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Bill Keene resigns as head of Sonoma County’s open space district

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tawny Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and a district advisory committee member, said her constituents want to see the majority of the district funds go toward agricultural lands ― preserving open space and natural resources that remain in private hands, and thus at lower cost than having to purchase the property outright.

While residents wouldn’t be able to get on the land, “the public can also be enjoying agricultural preservation by driving by and seeing a field full of cows or seeing a ridge top that’s not full of houses.”

The longtime head of Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has announced he is stepping down from the job, setting off both a search for his interim replacement and suggestions by some that his departure offers an opportunity to reshape leadership of the taxpayer-funded agency.

Bill Keene, who has served as general manager since 2009, submitted last month his resignation to the Board of Supervisors, which oversees the 30-year-old district, acting as its board of directors.

Keene, 51, who joined county government in 2000, working previously for Sonoma Water, is only the third director in the open space district’s history.

Keene stressed that the decision to leave was his ― prompted by questions he has asked himself amid the past seven months of the pandemic about the next stage of his career and intertwining crises, including escalating climate emergency, social unrest and, recently, catastrophic wildfires along the West Coast.

“I’m not sure where I’m going to be,” he said. “I’ve always known where I was going, and this is the first time. But I saw a couple of my colleagues jump and decide to do different things during the pandemic, and it kind of inspired me.”

His contract expires in November, though he has agreed to stay through the end of January if needed.

The departure has opened a conversation about what the county wants in the next general manager and in the overall direction of the agency. Supervisors said it was not unusual for them to be signaling such a discussion at this point.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/bill-keene-resigns-as-head-of-sonoma-countys-open-space-district/

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

Petaluma council decisions irk climate board

Kathryn Palmer, PETLUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Climate Action Commissioners Thursday expressed their disappointment over City Council’s recent approval of the controversial Sid Commons apartment development, renewing questions over how the nascent and relatively toothless body will impact city decisions.

The 180-unit riverside project drew significant criticism from the public and two council members over environmental concerns earlier this month, including climate change-induced flooding and sea level rise.

“The last few weeks have been difficult, to say the least, for a climate activist to be sitting on the council,” said council woman and Climate Action Commission Liaison D’Lynda Fischer.

Both Vice Mayor Fischer and Mayor Teresa Barrett voted against the Sid Commons development, unconvinced the environmental studies of the project adequately addressed potential impacts on the parcel’s wetland and riparian corridor. They also questioned whether the reports relied on the best available data, especially in regards to anticipated sea level rise and increased flooding.

Last year, the city made significant strides to push climate change issues to the top of their agenda, declaring a climate emergency and creating the advisory Climate Action Commission. As a result, conversations over climate change adaptation and mitigation are only growing louder, permeating discussions within City Hall as the city moves to incorporate these new priorities.

Sid Commons is not the only development that has attracted criticism from sustainability advocates this year. Public outcry over the recent Corona Station development linked to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit raised doubts over whether its single-family, single-use design kneecaps efforts to encourage public transit use as a way of lowering carbon emissions.

Criticisms of the Corona Station development also centered significantly on affordability concerns, a key sticking point that led the council to delay the project’s final vote to Feb. 24.

Continue reading “Petaluma council decisions irk climate board”

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Huge old ranch straddling Sonoma, Napa to become parkland after sale

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Jim Perry was silent for a moment as he took in the panoramic view from his favorite place, 2,500 feet high on Big Hill, a golden, oak-dotted ridge above St. Helena with a view all the way to San Francisco.

His late wife’s family has owned the spectacular promontory dividing Sonoma and Napa counties for five generations, and now he is about to give it up.

“This is the best part,” Perry said, his eyes moving from Pole Mountain on the Sonoma Coast, past Geyser Peak and over to Bald Mountain in the east. “It’s just a great place to come and see the whole world.”

The rugged, 654-acre hilltop parcel is part of the historic McCormick Ranch, which the Sonoma Land Trust will announce Wednesday it has agreed to buy for $14.5 million. It’s the fulfillment of a promise he made to his late wife, Sandra Learned, as she lay dying of a rare autoimmune disease in 2015: to preserve the nearly pristine, wild property.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Huge-old-ranch-straddling-Sonoma-Napa-to-become-14830048.php

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Sonoma’s vision for open space, affordable housing included in state budget request

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Two of Sonoma’s most desirable goals – affordable housing and open space – are being baked into plans for the extensive Sonoma Developmental Center property, as part of the state’s recognition of the “unique and historic resources of the property,” according to a three-year budget request made on April 22 by the Department of General Services.

The three-year timeline was confirmed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes the developed campus and much of the surrounding open space.

“We have been working for the past four years to protect and preserve the open space watersheds and wildlife corridors while at the same time establishing a community-driven process that will plan for the next generation of the SDC campus,” McGuire told the Index-Tribune.

McGuire has been working with his fellow legislators, state Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, as a delegation from Sonoma on the SDC process.

“The SDC Coalition has been working with state legislators for years to move to this point,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin about the group of local stakeholder organizations she’s been working with as the Developmental Center transitions to its next stage. “We wanted a community-driven process for the future of the SDC, and we were rewarded.”

The detailed inclusion of budget numbers through June 2022 signals that the state is stepping up to honor the commitment it made to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 to bear the cost of managing SDC for the next three years, while the property is in “warm shutdown” mode, giving the county time to prepare a specific reuse plan for the historic property.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9556028-181/sonomas-vision-for-open-space

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Sonoma County signs on $40 million state deal on Sonoma Developmental Center

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors approved a $40 million state-funded plan to plot the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center on Friday before an appreciative crowd of residents, state lawmakers and officials who have worked for years to assure the prized property would not fall to ruin in the wake of its closure after 128 years of service to residents.

The four supervisors present voted in favor of a so-called “hybrid process” in which the state will pay up to $13 million a year for three years to maintain the 880-acre property, including 700 acres of open space, while the county crafts a development plan for the land and its aging facilities, built as far back as the 1800s.

“This is sacred property for many people for many reasons,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, one of three legislators who helped broker the deal.

“This is historic,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, thanking everyone responsible for bringing “an amazing experience before us today that will unleash the future of the developmental center.”

The redeveloped property will provide housing and jobs, she said, noting the center was once Sonoma County’s largest employer.

Richard Dale of the Sonoma Environmental Center, one of the stakeholders in charting the center’s future, said the commitment to local planning was “a very different scenario than we were expecting.”

“We actually have a chance to do something right,” he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9468612-181/sonoma-county-signs-on-40

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County backs down on sale of Santa Rosa meadow to developer

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The meadow for 15 years has been marked by a prominent sign that declares it part of the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve supposedly managed by a partnership of the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the county Water Agency, the county itself and the city.

Bowing to intense political pressure from a group of Santa Rosa neighborhood activists, the chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to guarantee that a treasured undeveloped meadow near their homes won’t be paved over after the county sells the sprawling site of its old hospital complex to a housing developer.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said in an interview this week that she has not yet determined the best way to officially ensure the meadow and some surrounding land remain as open space. The options under consideration include removing the roughly 10-acre parcel from the sale entirely or striking a deal with the developer, Bill Gallaher, to maintain the land as a preserve.
The about-face represents a significant concession from Zane, who previously insisted that neighbors’ concerns about selling the de facto open space would have to be addressed by the city when Gallaher’s project passed through its planning process.
Neighbors, in response, mounted an aggressive campaign, consulting an attorney, filing extensive requests for years-worth of public records on the parcel in question and placing signs — knowingly or not — in Zane’s McDonald Avenue neighborhood and along her route to work.
“It was just time to say, you know, if we have to lose some money on this in terms of renegotiating the proposal, then that’s what we should do,” Zane said. She said the decision came Tuesday after county officials and supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss the sale, though that wasn’t the only factor.
Read more at: Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow up for sale in development deal | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping 

Tim Stafford, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Early in 2002, I asked then-Mayor Mike Martini if he would like to take a short hike on land that was coming up for a Santa Rosa zoning decision. I knew Martini casually because our kids went to school together. Like a lot of my neighbors, I had concerns about a developer’s plans to build houses on land where we had taken innumerable walks and where my children had spent many hours exploring. He accepted my offer, so on a rainy day I showed him the land.
I didn’t try to discuss the land-use decision with Martini, and he didn’t say much as we hiked. I had the impression, however, that he was stunned by the beauty he saw. That impression was ratified by his subsequent actions. Within days, he had talked to the major players involved and helped arrange for the Open Space District to buy the land.
The arrangement was celebrated as a win for everybody. The Press Democrat wrote an editorial citing it as a great example of government working together for the common good. Chris Coursey, then a columnist for the paper, wrote enthusiastically of the “little slice of wilderness” that had been preserved.
Joined to two adjacent parcels that run along Paulin Creek — one a small pie-shaped county-owned property known as Parcel J, the other a larger parcel owned by the Water Agency for flood control — the open-space property was named Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve and shown on Open Space District maps. A large sign at the head of Beverly Way, the only road access to Parcel J, was put up by a county agency stating the existence of Paulin Creek Preserve as an entity preserved by multiple government agencies and urging that it be used with care. We neighbors believed the matter was settled forever.
In Coursey’s column, he quoted Martini saying, “I didn’t know places like this existed in Santa Rosa anymore.” Fifteen years later, it still does. But it may not, if the county’s plan to include Parcel J in the sale of the old Sutter Hospital property goes through. Parcel J has nothing to do with the hospital properties. They are adjacent, but they don’t access each other, not even on foot. But Parcel J is critical to the Paulin Creek Preserve. Without it, the other two properties are cut off from each other.
To be clear, the neighbors trying to separate Parcel J from the land sale have no objection to the development of the hospital lands. We know that housing is needed, and even though we live very close to that potential development, we aren’t opposed to it. What we hope to preserve is the small, beautiful swath of meadow and oak-studded hills, the wetlands and the creek that make up the Paulin Creek Preserve.
Read more at: Close to Home: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping | The Press Democrat

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Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.
Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.
But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.
A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”
Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: An affordable housing fix: Make room for granny

Editorial Board, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
We’ve said it before. Building more houses is a surefire solution to the affordable housing crisis.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. We’ve said that, too.There are practical obstacles — unsuitable land, inadequate water supplies, endangered species protections, steep fees for the new parks, new schools and other infrastructure needed to serve new homes. Oftentimes there are political obstacles, too, everything from neighborhood opposition to a specific development proposal to reflexive objections to growth of any kind.
Is it any wonder that communities across the state are struggling to meet the need for affordable, habitable housing?
There isn’t a solution that will satisfy everyone.It’s going to take a variety of strategies to chip away at this problem, and state legislators are reviewing proposals to facilitate an approach that could produce a significant amount of new housing without sprawl: adding granny units to single-family homes.
Supervisorial candidates in Sonoma County have floated the same idea.
Consider this: Construction began on about 1,500 new housing units in Sonoma County in 2015. And that was the largest number in several years. Adding a second unit to 10 percent of the existing homes in Sonoma County would create about 12,000 new housing units. A similar increase across the nine-county Bay Area would translate to about 150,000 new housing units.
An improbable scenario? Yes, it is. But it illustrates the scale of the potential gains to be made by scattering new housing throughout existing neighborhoods.
Read more at: PD Editorial: A housing fix: Make room for granny | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County voters to decide on extending open space protections 

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On an already bulging ballot, Sonoma County voters this fall will be asked whether to extend open space protections that for the past 20 years have helped shield more than 17,000 acres of farm and untouched lands from large-scale development.
community separatorsThe Board of Supervisors last week voted to place on the Nov. 8 ballot a measure extending for another two decades the county’s longstanding rule requiring property owners seek additional voter approval for projects such as large housing subdivisions, for example, or commercial projects on largely undeveloped county lands separating cities.

Open space advocates argue such protections affecting buffer zones between cities, known technically as community separators, help curb urban sprawl and contain growth. They do not prevent development outright, but make it more difficult by requiring voter approval to increase the intensity of development in designated rural areas. The protections, in place since 1996 and 1998, are set to expire at the end of 2016 and 2018, respectively, though other rules regarding the parcels will remain in place.

“This doesn’t remove development potential. Whatever people are allowed to do now, they’ll still be allowed to do,” said Teri Shore, regional director for the North Bay office of Greenbelt Alliance, the nonprofit spearheading the initiative. “This is essential if we want to maintain our rural landscape. The voter protections simply help strengthen the community separators.”

Supervisors last week approved a parallel proposal through a general plan amendment that will triple the amount of land included in the buffer zones. The new greenbelts, slated for final approval by supervisors in August, include 37,700 acres of largely undeveloped county land north of Santa Rosa, east of Sebastopol, around Cloverdale and Healdsburg, south of Petaluma and between Penngrove and Cotati.

Read more at: Sonoma County voters to decide on extending open space protections | The Press Democrat