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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

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Sonoma County may ask voters to continue greenbelt protections

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County voters next year may be asked to renew environmental protections that for almost 20 years have shielded 17,000 acres of county farmland and open space from development.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider placing on the November 2016 ballot an initiative to extend the county’s community separators, voter-backed scenic buffers between urban areas approved in the late 1990s that expire next year.
Community separators dot the Highway 101 corridor from Healdsburg to south of Petaluma and include pockets east of Santa Rosa, in the Springs area and outside Sebastopol. Together with similar protections enacted by most cities over the past two decades, growth has been steered into existing development patterns within city boundaries.
But environmental advocates say with regional pressure to build new housing and population growth — the number of people living in the nine-county Bay Area swelled to nearly 7.6 million last year, a 1.3 percent increase from July 2013 to July 2014 — those separators could be at risk of being developed with large-scale housing projects and businesses.
“If these expire, the county could issue permits for development on the fringe of urban areas,” said Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, the county’s largest environmental organization. “We don’t want to see that happen.”
Rosatti said he and others are concerned about large multi-unit apartment buildings and commercial development encroaching on agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands, and losing the distinct separation that exists between most cities in the county.
Conservation Action and other high-profile environmental groups are steering a campaign to convince the Board of Supervisors to extend the current protections for 30 more years through a ballot measure.
They are also pushing the county to expand protections on 22,081 additional acres by amending its land-use policy in the general plan. Those areas could include scenic hillsides, meadows and river basins between Rohnert Park and Petaluma, stretching east to Sonoma Valley.
Other proposals include designating additional acres around Cloverdale and Healdsburg as community separators. At present, community separators do not extend north of Healdsburg.
Read more: Sonoma County may ask voters to continue greenbelts | The Press Democrat

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Public open space outside Santa Rosa grows with deal for Mark West Creek land

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Generations of kids and other nature lovers will continue to enjoy outdoor experiences at a Mark West Creek ranch northeast of Santa Rosa under a new conservation deal that maintains public access to the property in perpetuity.
More broadly, open space advocates say preservation of the 124-acre Rancho Mark West builds upon a legacy of protecting land from development in the sensitive environmental area while offering the public more opportunities to engage with nature a short distance away from Santa Rosa.
“We hope to be able to walk people from Santa Rosa to Rancho Mark West to spend the night. That would be a pretty incredible opportunity,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of the nonprofit group LandPaths.
LandPaths will continue to operate In Our Own Backyard, Owl Camp and other popular outdoor programs for kids at the St. Helena Road ranch under an updated conservation easement that protects public access to the site.
Read more: Public open space outside Santa Rosa grows with | The Press Democrat