seeking comment on the 146-page document, both in writing and at a public hearing in mid-January, before finishing it in about 18 months. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 9, spokeswoman Sarah Swenty said.

The exact time and place for the hearing has not been set, she said.

Swenty said the actions suggested in the plan are voluntary and not regulatory in nature. She compared it to a recently adopted $1.24 billion tidal marsh recovery plan for Northern and Central California.

“Basically, we are describing what the species need,” said Josh Hull, a recovery division chief for Fish and Wildlife.

Read more via 50-year plan recommends spending $463M to save species | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on Legal battle brewing over California Tiger Salamander

Legal battle brewing over California Tiger Salamander

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST

Sonoma County Supervisors agreed to hire an environmental attorney last week to help defend the county against charges that local vineyard development is illegally destroying critical habitat of the California Tiger Salamander.

Sonoma County “routinely issues permits for vineyard development” that has destroyed salamander habitat in the Santa Rosa plain between Windsor and Petaluma, according to a lawsuit filed in January by California River Watch, the Sebastopol non-profit watchdog group that specializes in suing government entities for alleged non-compliance with environmental protection laws.

The California tiger salamander (CTS) was listed nearly 10 years ago as in danger of becoming locally extinct because of development in the Santa Rosa plain. Since then, pro-development advocates and environmental groups have clashed over the appropriate protections needed to keep the salamander from becoming extinct.

The suit filed by River Watch attorneys Jack Silver and Jerry Bernhaut accuses the county of permitting vineyard development that has resulted in violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) that prohibits any “take” or harming of a listed species.

via Legal battle brewing over California Tiger Salamander law – Sonoma West Times and News: News.

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags Leave a comment on Settlement Will Speed Recovery of Endangered California Tiger Salamanders

Settlement Will Speed Recovery of Endangered California Tiger Salamanders

Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity today announced a settlement requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop recovery plans for endangered California tiger salamanders. Under the settlement approved by the court last week, all three populations of California tiger salamanders will receive final recovery plans within the next five years.
“I’m so glad these three populations of the beautiful, severely endangered California tiger salamander will finally get recovery plans,” said Collette Adkins Giese, the Center’s attorney dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles. “Timely development of these plans is absolutely necessary, because they give us a roadmap of the actions needed to ensure the species will survive.
”Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions — such as research and habitat restoration and protection — necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually be able to remove their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that the status of species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years is far more likely to be improving than of those without.
via Settlement Will Speed Recovery of Endangered California Tiger Salamanders.