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

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Developers sue over Windsor’s ban on natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor’s fledgling natural gas ban is under legal fire from developers who argue its new mandate will increase costs for future homeowners and fails to account for the continued potential of widespread electricity shut-offs imposed by PG&E.

Two lawsuits filed by Sonoma County developers last week ask a judge to block Windsor’s requirement that most new homes use electric appliances for cooking and heating instead of natural gas technology. The court fights could shape future development in Windsor and ripple out to Santa Rosa, where the City Council enacted a similar ban earlier this month.

The suits claim Windsor’s rule violates state environmental law, glosses over the dangers of increased generator use by residents of gas-free homes and ignores some research showing higher utility bills for those who live in all-electric homes.

The suits cite PG&E’s recent electricity shut-offs and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County — apparently sparked by the utility’s power equipment — to bolster claims that banning natural gas is unwise.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10363925-181/lawsuits-by-developers-challenge-windsors

Posted on Categories Sonoma CoastTags , ,

Why you should participate in the Local Coastal Plan process

Eric Koenigshoffer, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

If you are wondering why you should participate in the process now underway to update the Local Coastal Plan let me offer my take on the core reason. The continuation of sound public policy protecting the coast from excessive development while ensuring access to the beach and care of the environment requires commitment. That commitment comes in the form of work…that’s right, work. Doing the work of learning the issues and the process and then showing up.

Sonoma County Permit & Resource Management Department (Permit Sonoma) recently released the Draft Update of the Local Coastal Plan (LCP). Meetings seeking community input are now underway. The draft document is available on-line at the PRMD website. Hard copies are available for review in public libraries around the county. There will be public hearings as the process unfolds.

The current LCP is 270 pages. Find it here.

The draft update LCP is 424 pages. Find it here.

In addition to the main body of the document there is also an appendix of a few hundred pages.

The work of wading through hundreds of pages of (let’s face it) sometimes boring text requires tenacity (and lots of coffee!).

One very basic point to remember when reviewing the Draft LCP is that the Coastal Zone is different than any other area of the county. You will see references made to conforming the LCP and the Sonoma County General Plan. Fact is, the two documents can conform with one another in most aspects but not completely. The Coastal Zone is subject to a variety of statewide policies which do not apply to the General Plan. These policies speak to issues which are unique to the coast. Here are a few examples:
Public Access:

At the core of the 1972 Coastal Initiative and reaffirmed in the 1976 Coastal Act is the public’s right under the California Constitution to access the states shoreline. All policies within the Coastal Zone are subject to this fact. Permits issued in the Coastal Zone often have special conditions applied to implement access.
Visitor Serving facilities:

Coastal access results in visitors. Visitors need services. These services include hotel rooms and other lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, gas stations, electric charging stations, etc. Implementing access to the shore includes making sure these services are available. This is state policy which does not apply elsewhere in the county. Of course, implementing this policy should be mindful of impacts on local coastal residents and communities while meeting state law.
Coastal Dependent use priority:

Use of land in the Coastal zone is subject to policy which sets priorities by type of use. Protecting environmental values and unique natural features is a high priority. Preserving coastal agriculture is too. Housing to meet local community needs is recognized as also important. A notable specific point is that “coastal dependent” uses are preferred over general commercial uses. For example, visitor serving use such as lodging is preferred over a non-coastal-dependent commercial use.

Update of the LCP and General Plan take place every 20 years to so. This is equivalent to the generally accepted definition of a generation as being 20-years. It is important that each update cycle engage each new generation and explore the policies at issue and the history of how these important policies came to be.

I’m confident Supervisor Hopkins will make sure the public engagement process is truly open and transparent she’s good about such things!

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/changes-to-our-coast-the-local-coastal-plan-lcp

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

Santa Rosa homebuilders oppose potential natural gas ban on new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Homebuilders unhappy with Santa Rosa’s plans to prohibit most new homes from relying on natural gas voiced concerns Thursday that efforts to require electric appliances are moving too fast.

The city, one of dozens in California that could require new homes up to three stories to be all-electric, held a meeting to solicit feedback from local homebuilders before a City Council study session Tuesday.

The council has yet to vote on the issue, but the natural-gas ban’s inclusion in city discussions of building codes taking effect in 2020 has stirred up some in the building community who fear a hasty process could elicit negative reactions from customers who prefer gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces and heaters.

“We’re kind of assuming this is a done deal,” said Keith Christopherson, a prominent North Bay builder. “And I gotta tell you, the response that we’ve gotten from people is that they’re really P.O.’d.”

The push to ban gas appliances — a step already taken by Berkeley and being given serious consideration by other locales including Windsor, Petaluma and Cloverdale — is connected to California’s aspiration to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2045. That will necessarily involve ending the use of natural gas in buildings. Eliminating its use in new homes is a first step, while retrofitting existing buildings is a distant but implicit goal.

New state building codes set to take effect Jan. 1 already include a standard requirement for new homes to include solar panel arrays.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10063618-181/santa-rosa-homebuilders-urge-city?ref=related

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Santa Rosa moves forward on plan to ban natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in early 2020, plans for most new Santa Rosa homes likely won’t include natural gas stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to require the exclusive use of electric appliances in most new residential construction below four stories. The measure, which will need a second vote of approval and the California Energy Commission’s backing in the coming weeks, will put the city in the company of Windsor, Berkeley and other local governments across California that have passed a type of natural gas ban in the name of curbing climate change.

The council’s vote came after PG&E shut off electricity to prevent wildfires four times in October, plunging thousands of Sonoma County homes into darkness and raising questions about the wisdom of eliminating natural gas from the range of possible home power sources.

But council members, who made confronting global heating a top priority earlier this year, didn’t waver from their pursuit of an all-electric requirement, which is more stringent than state law requires. Their decision was backed by supporters of climate action such as Chris Thompson, vice president of the Oakmont Democratic Club.

“We are in a state of emergency. We are running out of time,” Thompson said. “Electric homes are the future we need for ourselves, and especially for our children and our grandchildren.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10301069-181/santa-rosa-moves-forward-on