The site where oaks and steep slopes were cleared for a vineyard is a 315-acre parcel at 750 Sleepy Farm Road owned by Estate Vinyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Co. — Justin Vineyards is one of the company’s brands.
Oaks are more than just trees in North County — to many, they’re a crucial part of the Central Coast’s delicate, drought-ridden ecosystem.
On Tuesday, that was the message dozens of farmers, residents and environmentalists delivered to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors as they protested the recent clear-cutting of hundreds — some speakers said thousands, based on their own investigations — of oak trees on land managed by Justin Vineyards & Winery, just west of Paso Robles.
Supervisors responded by taking the first steps toward adopting the county’s first-ever tree protection ordinance.
“There are people out there right now probably sharpening their chainsaws,” said Diane Burkhart, who presented the board with a petition signed by about 400 people requesting protections for oak trees.
The site under fire is a 315-acre parcel at 750 Sleepy Farm Road owned by Estate Vinyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Co. — Justin is one of the company’s brands.
After neighbors protested the tree removals and construction of a large water-storage pond on the property, the county issued a stop-work order on June 9. Officials said they’re evaluating potential penalties for grading violations, but not tree removal because the county has no oak protection ordinance in unincorporated areas.
After hearing more than an hour of often emotional public comments Tuesday from residents, supervisors said they were ready to move ahead after decades of false starts on oak ordinances.
Read more at: Emergency ordinance to protect oak trees to be considered by supervisors | The Tribune
Justin Vineyards’ bulldozing of hundreds of oak trees has uncorked some disapproval among San Luis Obispo County restaurateurs and wine fans, who are making their feelings known with their wallets.
The vineyard manages land owned by Estate Vineyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Company, and recently cut down the oaks to make room for more grapes on their 750Sleepy Farm Road property, just west of Paso Robles. County officials ordered the company to stop work on June9 after receiving complaints from neighbors.
Estate Vineyards will likely face consequences for violating county grading regulations, although San Luis Obispo has no ordinances protecting oaks in unincorporated areas. The Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District, a special district created under state law, also said the company violated three regulations, including not notifying the district prior to the tree removal so surveys for nesting birds could be carried out.
Some area restaurauters have decided to take matters into their own hands by taking Justin wines off their menus.
Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo announced on its Facebook page Friday that it will no long pour Justin wines. Owner Greg Holt said the restaurant had previously served many different varieties of Justin wines but was offering only the winery’s cabernet sauvignon when he decided to remove it from the wine list.
Holt said Justin’s wines were always good quality, but he couldn’t continue to serve them after he heard of the oaks’ destruction.
“I’m a native of this area,” Holt said. “… I grew up with oak trees, and I know how long they take to grow.”
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Replacing three culverts on his 28-acre Sonoma Valley hillside vineyard won’t boost the yield or increase the price of his merlot, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel grapes, John MacLeod said.
“It’s hard for me as a farmer to spend money fixing this,” he said.
But with a grant from the Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Resource Conservation District footing 75 percent of a $26,000 conservation project to reduce erosion on his land, MacLeod is quick to acknowledge the nonfinancial benefit.
“It makes us better stewards of the land,” he said, standing amid the 20,000 vines planted since MacLeod’s family bought the ranch along Sonoma Creek in 1974.
MacLeod Family Vineyards is one of four Sonoma Valley vineyards that has qualified for a total of $250,000 in grants funded by the Coastal Conservancy aimed at improving water quality in Sonoma Creek. The other three are Jack London Vineyard, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard and Santo Giordano Vineyard.
The local resource district has an additional $663,850 in grant funds authorized by the State Water Resources Control Board available to vineyards in the 170-square-mile Sonoma Creek watershed that extends roughly from Kenwood to San Pablo Bay.
The watershed is a “high priority” for remedial projects because Sonoma Creek, which flows 33 miles from its headwaters in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to the bay, is designated by the state and federal government as impaired by excess sediment, said Valerie Minton, program director at the Sonoma RCD.
Sediment washed into Sonoma Creek, an important stream for steelhead trout, settles in gravel beds, potentially suffocating eggs and filling in pools where juvenile fish must spend the summer, she said.
Read more at: Sonoma Creek watershed conservation grants ease vineyard erosion | The Press Democrat
Karen Velie, CAL COAST NEWS.COM
In the rolling hills that surround northern San Luis Obispo County communities, some farmers have planted grapes among the oaks. Locally, there has been an emphasis on stewardship of the land and protecting the oaks.
Almost 20 years ago, amid concerns sparked when the owners of Kendall Jackson winery bulldozed 843 oaks to create a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors discussed enacting an oak tree ordinance. However, a group of local farmers argued against the ordinance because they thought it would be onerous and in the past farmers had avoided clear cutting large swatches of oak trees.
But now, a group of farmers and San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold say it is time to reconsider adopting an oak tree ordinance.
Prompted by the cutting of thousands of oak trees along with plans to create a 20-acre-foot agricultural reservoir that will drain millions of gallons of water out of the ground during a time of drought, many North County farmers no longer believe we can trust local property owners to self-regulate.
“This is the third property they have deforested,” said Matt Trevisan, with Linne Calodo Winery. “It is thousands of trees not hundreds. There is a bully in our county and they need to leave.”
Justin Vineyards and Winery, a company owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, violated a county code when it failed to get the permit required to grade on slopes in excess of 30 percent. Their company did submit a permit application for the construction of the water storage pond. However, the permit application stated no trees would be removed as a result of constructing the pond.
County staff responded to the violations with a stop work order.
“I am committed to providing more protection for our beautiful, native oaks,” Arnold said. “It is unfortunate we have to enact expensive and onerous regulation because not all landowners respect this amazing resource.”
Arnold said she contacted county Administrator Dan Buckshi and asked him to begin the process of bringing an oak tree ordinance proposal to the Board of Supervisors.
Following the clear cutting of oaks by Kendall Jackson winery, Santa Barbara County enacted an oak tree ordinance. That ordinance exempts oaks that are dead, within 50 feet of a home or are deemed dangerous. Property owners are then limited from removing more than a set amount of non-exempt oaks per acre, such as no more than 11 oak trees from a property between 800 to 899 acres.
“My goal is to bring forward an ordinance that includes common sense exemptions,” Arnold said. “I feel we need protection from this kind of abuse.”
While many bemoan the loss of our county’s forested lands, Resnicks neighbors fear the Resnicks will drain underground water sources to fill their reservoir, leaving their neighbors without the vital resource. And while several supporters of the failed Paso Robles water district claim its passage would have stopped the deforestation, the land Resnick recently deforested is outside the Paso Robles Basin’s boundaries.
Read more at: Resnicks’ deforestation ignites battle
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A prominent Sonoma County vineyard manager has agreed to pay $50,000 in penalties and other costs arising from a civil complaint related to a wintertime landslide on a replanting job outside Healdsburg.
Ulises Valdez, whose family business farms more than 1,000 acres, and Cloverdale engineer Kurt Kelder both were fined under a settlement announced this week for violations that officials say resulted in a stream of soil running into drainage for Dry Creek, a Russian River tributary that carries much of the North Bay’s drinking water and provides important fish and wildlife habitat.
Kelder is to pay $24,500, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office said.
Kelder’s lawyer, James DeMartini, said his client agreed to the settlement without admitting fault, and said that while Kelder designed an erosion control plan for the property, it was Valdez who was responsible for installing it and he did not complete the job.
Read more at: Sonoma County vineyard manager fined for landslide near | The Press Democrat
The lower Gualala River has a wide meandering floodplain rich in wetlands, mature productive riparian redwood forests and highly diverse riparian habitats supporting many special-status plant, fish, and wildlife species. “Flood prone” redwood forests are supposed to be protected by avoidance of logging disturbances under special salmonid protection rules under the Forest Practices Act.
Despite the special protected status of floodplain redwood forests, Gualala Redwood Timber LLC (GRT; formerly Gualala Redwoods Inc., purchased in 2015 by Redwood Empire, owned by the Roger Burch family) proposes in the new “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) to log 320 acres along 5 miles of the lower Gualala River’s redwood floodplain forest, taking 90 to 100 year old redwoods almost to the edge of Gualala Point Regional Park, and adjacent to the river’s sensitive estuary. Gualala Point Regional Park is one of the only public recreation areas in the entire watershed. The “Dogwood” THP, however, concluded with that the logging would have no effect on recreation, but with no analysis of the potential impacts of next-door logging of “Unit 1” on the regional park, and offered no mitigation.
To add to the impacts of logging hundreds of acres of floodplain redwood forest, the “Dogwood” and adjacent “Apple” THPs also propose to guzzle an incredible 25,000 gallons per day of Gualala River water during the dry season (April to November) over the 5 year timber harvest permit period. Not only does this conflict with Forest Protection Act “Anadromous Salmonid Protection” rules requiring avoidance of water drafting in forested “flood prone areas”, but the THP’s incredible determination that it would have “no effect” on flows was based on an outdated 2010 hydrology report (prepared before the current historic drought) with no consideration of the drought impacts on Gualala River’s deficient minimum summer flows, and Gualala’s municipal water supply. In addition, no analysis of the THP’s major water diversion during drought on listed salmonids was prepared. Yet the responsible agencies and affected downstream public water users have raised no red flags about the massive diversion of river water during the drought.
Aggressive logging plans previously proposed by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (GRI) have either been denied permits, or have been forced to withdraw them due to strenuous objections by resource agencies over impacts to endangered fish and wildlife species of the river and its wide riparian zone. One of the last failed efforts to log the floodplain was the GRI “Iris” timber harvest plan of 2004.
Read much more at: Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife – Friends of Gualala River
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
Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two Sonoma County men are accused of causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in environmental damage when they cleared about a half-acre of Boy Scout land in Cazadero to grow marijuana.
Nicholas Henderson, 30, and John Henry, 31, are charged with felony cultivation, possession for sale of marijuana and malicious mischief in connection with the garden, discovered in August at the 350-acre Camp Royaneh.
Deputies acting on a tip from neighbors found more than 100 trees sawed off chest-high with logs stacked between the stumps to create a terrace effect. Pot plants growing in burlap bags were irrigated by pipes leading from a neighboring house that also fed a large plastic storage tank.
A consultant estimated the cost to clean up the property and prevent erosion into nearby Austin Creek would be more than $280,000.
“They took a whole hillside and clear-cut the trees,” said Jason Lewis, a prosecution witness for the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Lewis said the plants went undiscovered because they were in a remote section of the 90-year-old camp. Each summer, the camp hosts about 1,500 children, he said.
As state water-quality regulators prepare to try again this fall with a framework designed to control erosion into the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds, winegrape growers in those areas are getting new tools to help prepare for the as-yet-undefined rules.
San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board staff plan to issue notice by the end of June about the preparation of draft environmental-impact documents connected to general wastewater discharge requirements (WDRs) for vineyard operations in those watersheds, according to Naomi Feger, chief of the regional board’s planning division.
“We will be looking at the regulations that exist in Napa and Sonoma (counties),” she said. “They will not be in conflict.”
The goal is to hold the first scoping meeting somewhere in Napa in mid-July then compile comments from that and those received during the crafting of a conditional waiver of WDRs for vineyards in the two watersheds, an effort that ended in March of last year amid opposition. The current timeline is to release a draft environmental document for the vineyard WDRs in late fall and convene the first public hearings in the first quarter of next year, Ms. Feger said.