Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Emergency ordinance to protect oak trees to be considered by San Luis Obispo supervisors

Lindsey Holden, THE SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Resnicks’ deforestation ignites battle in SLO

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

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, WaterTags , ,

Backers of oak woodlands initiative sue Napa County

Barry Eberling, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER
There are local and state efforts afoot to protect oak woodlands. This oak vista can be found along the trails in Moore Creek Park, which has blue oak, valley oak, black oak and more.
Supporters of a proposed initiative to further protect oak woodlands and watersheds have filed a lawsuit that argues Napa County wrongly rejected it for the November ballot.
They are asking the Napa County Superior Court to require Registrar of Voters John Tuteur to present the initiative to the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors would then have to either adopt the initiative as law or place it on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Napa County has yet to file a reply to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday on behalf of initiative proponents Michael Hackett and James Wilson.
Tuteur on June 5 certified the initiative petition as having enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. But in a June 9 memorandum, he rejected the petition on technical grounds.
“We are disappointed, surprised, dismayed – you can pick the adjective,” Angwin resident Hackett said on Thursday.
But he had no bitter words for either Tuteur or County Counsel Minh Tran. “These are all good people,” Hackett said. “There is nothing personal here.”
At issue is the amount of information that initiative proponents made available as they gathered signatures at local shopping centers and other locations.
Read more at: Backers of oak woodlands initiative sue Napa County | Local News | napavalleyregister.com

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , ,

Of water and wine 

Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
In the winter of 2015, a Hong Kong real estate conglomerate purchased the Calistoga Hills Resort, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, for nearly $80 million. Today, mature oaks and conifers cover the 88-acre property, which flanks the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.
But soon, 8,000 trees will be cut, making way for 110 hotel rooms, 20 luxury homes, 13 estate lots, and a restaurant. Room rates will reportedly start at about $1,000 a night, and the grounds will include amenities like a pool, spas, outdoor showers and individual plunge pools outside select guest rooms.
Following the sale, one of the most expensive in the nation based on the number of rooms planned, commercial broker James Escarzega told a Bay Area real estate journal that the project “will be a game changer for the luxury hotel market in Napa Valley.” That may well be true, but it’s likely not the kind of game changer that many locals want to see.
While the Napa Valley conjures images of idyllic winery estates and luxurious lifestyles, all is not well in wine country. A growing number of residents decry the region’s proliferation of upscale hotels, the wineries that double as event centers and the strain on Napa Valley’s water resources. In the wake of California’s unprecedented drought, the city of Calistoga—like others—has been under mandatory water rationing. “We’re told not to flush our toilets,” says Christina Aranguren, a vocal critic of the proposed resort, whose guests will be under no such restrictions. “I want to know where the water will come from.”
Other new developments will further strain local infrastructure. The 22-acre Silver Rose Resort, across town from the Calistoga Hills Resort, will feature an 84-room hotel and spa, 21 homes, a restaurant, a winery and a six-acre vineyard. Last year, Calistoga’s Indian Springs Resort underwent a $23 million expansion and added 75 new guest rooms to bring its total to 115.
Read more at: Of Water and Wine | Features | North Bay Bohemian

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , ,

The wild diversity of Sonoma County's oak trees

Melanie Parker, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

So why are oak forests important? Many would say they are a huge part of our county’s scenic landscape, but they also provide valuable habitat for more than 300 wildlife species and as many as 5,000 insect species. Oaks provide an abundant food source as well as cavities that house birds like the oak titmouse, and fallen logs and branches used by ants, beetles, salamanders and even frogs. Oak woodlands are simply teaming with life.

Where is your favorite spot to enjoy Sonoma County’s magnificent oak woodlands? Is it a stretch along your morning commute, a park you often visit, or perhaps the trees in your yard?
Oak trees are perhaps the single most iconic element of our landscape. So what do we know about them?
For starters, there are 10 different species in Sonoma County, and in many places the trees are blended together in an unusual way. While other counties boast high numbers of blue oak woodlands or Oregon oak woodlands, here scientists just scratch their heads and label many of our forest stands “mixed oak.” This diversity can be seen in the patchwork of greens in the forest canopy around places like Spring Lake.
Where they do carve out their own single-type stands, oaks can teach you something about the microclimate and soil type you are in.
The majestic valley oaks love the deep soils in our valley bottoms. Hike through the Laguna de Santa Rosa to get a good look at them. Their leaves are dull green, without sharp tips and deeply lobed. Blue oaks endure relatively hot and rocky locations. Look for them on inland ridges like those in Sonoma Valley above the town of Glen Ellen. Their leaves are blue-green, no sharp tips and shallowly lobed.
Black oaks are water lovers and enjoy shady canyons like those in Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge. Their leaves are large and sharply tipped, with deep lobes.
Oregon oaks take up where the valley oaks leave off on hillsides with fertile soils. They can be seen with the coast live oak rimming the meadows at places like Taylor Mountain. Leaves are bright green, lobed and not sharply tipped.
And finally there is our most ubiquitous oak, the coast live oak, which dominates the western portion of the county while holding its own in almost any setting. Its leaves are dark green, curved, with sharp little spines.
To make matters more interesting, many of Sonoma County’s oaks hybridize, creating another 12 versions of oak to inspire your appreciation for the wonders of nature. Annadel State Park is a good example of rampant hybridization between blue oak and Oregon oak.
Read more: | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , ,

Tracking sudden oak death 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

People who want to participate in this weekend’s local blitz are asked to sign up online at ucanr.edu/blitz2016 and to start by attending an hour-long training session Saturday morning at four locations in Santa Rosa, Graton, Cloverdale and Sonoma (see the website for details).

Spring rains brought relief to a drought-weary region, filling North Coast reservoirs and farm ponds and turning grassy hills a glorious emerald green.
But the wet, sometimes windy weather was also ideal for Phytophthora ramorum, the insidious pathogen that causes sudden oak death, a disease that has killed more than 3 million trees in coastal forests from Monterey to Humboldt counties since 1995, when it was discovered in Marin County.

The pathogen can be spread by human footprints and nursery plants, but in nature it rides in water droplets blown from the leaves of bay laurel trees, a host species that abounds in close proximity to the oak and tanoak trees that sudden oak death kills.

California’s four-year drought slowed the disease’s spread considerably, but officials are wary of a widespread rebound, including Sonoma County, owing to a comparatively soggy spring. Santa Rosa has recorded 12.5 inches of rain since March 1, compared with 1.5 inches in the same period last year.

“We think we’ll see a bump this year,” said Lisa Bell, the county’s sudden oak death program coordinator. “We want to see what the pathogen does coming out of a drought.”

The means for that assessment is the SOD Blitz, an annual volunteer effort organized by the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab. More than 40 people have signed up for the Sonoma County blitz on Saturday and Sunday, and Bell said she’s hoping for many more volunteers who will be trained to collect samples — primarily bay leaves — that will be analyzed at the Berkeley lab.

Read more at: North Coast rains a boost for sudden oak death | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , ,

Lytton Rancheria development outside Windsor stokes big land-use dispute

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A tribe’s plan to build housing for its members on the outskirts of Windsor while also potentially adding a 200-room hotel and a large winery has generated one of the biggest land-use disputes in the young town’s history.
The 270-member Lytton Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians wants to establish a home base, something it has not had since the tribe’s 50-acre rancheria north of Healdsburg was illegally terminated by the federal government in 1958. In the past dozen years, it has used revenues from its East Bay casino to buy up an ever-larger swath of land southwest of Windsor, off Windsor River, Starr and Eastside roads.
That’s where the tribe could build more than 360 homes and a community center on just over 500 acres it hopes to take into federal trust through legislation carried by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. It would add the hotel and a 200,000-case winery if given approval under a future federal environmental review.
A separate deal negotiated with Sonoma County would prohibit a new casino on the land while allowing for the prospect of the tribe’s more than doubling the amount of property it holds in trust — to roughly 1,300 acres — making an even bigger part of Windsor’s outskirts exempt from local land-use restrictions.
Lytton tribal officials say their intent is to create a community for themselves and expand their economic ventures beyond gambling.
Creation of a homeland will allow the tribe to continue to govern itself and “to provide for tribal generations to come,” Tribal Chair Marjie Mejia testified in a congressional subcommittee hearing in June.
But project opponents have decried the increasing scope and potential impact of the development plans, which they note would require the destruction of 1,500 trees. The additional commercial development could deplete local water supplies and bring a huge influx of people and cars to the rural area, opponents say.
Read more at: Lytton Rancheria development outside Windsor stokes big land-use | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , ,

Rep. Jared Huffman introduces bill to take land into trust for Lytton Rancheria

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rep. Jared Huffman introduced a bill this week to take land near Windsor into federal trust for housing and other purposes — but not a casino — as part of the Lytton Rancheria reservation.
The bill, introduced Thursday, would allow the Pomo tribe to return to a communal homeland about 10 miles from their original reservation north of Healdsburg. No gaming will be conducted on the lands to be taken into trust by the federal government, according to Huffman’s office.
In an interview Friday, he said the legislation will give the tribe, the county, and the town of Windsor a measure of certainty over what can be built and how the housing impacts will be offset. He said it also provides a guarantee that a casino will not be developed on the property, an outcome that would not be certain if the tribe sought the alternate route of getting the land into trust through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“An Act of Congress has advantages. It gives everyone control over the outcome,” Huffman said.
The Lytton Rancheria lost its homeland north of Healdsburg in 1958 when it was terminated by the federal government. That termination was later found to be unlawful, and in 1991 the tribe was restored to federally recognized status.
A decade later, through legislation sponsored by former East Bay Congressman George Miller, the Lyttons took over an old cardroom and began operating the San Pablo Casino, generating profits that allowed the tribe to buy up land around Windsor for an intended homeland for its 270 members.
The Lyttons want to build 147 homes on 124 acres south of Windsor River Road, along with a community center, roundhouse and retreat.
Initial strong opposition from the county and Windsor officials, along with skepticism that the tribe might be pursuing another casino, eventually softened with a consensus that the tribe was likely to get approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Read more at: Rep. Jared Huffman introduces bill to take land | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , ,

County, Lytton tribe sign agreement

Robin Gordon, THE WINDSOR TIMES
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Lytton Rancheria of California that supports a tribal housing project west of Windsor and outlines parameters around the development.
The 124-acres of land owned by the Lytton Band of Pomo is slated for 147 housing units and, a community building, roundhouse and, in the future, may include a winery and resort.
County officials said that agreeing to the terms before the land is taken into trust would help ensure best management practices when the county no longer has control. The tribe agreed to $6.1 million in mitigation payments for impacts to roads, administrative costs, woodlands and parks surrounding the Windsor River Road property.
“This is something that was in no way spelled out before. Any kind of work that they do on the location now has to fit county code and general plan reviews. We have had examples around the country where a tribe has moved their lands into trust and then there is no interaction whatsoever, it annexes out of the jurisdiction of the county and then you have no way to deal with impacts,” Supervisor James Gore said.
The memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the county and the representatives of the tribe outlines the county’s relationship with the tribe and the importance of coming to an agreement that addresses land use, environmental impacts and their mutual goals.
“This is a big deal, let’s be honest, this is a very big deal. We talk about this as a memorandum agreement but it is also important to realize who has authority over what when we get into discussions with the county…the tribe has certain rights to take legally owned land into trust and govern that land outside of the local jurisdiction and governments,” Gore said.
Currently the tribe is in the processes of transferring the land out of fee-based property status and into a federal trust. Typically, once the land is taken into trust, no property taxes are paid and local zoning laws no longer apply. Through this agreement, the tribe agrees to develop lands consistent with Windsor’s General Plan and the County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
Read more at: County, Lytton tribe sign agreement – The Windsor Times: News

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on Update of tree ordinance, limits on winery events included in county planning priorities

Update of tree ordinance, limits on winery events included in county planning priorities

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday asked county planning officials to shift their priorities over the next two years to tackle divisive issues that could result in stronger environmental protections and tighter limits on development.
The direction, which the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department seeks from the Board of Supervisors every two years, was the first step in the county authorizing work on a number of new or revived initiatives. They include a tree ordinance to prevent removal of county woodlands, limits on medical marijuana cultivation, measures to create and retain affordable housing and regulation of events at wineries.
An overflow crowd sat in on what has in years past been a fairly subdued board discussion.
“I’ve never seen this much input,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
Two dozen people spoke or submitted letters in support of creating tighter countywide rules for special events at wineries. They lodged complaints about increased traffic and noise in their rural neighborhood and raised concerns about the strain on scarce water resources.
Judith Olney said traffic from winery events has become heavy in her neighborhood off Westside Road.
“Our neighbors are literally being driven off of our roads,” Olney said. “It’s a serious issue.”
Read more via Winery events top meeting about county planning priorities | The Press Democrat.