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Group gets $1 million for Sonoma Valley fire prevention efforts

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Protected Wildlands Map

Cal Fire has awarded more than $1.7 million for wildfire prevention in Sonoma County, with the bulk of the money going toward a coalition working to reduce fire risk on public lands in Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative received more than $1 million, allowing it to conduct controlled burns, clear brush and thin forests. The newly formed group of private and public agencies oversees 18,000 acres of fire-prone areas along Highway 12 that include Hood Mountain Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, which were burned in the Tubbs and Nuns fires.

“The areas that we’re talking about have a long history of fire,” said Tony Nelson, longtime Sonoma Valley program manager for the Sonoma Land Trust, which is part of the collaborative. “It has burned in the past and we know it will burn again. The vegetation is not going to stop growing, so we need to not stop managing our natural systems with fire, as well as (need to) maintain safety.”

The collaborative also includes state and regional parks, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Audubon Canyon Ranch and the Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation. The group is a product of discussions predating the 2017 wildfires that raced over the Mayacamas Mountains and left behind scorched ridgelines, charred trees and ashen soil. The firestorm renewed conversations on how to prevent large-scale blazes.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9512516-181/group-gets-1-million-for?sba=AAS

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

Santa Rosa townhouse project in Fountaingrove cleared for construction

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The biggest new housing development in a Santa Rosa neighborhood torched by the Tubbs fire in October 2017 has been cleared by city officials to start construction.

The Santa Rosa Design Review Board on Thursday gave final design approval for the Round Barn Village, a 237-unit townhouse project in the Fountaingrove neighborhood.

San Francisco developer City Ventures plans to build and sell the three-story, three- to four-bedroom townhomes on a 40-acre tract. They are expected to have price tags in the $600,000 range. Twelve of them will be priced below market levels to make them more affordable.

Construction is expected to begin in April. Sales would start in the fall, with the first owners expected to move in during the summer of 2020, City Ventures’ development director Charity Wagner said Friday.

This final go-ahead for the development came almost a year after City Council approved the project. Council members initially hesitated because of concerns about building in a hillside area in the northern part of the city prone to wildfires.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9179365-181/santa-rosa-townhouse-project-in

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , , , ,

Nonprofit restores Sonoma County’s natural habitat with oak tree seedlings

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Natalie Portis first stepped onto her property in Sonoma nearly 20 years ago, she was immediately enchanted by the verdant natural landscape and the stately oak trees.

Portis’ wooded oasis was among the thousands of acres of forests and oak-studded landscapes that burned in the October 2017 Nuns fire, which claimed her home and an estimated 700 trees on her 10-acre Castle Road property.

“It still feels surreal,” Portis, 59, said. “It was devastating to go back there and see the singed trees. I just remember being there and feeling the grief and toll of such loss.”

She’s rebuilding her home and plans to move in this summer. It’s been a “painful” process, but a bright spot came last month as she planted 21 oak tree seedlings sprouted from acorns collected by local volunteers in the weeks after the devastating wildfires two years ago in Sonoma County.

“It was very playful and very sweet, and it put a huge smile on my face,” she said of planting the young coast live oaks on her property with help from members of the California Native Plant Society. “I feel like I’m going to get back home.”

Oak trees have long defined the bucolic landscapes of Sonoma County and played a critical role in shaping its natural habitat. Recognizing the need to preserve and proliferate the native species after the fires, the California Native Plant Society and its local Milo Baker chapter — named after the noted Santa Rosa botanist — quickly launched efforts in 2017 to harvest acorns from areas near burn zones in the county and surrounding communities.

“Oaks are really the powerhouses of our ecosystem here in California when it comes to native plants,” said Liv O’Keeffe, senior director of communication and engagement for the environmental nonprofit society. “A single oak can literally support hundreds of insects, pollinators, birds, critters and other plant species. Having those oaks in place keeps an ecosystem intact.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9116919-181/nonprofit-restores-sonoma-countys-natural

Posted on Categories Local Organizations, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Sonoma County planning discussions crowd the horizon

Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Nearly a year after the Sonoma County Complex Fires destroyed 5,300 homes and ten years after the last housing crash slowed Sonoma County’s economy to a crawl, discussions about the future of housing, transportation and the economy are proliferating.

In the coming months, city, county, regional and business-led planning processes will each form an image of what Sonoma County and the North Bay should look like in the future.

Although many of the problems up for debate preexisted the fires, discussions at public meetings and behind closed doors in the coming months may well determine what course the county and North Bay region take for years to come.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/north-bay-sonoma-county-planning-efforts-proliferate

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , Leave a comment on Op-Ed: Moving ahead on local housing

Op-Ed: Moving ahead on local housing

Julie Combs, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Our housing crisis started with job growth outpacing new home construction at a rate of 12 to 1, according to according to the regional Equity Analysis Report for Plan Bay Area 2040.

This lack of supply was further complicated by the significant loss of federal and state housing dollars, including redevelopment funds, plus broader trends like increasing income inequality, changing tax policies and wage stagnation.

Locally, we bear the added burden of so many neighbors tragically losing their homes in the fires last year.

Recently, though, we’ve seen communities in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties vote to invest in new, local affordable housing projects. I believe we should follow their model, so we too can build more homes for our teachers, nurses, trades people, restaurant and winery workers — homes that every middle class family that works here can afford.

And we want to do so while ensuring our health and environment remain protected.

We need to design solutions to today’s housing challenges, not go backward with old ideas like “it’s the economy versus the environment” as is often implied.

That was always a false choice and, over the years, voters have seen through such misinformation. That’s why they continue to vote for urban growth boundaries, managed growth ordinances, community separators and protected open spaces. We should continue to trust local voters’ wisdom on these issues.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8529818-181/close-to-home-moving-ahead

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Construction is accelerating, but will pace keep up with demand?

Construction is accelerating, but will pace keep up with demand?

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For at least a decade the tract housing subdivision sat uncompleted in west Santa Rosa — a repossessed field with a looped, asphalt road and most of the sidewalks installed.

But this spring foundations and framed walls arose from the ground along Sebastopol Road near the Courtside Village neighborhood. Plans there call for the construction of 51 single-family homes and 16 attached units.

“We plan to build all 67 just as fast as we can,” said Richard Lafferty, president and CEO of Lafferty Communities, a San Ramon-based homebuilding company. The project is one of the few remaining that sat for years after the original developers gave properties back to banks in the midst of a historic housing market crash.

Like the as-yet-unbranded subdivision, the Sonoma County new home sector is showing signs of life.

Builders are slowly making a comeback after enduring an unprecedented slowdown in the years following the recession. This year builders have broken ground for new subdivisions from Rohnert Park to Windsor for the first of hundreds of homes that are expected to be built in the next five years.

The home construction season appears on track to be the busiest in at least a decade. That is partly because hundreds of homes are being rebuilt in areas ravaged from last fall’s wildfires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8504287-181/housing-construction-accelerates-in-sonoma?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

The trail blazers: local eco-pioneers lead the way

Jonah Raskin, THE SONOMA VALLEY SUN

Last October’s firestorms stunned Sonoma Valley citizens, though once the smoke cleared and embers were extinguished, families and friends ventured out to see the spectacle of blooming flowers and green trees.
Richard Dale, the executive director for 26 years at the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC), said that the disaster brought about “heightened interest in the environment.” Some of that concern, he added, was “about the need to prevent future fires” and some was “amazement at the natural world.”

In light of our recent fires, and droughts and floods, it might be useful to remember that the pioneers who crossed the plains, forded rivers and scaled mountains were the opposite of conservationists. In fact, they made a continental-sized mess by slashing forests, exhausting soils, polluting waters, exterminating Indians tribes and decimating wild life.

Read more at http://sonomasun.com/2018/06/21/the-trail-blazers-local-eco-pioneers-lead-the-way/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

Sonoma power broker Darius Anderson signs on as PG&E lobbyist

Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

As he sets out to lead the way in rebuilding the North Bay after the October wildfires, Sonoma County developer, newspaper owner and Democratic Party power broker Darius Anderson’s Platinum Advisors is also lobbying on behalf of PG&E’s post-fire interests in Sacramento.

According to the California Secretary of State (see graphic above), Platinum Advisors was hired by the utility on March 28, just as a Senate bill that’s squarely targeted at PG&E’s fire liability was scheduled to make its way through the committee process in the Senate.

Sponsored by a quartet of state senators, including North Bay pols Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, SB 819 sets out to limit the extent to which electric utilities can pass off fees and fines to ratepayers.

According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, SB 819 enhances the state’s current ability to regulate rate hikes; California law already gives the state Public Utilities Commission leverage to “fix the rates and charges for every public utility and requires that those rates and charges be just and reasonable.”

The current regulations prohibit gas corporations from “recovering any fine or penalty in any rate approved by the commission,” and SB 819 extends that prohibition to gas and electric corporations such as PG&E, which is based in San Francisco, provides power to some 16 million California residents and is the dominant investor-owned utility in the state.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/TheFishingReport/archives/2018/04/17/sonoma-power-broker-darius-anderson-signs-on-as-pgande-lobbyist

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

After fires, a push to fix housing crisis

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As it emerged from the Great Recession and a moribund housing market, Sonoma County in 2011 needed seven years to build nearly 5,000 new homes.

The fires of October wiped a greater number of houses and apartments off the map here in a single day.
The unprecedented disaster deepened an existing housing crisis and fueled calls by local officials to dramatically accelerate the pace of new home construction — perhaps to a level never before seen in the county, even in the decadeslong building boom following World War II.

By two recent estimates, a yawning gap exists between the housing stock the county had before the fires — about 208,000 homes, apartments and other units — and what is needed to keep the economy growing and to comfortably house a wide range of workers and families.

It could be as high as 30,000 units — equivalent to what exists in Rohnert Park, Windsor and Sebastopol — according to county supervisors, who set that figure as an ambitious five-year building target that would include both the burn areas and surrounding communities.

“We are eroding the character of our county by not allowing people who work here to live here and be a part of the community,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore. The county, he said, came up with its estimate of 30,000 homes “not as a hopeful aspiration, but as an analysis of how much we’re short from a healthy housing market.”

But some leaders in the local building and real estate industry say there is no conceivable way for the county to build 6,000 houses and apartments a year, equivalent to completing 16 homes a day. The obstacles, builders say, include insufficient levels of labor, materials and projects ready to go.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8011910-181/fires-fuel-a-daunting-push

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Benzene found outside Fountaingrove contamination area

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa may be zeroing in on the cause of the contamination in the water supply of the devastated Fountaingrove neighborhood, but there are also troubling signs that the problem may extend beyond the immediate advisory area.

Since Jan. 24, when the city last released detailed test results, the city has found 58 additional instances of benzene in the drinking water in the Fountaingrove area. The vast majority came from the 184-acre area north and south of Fountain Grove Parkway around Fir Ridge Drive, an area once home to 350 families. Only 13 homes remain following the October wildfires.

Residents of the area have been under a strict advisory for months to not drink or boil the water while the city tries to find the source of the contamination and fix the problem, something that could cost upwards of $20 million if the area’s water system needs replacement.

But a handful of tests have recently detected benzene in areas outside the advisory zone, a new development that may complicate the 3-month-long hunt for the cause of the contamination.

In response, the city is launching a more aggressive regimen of water tests covering all the burned areas of the city, including Coffey Park, in its effort to make sure other burn zones aren’t experiencing similar problems.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8025423-181/benzene-found-outside-fountaingrove-contamination