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

Petaluma council decisions irk climate board

Kathryn Palmer, PETLUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Climate Action Commissioners Thursday expressed their disappointment over City Council’s recent approval of the controversial Sid Commons apartment development, renewing questions over how the nascent and relatively toothless body will impact city decisions.

The 180-unit riverside project drew significant criticism from the public and two council members over environmental concerns earlier this month, including climate change-induced flooding and sea level rise.

“The last few weeks have been difficult, to say the least, for a climate activist to be sitting on the council,” said council woman and Climate Action Commission Liaison D’Lynda Fischer.

Both Vice Mayor Fischer and Mayor Teresa Barrett voted against the Sid Commons development, unconvinced the environmental studies of the project adequately addressed potential impacts on the parcel’s wetland and riparian corridor. They also questioned whether the reports relied on the best available data, especially in regards to anticipated sea level rise and increased flooding.

Last year, the city made significant strides to push climate change issues to the top of their agenda, declaring a climate emergency and creating the advisory Climate Action Commission. As a result, conversations over climate change adaptation and mitigation are only growing louder, permeating discussions within City Hall as the city moves to incorporate these new priorities.

Sid Commons is not the only development that has attracted criticism from sustainability advocates this year. Public outcry over the recent Corona Station development linked to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit raised doubts over whether its single-family, single-use design kneecaps efforts to encourage public transit use as a way of lowering carbon emissions.

Criticisms of the Corona Station development also centered significantly on affordability concerns, a key sticking point that led the council to delay the project’s final vote to Feb. 24.

Continue reading “Petaluma council decisions irk climate board”

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Future Santa Rosa housing project taking shape at Journey’s End site

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of Bay Area developers and investors is finalizing plans to transform the former Journey’s End mobile home park that was mostly leveled in the 2017 Tubbs fire into one of Santa Rosa’s largest housing projects.

More than 500 new rental apartments are slated for the vacant 13.3-acre site on Mendocino Avenue, where rebuilding has been on hold while hundreds of homes rise across other parts of Santa Rosa burned in the 2017 firestorm.

Though the long-awaited, roughly $340  million project is months away from any approval and years away from construction, it comes with promises of much-needed housing and community amenities on a busy Santa Rosa artery — and a plan to prioritize requests from any displaced Journey’s End resident who wishes to return.

“It’s considerably more than I ever expected them to do,” said Linda Adrain, a longtime Journey’s End resident who plans to return. “It’s fancier than I expected it to be, it’s got more things going for it. I’m probably going to cry, realistically.”

The slow-moving project got a shot in the arm in January, when the City Council unanimously approved a formal closure of the mobile home park in a report required by state law and local ordinance. That report noted that most park residents like Adrain would receive “mitigation” payments of about $4,500, in addition to forgiven rent and utilities since the fire and insurance proceeds.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10657841-181/future-santa-rosa-housing-project

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

Petaluma approves controversial Sid Commons apartments

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

For the second time in two weeks, Petaluma’s City Council on Monday opted to move ahead with a controversial housing development, approving the 180-unit Sid Commons apartment project alongside the Petaluma River.

The development, first proposed more than 10 years ago, was downsized after running into a raft of opposition and questions in a Nov. 19 hearing before the Planning Commission.

Those changes failed to mollify a vocal group of citizens and some planning commissioners who remained concerned about environmental impacts.

But the project, approved by the council on a 5-2 vote, has now undergone all required environmental study and will be subject to state regulations and permits. Questions about the adequacy of that review and those safeguards lingered this week, fueling public scrutiny that colored much of the project’s presentation at City Hall.

Petaluma’s senior planner and its environmental planner went through staff findings and recommendations nearly line by line. Council members split over their confidence in the environmental report and thus their support for the project.

“I have to base my decision on objective evidence, and that’s what is laid out here,” said Councilman Mike Healy, who joined in the majority that approved the project and its environmental impact report. “This project is not within the 100-year floodplain, and the (river) terracing will be a benefit for the city.”

Mayor Teresa Barrett and Vice Mayor D’Lynda Fischer formed the opposition on the council, voicing doubts over the environmental study.

Continue reading “Petaluma approves controversial Sid Commons apartments”

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Lytton Pomo tribe secures Windsor reservation, begins work on development

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A sprawling, wooded tract of land west of Windsor is now the fifth tribal reservation in Sonoma County, fulfilling the long-sought goal of the Lytton Rancheria to build homes for its members, along with a resort and winery, on land officially held in trust by the federal government.

An act of Congress adopted with scant notice last month granted the Pomo tribe a 511-acre reservation, where it has long outlined a planned development with county officials, along with millions of dollars in payments to the county, Windsor schools and firefighters.

It also righted a wrong done nearly 60 years ago when the Lytton Rancheria was “unjustly and unlawfully” terminated by the federal government, dispossessed of its land and “any means of supporting itself,” according to the measure sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. Tucked into a 3,448-page defense spending bill, it was approved by 90 percent of the House of Representatives and Senate and signed in December by President Donald Trump.

“Congress needs to take action to reverse historic injustices that befell the tribe and that have prevented it from regaining a viable homeland for its people,” the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act of 2019 said.

Margie Mejia, chairwoman of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, said the 300-member tribe has waited for decades to once again live on its own land.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10640514-181/lytton-pomo-tribe-secures-windsor

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

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Urban Growth Boundary has served Sonoma well

Teri Shore, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

When I first moved to Sonoma nearly 30 years ago, I paid $400 a month rent for a small house. Then after 14 years I had to move and pay double the rent. After my mother died, I lived in her affordable mobile home in 7 Flags. Today I live with my partner, Stan, who bought us a house. If I had to rent now, I couldn’t afford it.

So I totally sympathize with the woman who can’t afford to return to Sonoma, who was featured in a recent column by Jason Walsh (“City of No Return,” Dec. 13). But I strongly disagree with the view that land conservation and the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) are why housing costs are high.

The current housing crisis has resulted from multiple factors, mainly loss of state and federal funding, stagnant wages for most workers and the high costs of labor and materials. The loss of homes to wildfires exacerbated the need. Luxury homes and vacation rentals reduced supply. It is not because of the UGB.

Sonoma’s current Urban Growth Boundary.

We know that simply sprawling into greenbelts outside cities does not provide affordable housing. Just look around the Bay Area. In fact, we must double down on protecting land, water and greenbelts and building better inside our cities if we are to provide enough living space and survive the climate crisis.

The UGB has served us well for 20 years by preventing sprawl that is unhealthy for residents and expensive for the city. Our town remains small-scale and inviting. The surrounding green buffers helped protect the city from wildfire. Living here is still more affordable than the rest of the Bay Area. And the UGB costs taxpayers nothing.

The good news is that we have room to grow. Right now at least 200 more new living units are on track to be built in the city over the next two years, half affordable. And there’s plenty of room inside the UGB for another 800 to 1,000 new living units under current policies. If we grow another 20 percent in the next 20 years that’s about 2,000 people and 1,000 units. We can already meet that need. And we can do more.

Now is the perfect time to ask the City Council to encourage innovative housing types such as granny units, junior dwelling units, and smaller “missing middle” units as they urgently work on updates to the zoning code to meet new state mandates for housing. New state funding is on the way to help get more affordable homes built.

There is lots of work to do to create a climate-healthy, diverse, livable city with our neighbors and friends so people like “Molly,” the woman in Mr. Walsh’s column, can come home and others can afford to stay.

Instead of wrestling over a divisive and false choice between land conservation and housing, let’s keep our commitment to a balance between open space and community. But time is running out. The city needs to start the public process soon to put a ballot measure before the voters to renew the existing UGB for another 20 years before it expires at the end of next year.

Sonoma resident Teri Shore is the North Bay regional director of the Greenbelt Alliance.

Source: https://www.sonomanews.com/opinion/10532691-181/valley-forum-ugb-has-served?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , ,

A Trump policy ‘clarification’ all but ends punishment for bird deaths

Lisa Friedman, THE NEW YORK TIMES

As the state of Virginia prepared for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay last year, engineers understood that the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds were about to be plowed under.

To compensate, they considered developing an artificial island as a haven. Then in June 2018, the Trump administration stepped in. While the federal government “appreciates” the state’s efforts, new rules in Washington had eliminated criminal penalties for “incidental” migratory bird deaths that came in the course of normal business, administration officials advised. Such conservation measures were now “purely voluntary.”

The state ended its island planning.

The island is one of dozens of bird-preservation efforts that have fallen away in the wake of the policy change in 2017 that was billed merely as a technical clarification to a century-old law protecting migratory birds. Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times.

Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/24/climate/trump-bird-deaths.html?searchResultPosition=4

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Santa Rosa wants developers to build downtown housing. They’re not so sure

John King, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

In a region where housing advocates proclaim the virtues of adding apartments and condominiums to the cores of established cities, Santa Rosa shows how difficult such a transformation can be.

No Bay Area city has been more aggressive at cutting developer fees and speeding up the review process. City officials recently took potential builders on a bus tour of potential sites. This month, the City Council and Planning Commission gave their initial OK to a plan that would allow as many as 7,000 new units downtown.

Despite all this, the only housing under construction near historic Courthouse Square is a modest building with 17 apartments. Developers are intrigued but wary. Blueprints for approved projects are gathering dust.

The problem isn’t lack of will, or neighbors fighting growth. Pin the blame instead on basic economics — the underlying dynamics that make city-centered growth a less-than-sure thing, no matter what planners and the obvious need for housing might suggest.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Santa-Rosa-wants-developers-to-build-downtown-14890073.php

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Healdsburg exploring higher fees for new hotels, new nonprofit to boost affordable housing stock

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg will explore an array of new funding programs to preserve and expand affordable housing for its workforce, including additional fees for future hotel projects and formation of a city nonprofit to seek federal dollars unavailable to local governments.

The Healdsburg City Council on Monday asked staff to settle on the amount of potential fees required of hotel developers to support housing construction. Under a plan in the works for nearly two years, the city would charge up to $100,000 in fees for each room. A formal proposal including that provision isn’t expected until early next year.

Every two hotel rooms built in the city creates the need for one housing unit to accommodate the employees required to staff the commercial property, said Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg’s housing administrator. And while the city has been successful in negotiating with developers for housing in several recent hotel projects, he said, Healdsburg needs additional tools to better ensure it meets growing need for workforce housing.

“One of the strengths that our city has for funding affordable housing is that we have political will to do so, and we have a community that supports us in doing so to expand these opportunities for our residents,” Sotomayor told council members Monday. “Over the lifetime of this, depending on the number of hotels that are developed within the city … this could be a potential large funding source.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10410823-181/healdsburg-exploring-higher-fees-for

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Santa Rosa officials to review new plan that envisions more of a ‘big city’ downtown

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa planning officials hope a new 12-page document holds the key to unlocking the future for a city center replete with new, taller mixed-use buildings and vibrant ground-floor commercial spaces that draw in foot traffic.

A draft plan for Santa Rosa’s future downtown will go before the City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon in a joint meeting at City Hall. It’s predicated on the idea that Santa Rosa’s “suburban downtown” needs to “grow up” to better accommodate its population of roughly 180,000, according to Patrick Streeter, a city planner overseeing the effort.

“The direction that we got from council was that they want to see us go big and go bold with a new idea for downtown,” Streeter said. “That’s what we’re hoping to deliver to them on Tuesday.”

The plan redesign comes as Santa Rosa has fallen well behind the housing growth goals it set more than a decade ago. The city has slashed fees and tried to streamline its development processes, but a large apartment tower — coveted by officials as proof of concept and a precursor to future tall buildings — has yet to materialize.

Santa Rosa’s “big city” downtown would include new apartments for residents and places to work for downtown employees, aided in part by a new method of determining height limits meant to encourage taller buildings near Old Courthouse Square.

This new method, which would replace the more rigid current height caps, involves city-determined ratios of floor area to lot size. In theory, it could allow for much taller buildings than Santa Rosa sees now, including the potential for a 20-story building with more than 600 apartments and some commercial space on the site of the defunct Sears at the downtown mall, according to city documents.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10382760-181/santa-rosa-officials-to-review