Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

Sonoma County couple ordered to pay nearly $600,000 for damage to protected property


Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship Director Bob Neale had seen pictures.

So he thought he had a good idea of what awaited him when he went out to inspect a protected piece of land on the north flank of Sonoma Mountain a few years back. A concerned neighbor had reported heavy equipment and questionable activity on property protected under a conservation easement and, thus, intended to remain in its natural state.

But while photos conveyed “a sense of it, it’s nothing compared to actually seeing it,” Neale, a soft-spoken man, said of the environmental damage he witnessed that day in 2014. “I was not prepared.”

Neale and an associate found a patch of private landscape above Bennett Valley scraped down to bedrock in some places and a trenched, 180-year-old oak uprooted and bound so it could be dragged to an adjoining parcel to adorn the grounds of a newly constructed estate home, according to court documents.

That heritage oak and two others the landowners sought to move over a haul road they bulldozed through the previously undisturbed site all died, along with a dozen more trees and other vegetation, according to court records.

The damage would eventually prompt Sonoma Land Trust to sue the property owners, Peter and Toni Thompson, a highly unusual step for the private nonprofit. Last month, it prevailed in what representatives hailed as a landmark legal victory.

The court battle came well after the full extent of the losses was discovered on the 34-acre conservation property. Grading for the haul road in 2014 removed more than 3,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock, the ruling found. No permits were obtained for any of the work, according to court documents.

The Thompsons had construction crews dredge an existing lake on their adjacent 47-acre residential spread, known as Henstooth Ranch, and dump the soil on the protected parcel, extending the haul road to accomplish that work, according to court documents.

“It was,” said Neale, a 25-year veteran in the open space field, “really the most willful, egregious violation of a conservation easement I’ve ever seen.”

In his blunt 57-page ruling, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick sided strongly with the land trust, calling out the Thompsons for “knowing and intentional” violations of a legally binding conservation deal. He said the couple had shown a “persistent failure to tell the truth” as the case unfolded and had “demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”

Broderick ordered the couple to pay more than $586,000 in damages toward environmental restoration and other costs outlined in a judgment finalized last week.


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

Chainsaws come out in Santa Rosa's Old Courthouse Square

The sound of chainsaws roared through Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square Wednesday as the city began felling decades-old trees in preparation for the reunification of the square this summer.
A crew from Atlas Tree Surgery limbed and then began removing five trees on the east side of the square, the first of 20 being removed to prevent birds and bats from nesting in them this spring.
The work is expected to be complete by the end of the month, after which the fences will come down until construction begins in earnest on the $10 million project in June.
A handful of protesters who have decried the tree removal as hasty and unnecessary observed the work from behind fences said they were disheartened by the move.
“We’re just beside ourselves looking at the graveyard over there,” said Norma Baumsteiger, the 81-year-old Oakmont resident who has been a regular presence around the square in recent weeks, gathering signatures urging residents to oppose the removal.
She vowed a recall effort against the City Council and mayor.
“The people have spoken and City Hall never listened,” Baumsteiger said. “The people are tired of talking and now they’re going to be shouting.”
The idea of reunifying the two halves of Old Courthouse Square, split by Mendocino Avenue after the courthouse was removed in 1968, has been around for decades but only gained momentum last year. Business leaders and City Council members agreed the project represented the city’s best chance of revitalizing a downtown plagued by commercial vacancies.
But a quick redesign that included wider side streets with more parking than the previous plan and a fast-tracked construction timetable took many residents, many of whom assumed the project was indefinitely stalled, by surprise. The removal of 91 of the 114 trees in the square, including eight of 30 mature redwoods, has provoked the most ire, though concerns about the cost, traffic impacts and incomplete design remain.
Read more at: Chainsaws come out in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Tree removal dominates Old Courthouse Square debate 

The second of two public forums meant to guide the design of a reunified Old Courthouse Square takes place Saturday morning amid increasing concern among residents about the removal of nearly two dozen trees in the heart of Santa Rosa’s downtown.
The latest designs for the long- delayed project will be revealed at what is expected to be a well-attended public meeting from 10 a.m. to noon at 19 Old Courthouse Square, one of several vacant commercial spaces that ring the square.
Read more at: Tree removal dominates Old Courthouse Square debate | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Second meeting on reunification of Santa Rosa's Courthouse Square

Residents of Santa Rosa are concerned that the city plans to cut down up to 37 conifer trees, mostly redwood trees, some 60 feet tall and 14 feet in circumference, to make way for the Courthouse Square Reunification Project. A city staff report received Dec 31, 2015 says “TPW staff is currently soliciting bids from qualified tree removal companies to remove [initially] up to 23 trees, of which 11 are Coast Redwoods, 2 are Monterey Pines, 5 are Red Cedar, and 1 is a Coast Live Oak as well as a few ornamental trees…  It is important to note that a majority of the trees currently in the square will be removed at some point during the construction phase of the project.”

A second community input meeting will be held by the city on:
Saturday, January 9, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, at

19 Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa.

The public entrance for this community meeting is accessible on 3rd Street. Please try to attend this meeting and/or send an email to the Santa Rosa City Council at   

For more information, contact Thomas Sawyer at