Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Focus on the SDC: Open space and the public trust

Tracy Salcedo, THE KENWOOD PRESS

The SDC’s wildlands are public now. Do they have to be privatized to become public again?

From day one, my community activism has focused on preservation of the open space at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). Of all the worthy transformations contemplated for the storied property, ensuring the wildlands remain forever wild has been my highest priority.

From day one, I’ve heard promises from elected officials at the county and state levels, along with planners, consultants, and bureaucrats, that preserving the open space was a done deal.

From day one, I’ve asked: If that’s the case, why do we have to wait? Why don’t we set it aside now?

Don’t worry, the officials have responded. There’s a process. Have faith.

I’m worried. In its recently released request for proposals (RFP), the California Department of General Services (DGS) has reiterated its intent to sell the entire 945-acre SDC property, including the open space, to a private party. That’s not preservation in the public trust. That’s creation of private property.

I’m worried.

The process trumps the promise

The timelines for Sonoma County’s specific planning process and the state’s disposition process have always overlapped, but the original idea was that by the time the property was put up for sale, the specific plan would be done, the open space boundaries would be delineated, and a means of transfer to state parks, regional parks, or a land trust would be in place.

Enter wildfire, pandemic, inflexibility, and bureaucracy. Now, if the state sticks to its timeline, it will sell the property before the Board of Supervisors adopts the beleaguered specific plan. If a sale goes forward, the buyer will own not only the campus, but also the surrounding wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, trails, and much of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor.

Read more at https://www.kenwoodpress.com/2022/06/01/focus-on-the-sdc-open-space-and-the-public-trust/

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

County moves ahead with preliminary plan for Sonoma Developmental Center, but likely with less housing

Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT

More than three hours into the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ discussion Tuesday on the future of the 930-acre Sonoma Developmental Center property in Glen Ellen, supervisor Susan Gorin cut to the chase, advocating a reduction of proposed housing units from the 900-1,000 range to between 450 and 700.

There were few tangible outcomes beyond that.

County staff stressed repeatedly that Tuesday’s agenda item would not lead to a vote. Instead, the lengthy conversation would serve as what Permit Sonoma Planning Manager Brian Oh referred to as an interim checkpoint.

“What we have presented today is a framework for the project description that would go into the environmental impact report,” Oh said. “We have started on broad concepts based on feedback that we’re hearing from the community.”

But judging by the comments that followed Oh’s presentation Tuesday, Sonoma Valley residents do not believe the county is being responsive to that feedback.

Speaker after speaker called for a scaled-down footprint, additional time to study wildlife impacts, more public transportation and bike lanes, services for people with disabilities, and a greater concentration of affordable housing.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-moves-ahead-with-preliminary-plan-for-sonoma-developmental-center-b/

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

Pacaso: You can’t unring a warning bell

Rue Furch, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The latest assault on the social fabric of our rural neighborhoods has arrived. The Pacaso LLC business model sells a “fractional ownership” to eight parties, providing access to a rural mansion multiple times a year. There is no limit on the number of people occupying the timeshare and the model skirts the obligation to pay Transient Occupancy Tax. Pacaso’s “party pads” are now found in Santa Rosa, Dry Creek Valley and Napa County, with more timeshare sales underway.

Pacaso is just the latest destructive element in “Tourism’s Faustian Deal” – the term coined at a 2015 NapaVision2050 Conference, where tourism and economic experts presented compelling data about Napa’s tourist-based economy and its unintended consequences both to communities and public trust resources.

Organizations have formed across Sonoma County including in Sonoma Valley (StopPacasoNow) and Dry Creek Valley (S.C.A.T. – Sonoma County Against Timeshares). Preserve Rural Sonoma County presented data to Sonoma’s decision makers demonstrating that the “Arm’s Race” for winery use permits was resulting in destructive competition, and that the inevitable economic course correction would result in harm to our signature small, family wineries.

Despite subsequent disruption from fire, flood and drought, Napa and Sonoma officials ignored expert advice and gave in to the lure of “Tourism’s Faustian Deal” – seemingly ignoring tourism’s external costs. The 2020-21 pandemic brought the economic realities home to tourist-oriented businesses.

Meanwhile, cities continued permitting hotel rooms and large-scale restaurants, while County officials opened ag and forest lands to accessory dwelling units, with no restrictions limiting their use as vacation rentals. New residents are building massive water and energy-intensive structures for use a few weeks each year, or for the short-term rental market.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/pacaso-you-cant-unring-a-warning-bell/

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Santa Rosa approves $38 million in loans for affordable housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa Housing Authority has approved the use of about $38 million in federal disaster relief funds to build hundreds of new affordable homes in the next few years.

A short-handed Housing Authority on Monday afternoon voted to loan $38,353,107 to the developers of five projects in Santa Rosa that initially offer the promise of 377 units combined, almost all restricted to low-income residents.

The largest single award, notable for both its circumstances and its size, went to the first phase of the 3575 Mendocino Avenue project, which when fully built envisions 532 homes on the site of the former Journey’s End mobile home park. Linda Adrian, a former park resident and vocal supporter of the redevelopment effort, praised the $11.9 million award to the project, which would create 370 market-rate apartments as well as 162 units in an affordable development to replace the 160 Journey’s End homes, most of which were destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire.

“At the moment, I’m still living in a temporary apartment which is only 320 square feet, and I’ve been waiting for this — for Journey’s End to be rebuilt so I can move back in,” said Adrian, who lived at the park for 25 years.

The funds represent a bittersweet windfall for a city in desperate need for additional affordable places to live. While the money offers a rare chance to boost several large projects simultaneously, Santa Rosa wouldn’t have had access to the funds if it hadn’t suffered through the enormous disaster of the Tubbs fire.
Continue reading “Santa Rosa approves $38 million in loans for affordable housing”

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

Housing on the way in the North Bay

Teri Shore, GREENBELT ALLIANCE

Around the Bay Area, more homes are getting built every day. It will take time to fill the need for homes that everyone can afford, but there is relief on the horizon.

Here in Sonoma County where I do most of my work in the North Bay, more than 18,000 new places to live are in the pipeline within existing cities and towns — not including the rebuild of 5,000 homes lost from the wildfires. In fact, the number of new homes in the county pipeline jumped by more than 2,000 compared to last year.

Best of all, these new homes are focused on climate-healthy housing near services, inside Urban Growth Boundaries, and within existing communities. More than half of new homes are being built in the biggest cities of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. In Rohnert Park, an estimated 5,829 new homes are in the works, and in Santa Rosa, it’s 5,346. This includes all pending development and permitted projects, according to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

Read more at https://www.greenbelt.org/blog/housing-on-the-way-in-the-north-bay/

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Lytton Pomo tribe secures Windsor reservation, begins work on development

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A sprawling, wooded tract of land west of Windsor is now the fifth tribal reservation in Sonoma County, fulfilling the long-sought goal of the Lytton Rancheria to build homes for its members, along with a resort and winery, on land officially held in trust by the federal government.

An act of Congress adopted with scant notice last month granted the Pomo tribe a 511-acre reservation, where it has long outlined a planned development with county officials, along with millions of dollars in payments to the county, Windsor schools and firefighters.

It also righted a wrong done nearly 60 years ago when the Lytton Rancheria was “unjustly and unlawfully” terminated by the federal government, dispossessed of its land and “any means of supporting itself,” according to the measure sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. Tucked into a 3,448-page defense spending bill, it was approved by 90 percent of the House of Representatives and Senate and signed in December by President Donald Trump.

“Congress needs to take action to reverse historic injustices that befell the tribe and that have prevented it from regaining a viable homeland for its people,” the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act of 2019 said.

Margie Mejia, chairwoman of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, said the 300-member tribe has waited for decades to once again live on its own land.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10640514-181/lytton-pomo-tribe-secures-windsor

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

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

Rohnert Park to review proposal for 1,400 homes on 269 acres north of SSU

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A homebuilder has embarked upon the initial step to develop a major chunk of agricultural land in northeast Rohnert Park, asking the city to increase by a third the number of units allowed on the mostly vacant property long designated for housing.

The development group led by Pleasanton-based Signature Homes submitted an application to the city last month seeking to bump up the number of homes built on the 269-acre site to more than 1,400 — about 350 more units than envisioned in city’s original plan two decades ago. The property, which sits outside city limits, is one of the last sizable pieces of undeveloped land on the city’s northeastern outskirts. It is north of Sonoma State University and east of Snyder Lane, and bordered on the south by the even larger University District housing development.

On Tuesday, the City Council will review the entire proposal, which Signature Homes estimates would add 3,700 residents to the city of about 43,000 people. The study session will allow council members to weigh in on the density of the proposed development.

Moving forward will require the city to formally annex the property into the city. Rural single-family homes sit on a dozen of the 36 parcels.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9943928-181/rohnert-park-to-review-proposal

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Buyer backs out of multi-million dollar Chanate Road deal with Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The leading bidder for a 72-acre Santa Rosa site slated for affordable housing has pulled out of the process amid worries about prolonged delays from litigious neighbors and the two-step, county-city approval required to build up to 750 units on the former county hospital complex.

California Community Housing Agency, a public entity that taps into the municipal bond market to craft affordable housing projects across the state, told Sonoma County officials Tuesday afternoon it was dropping its bid to buy the Chanate Road property.

The news, confirmed by multiple county officials, comes a month after the agency and its partners were tapped as the leading bidders, with a complex proposal that promised the county a share of the equity in the project, as well as the option to acquire the property and re-sell it 15 years later while cashing in on market-value increases. It would have given the county a $5 million advance on the equity as well.

The developer’s exit delivers another blow to the county’s yearslong attempt to offload the sprawling former health care campus for redevelopment as housing. Both the withdrawn bid and a preceding proposal put forward under a controversial failed sale to a local developer two years ago stood to be the single largest housing project in Santa Rosa in a generation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9902915-181/buyer-backs-out-of-multi-million