THE WASHINGTON POST
The Feb. 10 news article “Gentrification by fire” raised valid points but did not address some important issues on building housing in California’s wildland-urban interface.
California’s policies concerning development in the wildland-urban interface are incoherent. The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, whose members are appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), has issued minimum fire-safe regulations. For more than 30 years, the rules have required roads accessing new development to be wide enough so that incoming firefighting apparatus and fleeing civilians can pass each other concurrently. New development on dead-end roads more than a mile long is forbidden. In the past two years, the board was heavily lobbied by counties (including Sonoma County) and developers opposing road limitations for building in the wildland-urban interface, and the board proposed to eviscerate the regulations to allow commercial and residential development in fire-prone areas without safe evacuation routes. This approach failed when a group of retired firefighters lambasted the board’s willingness to jeopardize the safety of firefighters and the public.
Sound regulations remain in place, but the state does not enforce them, letting local jurisdictions ignore many of their protections. California’s housing crisis will not be solved by building in fire-prone rural areas; rather housing needs should be addressed by building as infill near transit hubs and safe evacuation routes.
Deborah A. Eppstein, Santa Rosa, Calif.
The writer is founding director of the State Alliance for Firesafe Road Regulations.
Kathleen Coates, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The developer of a controversial Windsor civic center project has withdrawn from an exclusive negotiating agreement with the town, according to a letter received this week by officials, leaving the development’s future uncertain.
Robert Green of the eponymous Robert Green Co. sent a letter Thursday to interim Windsor Town Manager Mark Linder that said the company was exercising its right to terminate the agreement, which was a pact giving the developer the sole right to design the project.
Windsor Town Council had voted Dec. 1, 2021, to halt any work on the project until June 30. A vote on whether to continue the agreement and allow work on the project to move forward would have been held before that.
Mayor Sam Salmon said he anticipated a letter from Green, and wasn’t surprised that he was pulling out of the pact. He said the April 6 election was likely a referendum on the civic center project.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/developer-terminates-agreement-with-windsor-leaving-civic-center-project-in/
Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS
Many Healdsburg residents are up in arms over a proposed four-story 16-room hotel — called Hotel Healdsburg Residences — that would be segmented into three separate buildings at 400, 412 and 418 Healdsburg Avenue.
While residents and planning commissioners share some of the same concerns regarding the scale of the project and its proposed design elements, the main concern for several community members is the project in relation to the city’s hotel ordinance, which limits the amount of hotels built in the Plaza retail area and in the city’s Downtown Commercial District (CD) near Piper, Vine, East and Mill Streets.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/proposed-hotel-sparks-controversy-among-healdsburg-residents/article_19536ba2-82ba-11ec-8cb7-b31ba0b8200c.html
Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT
More than three hours into the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ discussion Tuesday on the future of the 930-acre Sonoma Developmental Center property in Glen Ellen, supervisor Susan Gorin cut to the chase, advocating a reduction of proposed housing units from the 900-1,000 range to between 450 and 700.
There were few tangible outcomes beyond that.
County staff stressed repeatedly that Tuesday’s agenda item would not lead to a vote. Instead, the lengthy conversation would serve as what Permit Sonoma Planning Manager Brian Oh referred to as an interim checkpoint.
“What we have presented today is a framework for the project description that would go into the environmental impact report,” Oh said. “We have started on broad concepts based on feedback that we’re hearing from the community.”
But judging by the comments that followed Oh’s presentation Tuesday, Sonoma Valley residents do not believe the county is being responsive to that feedback.
Speaker after speaker called for a scaled-down footprint, additional time to study wildlife impacts, more public transportation and bike lanes, services for people with disabilities, and a greater concentration of affordable housing.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-moves-ahead-with-preliminary-plan-for-sonoma-developmental-center-b/
Teri Shore, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen), remains uncertain after public hearings on county plans to create a new town. The plans are widely opposed due to the size and scale of the proposed development. The abandoned campus is surrounded by open space, agricultural lands and voter-approved community separator greenbelts.
At the end of 2021, Sonoma County planners released three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that features 1,000 homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will get environmental review.
The plans were widely opposed by environmentalists, housing advocates, labor, community groups and the public at large. Hundreds of letters were lodged with the county and state. The Sonoma City Council and Sonoma Valley’s two county-appointed Municipal Advisory Councils, and the public opposed the plans and made recommendations. Many are also asking that the land remain in public hands and not be sold to a developer.
Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/opinion-heart-of-sonoma-valley-at-risk-of-urbanization/
Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Last week, we reported that two owners of the Press Democrat, Darius Anderson and Doug Bosco, helped craft a state-funded bailout deal benefiting Bosco’s privately owned Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company while Anderson’s Platinum Advisors was a contract lobbyist for SMART from 2015 to 2020.
This week, we report the details of a real estate transaction in downtown Petaluma in which the A. G. Spanos Corporation paid $1.4 million to SMART and $1 million to another public rail agency which is financially intertwined with Bosco’s railroad company for their “right of ways” on less than 600 feet of railroad track traversing the triangular lot upon which Spanos is currently building the North River Apartments. A right of way is a perpetual, transferable easement allowing its owner to traverse the property of another. Without securing these easements, Spanos’ project was dead in the water and could not move through Petaluma’s planning process.
The Spanos property abuts the Petaluma tidal estuary, a row of historic businesses and restaurants on Petaluma Blvd. North, and Hunt & Behrens livestock, poultry and pet-feed operation. Public records show that SMART’s executive director, Farhad Mansourian, allowed Anderson to guide SMART’s easement sale to Spanos. Simultaneously, Bosco negotiated Spanos’ purchase of an overlapping right of way on the short spur owned by the North Coast Railroad Authority. “NCRA” is a state-chartered rail agency which critics say was largely operated to benefit Bosco’s company, commonly known as NWP Co.
Mansourian allowed Anderson to work on several projects that were outside the contracted scope of work of Platinum Advisors’ role as SMART’s Sacramento lobbyist, which began in 2015. Last week, we reported on how Anderson’s firm, as part of its work for SMART, lobbied on state legislation which helped the interests of his business partner, Bosco, as the NCRA and the NWP Co foundered. This week we report another instance of Anderson leveraging his position as SMART lobbyist to benefit his media business partner and political mentor, Bosco.
Read more at https://bohemian.com/train-lines/
Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Two Press Democrat owners deeply involved in North Bay rail politics
On the muddy banks of the Petaluma River in downtown Petaluma, a new housing complex is rising. Crews employed by the A.G. Spanos Corporation, a Stockton-based developer, are constructing a 184-unit apartment complex on a lot sandwiched between a row of historic businesses and the tidal slough.
Before laying out the concrete foundations, the crews ripped out a few hundred feet of railroad tracks that crossed the lot. The old rails were part of a spur located less than a mile off the century-old main line running between Sausalito and Eureka. Planning and construction could not commence until Spanos controlled the legal “rights of way” on the tracks.
Rights of way are contractual easements that allow their owners to travel across another’s property. In this case, the easements on the riverfront tracks had value because the developer needed to extinguish them in order to build. That fact cost Spanos millions of dollars.
Public records reveal that lengthy negotiations between the Spanos corporation and two state-created rail transportation agencies for ownership of the rights of way preceded breaking ground for the construction project. One right of way was owned by a passenger line, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district — SMART. A second right of way was owned by a state-owned freight line, North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). Both railway agencies saw the sale of the easements as potential cash cows.
Read more at https://bohemian.com/freight-railroaded/
Ethan Varian, PRESS DEMOCRAT
A regional planning agency Friday issued preliminary denials of appeals by Sonoma County and Windsor seeking a reduction in their upcoming state-mandated housing goals, which are set to dramatically increase starting in 2023.
Though not final, the denials mean officials governing the county’s unincorporated areas and its fourth-largest city will likely need to set in motion plans to approve the construction of thousands more housing units for all income levels between 2023 to 2031.
In a virtual public hearing Friday, representatives from the county and Windsor presented their appeals before the Association of Bay Area Governments — the agency tasked with determining how state housing targets are distributed across the nine-county region. While acknowledging Sonoma County’s severe housing shortage as the area continues to rebuild after a string of destructive fire seasons, officials asked that their goals each be cut by at least half and redistributed to other jurisdictions in the county.
“We simply do not agree with the location,” said Tennis Wick, Sonoma County’s top land use official.
The unincorporated county’s home building goal — known as its Regional Housing Needs Assessment — is set to jump to 3,881 total units, half of which must be for residents with low incomes. That’s up from just 515 homes for the current eight-year cycle. There are about 54,000 households in unincorporated communities, the second most in the county, according to state officials.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/appeals-of-state-mandated-housing-targets-by-sonoma-county-windsor-denied/
Rollie Atkinson, SOCONEWS
120-room destination project has been proposed since 2008, delayed by local economy cycles
A 10-acre riverfront parcel at the center of Guernewood Park has set vacant for almost 50 years since the half-abandoned Ginger’s Rancho resort was torched by vandals. Before that it was the site for almost a century of the Guernewood Park Resort that hosted big band dances, tourists debarked from excursion trains, beach revelers and bowling and roller rink enthusiasts.
The current owner of the property, Kirk Lok, of Lok Hospitality, has been trying to win final approvals to build a new resort since at least 1998. On Oct. 28, Sonoma County’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will hold a public hearing to consider approval to allow for a streamside conservation plan and riparian zone encroachment for his 120-room development. Most of the approvals for a Guernewood Park resort have been previously granted as ebbs and flows of the local economy and tourism business have stalled Lok’s timing to break ground.
Lok recently brought in a new investment partner, Noble House Hotels & Resorts, which owns and manages high-end destination properties on the west coast and beyond. The firm is based in Kirkland, Washington.
The Oct. 28 hearing will begin at 1 p.m. and is a virtual meeting hosted on Zoom. The meeting I.D. is 962-4871-2760 and the passcode is 693832. The project was the subject of a recent a Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council meeting where concerns were raised about increased traffic on Highway 116 and a shortage of nearby worker housing for the proposed 37 employees. Several MAC members also voiced support for the project that includes public access to the river and the preservation of hundreds of mature redwood trees. The site is bordered on the east by Hulbert Creek.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_sebastopol_west_county/news/guernewood-park-resort-developers-seeking-minor-land-use-changes/article_82afdbd4-342d-11ec-bf71-6361653fa09d.html?
Ethan Varian, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Starting in 2023, the state wants Sonoma County to approve over 14,500 new homes for residents of all income levels over the following eight years.
Though no final target has been approved, officials in some of the county’s largest cities have made ramping up home construction a priority with the goal of alleviating the region’s shortage of affordable housing.
At the same time, though, the state is also mandating water cutbacks across the region during what is shaping up to be the worst local drought in more than four decades.
The two seemingly competing mandates have some questioning the wisdom of continuing to push growth in the face of a water crisis.
“How are we still approving new development in the midst of a two year drought with no idea what’s going to happen next year?” said David Keller, a Petaluma resident and Bay Area director of Friends of Eel River, a Eureka-based environmental advocacy group.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-qa-is-it-sustainable-for-sonoma-county-to-build-new-homes-durin/