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Proposed Marriott hotel in burn zone denied approval by Santa Rosa Planning Commission

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa planning commissioners have blocked a large hotel project in Fountaingrove, citing the potential peril posed by future wildfire among their chief concerns, and foreshadowing a looming fight over the extent of new commercial development allowed in one of Sonoma County’s biggest burn zones.

The first-of-its-kind decision came in a 3-3 vote Thursday by the city’s Planning Commission, which withheld approval of a use permit for the 114-room, three-story Residence Inn Hotel by Marriott. It is envisioned for a 4.6-acre site just north of the former Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel and the Fountaingrove Inn, both of which were destroyed in the Tubbs fire in October 2017.

The outcome reflects the city’s ongoing struggle to balance public safety with its stated commitment to facilitate redevelopment of burn zones. Officials vowed even in the immediate aftermath of the fire not to stand in the way of homeowners looking to rebuild in Fountaingrove, which lost nearly 1,600 homes in the Tubbs fire.

But embrace of new development, including commercial projects, has been a much trickier issue in the hillside area, which has burned twice in the past 54 years. In addition to the two hotels, the Tubbs fire destroyed the historic Round Barn, a quarter-mile south of the hotel, singed Fountaingrove office buildings and threatened nearby Kaiser and Sutter hospitals before jumping Highway 101 to the west.

The deadly and destructive Camp fire that swept through Butte County last month gave planning commissioners additional pause Thursday.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9028541-181/proposed-marriott-hotel-in-burn

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Government climate report warns of worsening US disasters

Seth Borenstein, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Also see “U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy”, NEW YORK TIMES

As California’s catastrophic wildfires recede and people rebuild after two hurricanes, a massive new federal report warns that these types of extreme weather disasters are worsening in the United States. The White House report quietly issued Friday also frequently contradicts President Donald Trump.

The National Climate Assessment was written long before the deadly fires in California this month and before Hurricanes Florence and Michael raked the East Coast and Florida. It says warming-charged extremes “have already become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration.” The report notes the last few years have smashed U.S. records for damaging weather, costing nearly $400 billion since 2015.

The recent Northern California wildfires can be attributed to climate change, but there was less of a connection to those in Southern California, said co-author William Hohenstein of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“A warm, dry climate has increased the areas burned over the last 20 years,” he said at a press conference Friday.

The report is mandated by law every few years and is based on more than 1,000 previous research studies. It details how global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas is hurting each region of the United States and how it impacts different sectors of the economy, including energy and agriculture.

“Climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” the report says.

That includes worsening air pollution causing heart and lung problems, more diseases from insects, the potential for a jump in deaths during heat waves, and nastier allergies.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8990379-181/government-climate-report-warns-of

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags ,

FIrestruck homes becoming uninsurable

Mary Williams Walsh, THE NEW YORK TIMES

California’s wildfires keep growing bigger, more frequent and more destructive. Of the 20 worst wildfires in state history, four were just last year, giving rise to a record $12.6 billion of insurance claims.

It hasn’t gotten any better this year. The Mendocino Complex Fire in August was the biggest in state history, and the Camp Fire that wiped out the town of Paradise is the deadliest. It had destroyed nearly 12,000 homes as of Monday morning.

This has put pressure on property insurers, some of which have been declining to renew homeowners’ policies in fire-prone areas. When the houses that burned this year are rebuilt, their owners may find that no one is writing insurance there — at least not at affordable prices.

“We’re not in a crisis yet, but all of the trends are in a bad direction,” said Dave Jones, who is completing his eighth and final year as California’s insurance commissioner. “We’re slowly marching toward a world that’s uninsurable.”

Here’s what you need to know about California’s slow-motion insurance crisis.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/business/california-fires-insurance.html

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , , ,

Wildfires: Managing the risk

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

How can we limit the spread of wildfires and save people and property?

Wildfires are already a serious problem, and climate change will only make the problem worse, as I’ve discussed in my two prior posts. Reducing carbon emissions can help keep the problem from growing, but we need to deal with the risks we’re already facing. That is going to require a portfolio of risk management strategies. We need to ramp up all of them.
Land Use Controls.

There are increasing numbers of people moving into the wild-land urban interface (WUI).The USDA’s report on the WUI says that 3.8 million people live in that zone in California alone. Nationally, a million homes were added to the WUI just in the decade from 1990-2000. That simply isn’t sustainable.

Human activities increase the risk of fire from sparks or burns, and homes are typically highly flammable and help fires spread more quickly. Better land use controls could limit development in high risk areas. Easier said than done, however, given development pressures. According to a 2013 study, ” land use planning for wildfire has yet to gain traction in practice, particularly in the United States. However, fire history has been used to help define land zoning for fire planning in Italy, and bushfire hazard maps are integrated into planning policy in Victoria, Australia.” By 2016, however, Headwaters Economics was reporting on five Western US cities that were taking advantage of at least some land use tools to reduce fire risks, though none seem to have imposed outright bans on development in high-risk areas.

Buyouts may be a fallback in extreme situations. Building codes can also help — for instance, by requiring fire-resistant roofs on new houses. Liability rules for fires have to be carefully considered. Making utilities liable for fires can cause them to take greater precautions, but the prospect of compensation could also encourage people to live in unsafe areas. On the other hand, fire insurance costs can send an important price signal about the risks of WUI property ownership, as some Californians are already beginning to experience.
Land Management.

Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2018/10/08/wildfires-managing-the-risks/

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

We came, we planned, we were wrong

Pete Parkinson, NORTHERN NEWS (California Chapter of the American Planning Association)

You are all too familiar with the headline by now: California Is Burning.

Last fall, more than 6,000 homes were destroyed in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties (including my own home near Santa Rosa). Homes went up in flames in rural, sub-urban, and urban settings, including 3,000 homes lost within the city limits of Santa Rosa.

CalFire had designated some of those areas as very-high wildfire hazard; others (including my neighborhood) were considered “only” moderate wildfire hazard. Still other areas — like the suburban Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa where over 1,300 homes were lost — were not considered wildfire hazards at all.

This year has brought no relief. As I write (in mid-August), we’ve seen new wildfires sweep into the city of Redding and threaten Yosemite National Park. The Mendocino Complex, the largest wildfire in California history (eclipsing a record set only a few months ago in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties) continues to burn 45 miles north of Santa Rosa.

Wildfire hazards have been a consistent theme in my career as a planner and planning director in three northern California counties (Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz). I have
overseen the preparation of General Plan Safety Elements, Local Hazard Mitigation Plans, and regulatory codes that addressed the full range of hazard management strategies, including road access, water supply, defensible space, and structural design. The underlying theme of these efforts was a belief that wildfire risks can be managed to an acceptable level of public safety, if not eliminated altogether. In fact,
I cannot recall any development project that was denied, or where the density was substantially reduced, because of known wildfire hazards.

The firestorm that swept into our Santa Rosa community last October has fundamentally changed my thinking about development in California’s fire-prone landscapes. Now, 10 months post-catastrophe, let me offer a few lessons learned from one planner’s perspective.

Read more at https://norcalapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Oct18.pdf

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

‘It’s getting worse:’ Climate change stokes fiery future for California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Striding through the brown, sun-dried grass on a slope at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Caitlin Cornwall stopped to touch a slender stalk of blue wild rye, crowned by a tasseled seed pod.

The 3,900-acre park in the Mayacamas Mountains near Kenwood was largely overrun by the Nuns fire in October, and the signs of recovery are abundant. Most of the live oak, bay and madrone trees survived; smaller Douglas firs perished and are being dismantled by beetles and woodpeckers.

The grasslands are generally healthier than they were before last fall’s blaze and could readily burn again, said Cornwall, a biologist with Sonoma Ecology Center, which has managed the park since 2012.

“This is all a fire-created natural community,” she said. The park burned in 1964, also by a fire named Nuns.

Indeed, fire shaped the drought-prone landscape for thousands of years, as Native Americans used it to maintain meadows and forests that provided deer, elk and acorns for food as well as grasses for basketry.

But now, climate change has thrown the symbiosis of humans, fire and the landscape into catastrophic disarray. Much of California is a yearround tinderbox, with fast-moving wildfires erupting so quickly this year that firefighters have rushed from one to the next, with the usual peak of the fire season still to come.

“It just takes one spark,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting and forestry agency.

As heat-trapping gases continue to pour into the atmosphere and temperatures inch upward, drawing moisture from the soil and vegetation, the state’s vast landscape is growing increasingly volatile, costing lives and billions of dollars in fire damages.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8737270-181/its-getting-worse-climate-change

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

California Climate change report adds to evidence as state pushes back on Trump

Phil McKenna, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

The assessment warns of increasing wildfires, worsening droughts and more severe coastal flooding. State lawmakers are looking for solutions in renewable energy.

California published a comprehensive assessment Monday of the risks global warming is creating for the state, providing a thick tome of evidence advocates can now use to push climate legislation, pursue litigation, and attempt to sway public opinion as they take on industry and try to counter the Trump administration.

The climate change assessment by the world’s 5th largest economy relied on dozens of peer-reviewed reports that detail the effects climate change is having today and what to expect in the future, including extreme wildfires, droughts, heat waves and floods that are projected to occur with increasing frequency and severity.

“In California, facts and science still matter,” Gov. Jerry Brown said. “These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change.”

Read more at https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27082018/california-climate-change-assessment-evidence-global-warming-science-risks-policy-clean-energy

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Climate change will be deadlier, more destructive and costlier for California than previously believed, state warns

Tony Barboza, Bettina Boxall and Rosanna Xia, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Heat waves will grow more severe and persistent, shortening the lives of thousands of Californians. Wildfires will burn more of the state’s forests. The ocean will rise higher and faster, exposing California to billions in damage along the coast.

These are some of the threats California will face from climate change in coming decades, according to a new statewide assessment released Monday by the California Natural Resources Agency.

The projections come as Californians contend with destructive wildfires, brutal heat spells and record ocean temperatures that scientists say have the fingerprints of global warming.

“This year has been kind of a harbinger of potential problems to come,” said Daniel Cayan, a climate researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the scientists coordinating the report. “The number of extremes that we’ve seen is consistent with what model projections are pointing to, and they’re giving us an example of what we need to prepare for.”

State leaders vowed to act on the research, even as the Trump administration moves to unravel climate change regulations and allow more pollution from cars, trucks and coal-fired power plants.

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-california-state-climate-change-assessment-20180827-story.html

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

The era of megafires: the crisis facing California and what will happen next

Daniel Swain, Crystal Kolden and John Abatzoglou, THE GUARDIAN

Three scientists explain the unprecedented danger facing the western US and call for new solutions to a growing threat from building in wildlands, fire suppression and climate change.

California is no stranger to fire. The temperate winters and reliably dry summers that make the Golden state such an attractive place to live are the same conditions that make this region among the most flammable places on Earth.

But even for a region accustomed to fire, the continuing wildfire siege has proven unprecedented. Although it is only early August, numerous very large, fast-moving, and exceptionally intense fires have already burned vast swaths of land throughout the state – consuming hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes and claiming at least nine lives, including four firefighters. State and national firefighting resources are stretched to their limits; choking smoke inundated the state capital of Sacramento; and much of Yosemite national park is closed indefinitely.
Largest wildfire in California’s history expected to burn for rest of August
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California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has characterized these devastating wildfires as California’s “new normal”. But it would be a mistake to assume that the region has reached any semblance of a stable plateau. Instead, the likelihood of large, fast-moving, and dangerous wildfires will continue to increase in the coming decades – and it will combine with other demographic and ecological shifts to produce a large increase in the risk of megafires that threaten both human lives and the ecosystems we depend upon.

Immediately on the heels of California’s deadliest and most destructive fire season, just a year ago, the early ferocity of 2018 has unnerved even veteran firefighters. While the number of fires in California to date is unremarkable, the total area burned is extraordinary: five times the five-year average, in a decade that has already been characterized by fire activity well above historical levels.

The causes are complex, and people are part of the problem. In 1980, 24 million people lived in California; today there are nearly 40 million. Much of this population growth has occurred outside of the dense urban core of cities, resulting in rapid expansion of housing in suburban and semi-rural areas adjacent to wildlands.

Of the tens of thousands of homes burned by wildfires in California in recent decades, nearly all were located in this suburban-rural borderland. With housing shortages and high prices plaguing cities throughout the state, it is unsurprising that residents build on the fringes, places often replete with natural beauty. Yet residents are often unaware of the risks inherent in living there, and the need to mitigate those risks accordingly – their lives may depend upon it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/07/california-wildfires-megafires-future-climate-change

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, WildlifeTags , , ,

Climate change ruining California’s environment, report warns

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Bigger, more intense forest fires, longer droughts, warmer ocean temperatures and an ever shrinking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada are “unequivocal” evidence of the ruinous domino-effects that climate change is having on California, a new California Environmental Protection Agency report states.

The 350-page report released Wednesday tracks 36 indicators of climate change, including a comprehensive list of human impacts and the effects on wildlife, the ocean, lakes, rivers and the mountains.

The study pulled together research from scientists, academia and research institutions and found that despite a marked downward trend in greenhouse-gas emissions in California, including a 90 percent drop in black carbon from tailpipe emissions over the past 50 years, CO2 levels in the atmosphere and in seawater are increasing at a steady rate.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Climate-change-ruining-California-s-12899272.php