Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE
Regional Parks Maxwell Farms Plan Update
The future of Maxwell Park got another hearing Wednesday night in a well-attended and lively meeting of locals, interested parties and personnel from Sonoma County Regional Parks. Though billed as “Workshop #2” it followed by over a year the first such meeting, held Jan. 15 2015, and by 10 months a second workshop held at El Verano Elementary last April.
Those meetings were primarily about getting community input on the sorts of features resident would like to see in the 80-acre park, located between the City of Sonoma and Verano.
“It took us longer than expected to marshal the resources to move this plan forward, and allowed more time for researching background information and talking with the different interest groups,” said project planner Scott Wilkinson. He also cited the county’s work toward a Moorland Park on the site of Andy Lopez’ death in 2013 as shifting resources.
This time Wilkinson and Steve Ehret, also of Regional Parks, came with three developed maps for the property that each included the major features the community requested – and a large open-space area taking up almost half the park, in deference to the so-called “conservation easement” that accompanied the parcel when it was deeded to the county.
Though the fact that the county now owns the land essentially voids the easement – the county apparently cannot legally have an easement on land it owns itself, according to Ehret – that didn’t alter the commitment to the “spirit of the easement,” he said.
Read more at: Master plan for Sonoma’s Maxwell Field Park gets | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After the changes in traffic patterns that will result from the removal of the one block of Mendocino Avenue between Third and Fourth streets, the felling of trees will undoubtedly be the most significant change to the downtown landscape.
Up to 91 trees of the 114 trees on site today, or nearly 80 percent, will be removed as part of the project.
The final design for the reunification of Old Courthouse Square won unanimous approval from the Santa Rosa City Council early Wednesday morning, a decision hailed by business leaders as a crucial step toward revitalizing the economic heart of the city and denounced by critics as denuding a verdant downtown park of its cherished trees to build roads and parking spaces.
The decision, made shortly after midnight following testimony of dozens of residents for and against the latest iteration of the high-profile project, was punctuated with a group of unabashed tree lovers storming out of the meeting claiming their input had been ignored.
“None of us are happy with cutting down trees, there is no joy in that,” Councilman Chris Coursey said as project critics filed out. “Serving on this council is about balancing competing interests and it’s about making decisions for the greater good. And that’s the decision that I’m making tonight.”
Read more at: Santa Rosa City Council signs off on final | The Press Democrat
Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Preliminary designs of a reunified Old Courthouse Square were both blasted and applauded during a packed public forum Saturday morning in a building space on the west side of the square in Santa Rosa.
About 200 attended the meeting, many of them standing because of insufficient seating. They voiced strong opinions about the project, ranging from opposition to eliminating some of the square’s old redwood trees to ecological concerns about the installation of a lawn in the middle of downtown.
But other attendees, some of them business owners on or near the square, called the three design proposals a good compromise that would save the majority of the site’s redwoods, add needed parking and revitalize an otherwise dreary urban landscape.
“If we do nothing, nothing happens,” said Michael Hyman, owner of the Pawn Advantage on Fourth Street. “I go through the square nearly every day. … It’s depressing. No one goes through the square; no one goes there to look at redwoods.”
As expected, many attending the forum were concerned about the removal of nearly two dozen trees, particularly redwoods, from the site. A number of them objected to the removal of trees for what would become angled parking on the west and east sides of the reunified square.
“I don’t think we need all that parking space at the expense of all those beautiful trees,” Santa Rosa resident Carlos Dabe said during the public comment section of the forum.
Read more at: Trees take center stage at Old Courthouse Square | The Press Democrat
Alec Peters, KENWOOD PRESS
About 25 people attended a Sonoma County Regional Parks meeting on Oct. 28 to put in their two cents about potential uses for two properties that are now part of Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen.
The properties are adjacent to the Sonoma Highway access for Sonoma Valley Regional Park.
On one side is what’s known as the 29-acre Curreri property, and the other is the 41-acre SDC41 property. Regional Parks officials are in the process of creating a master plan that will create trails and other recreational activities on the new additions, and figure out how they would integrate with the rest of Sonoma Valley Regional Park.
“We want your input,” said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin as she kicked off the meeting in front of the small crowd at the Kenwood Fire House, many of whom were neighbors of the Glen Ellen park.
The SDC41 piece was once part of the state-run Sonoma Developmental Center, but declared surplus property in the 1990s. Open Space bought the property for $600,000 in 2007. The land was then transferred to Regional Parks. The 41 acres consists of oak woodlands and grasslands, some wetland areas, and also provides some panoramic views of the valley.
The Curreri property was bought by the Sonoma Land Trust for $1.1 million in 2014, and then immediately moved to Regional Parks. The area has similar landscape characteristics as SDC41, and also includes a pond, which helps provide a habitat for such species as the Pacific pond turtle, California red legged frog, grasshopper sparrow, and Great Blue heron.
The newest additions to Sonoma Valley Regional Park border its east and west sides, increasing the park by 70 acres. (Source: Sonoma County Regional Parks)
Another aspect of the new lands is increased protection for an officially designated Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which provides a crucial linkage for wildlife movement between Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas range.
Discussed among the group at the Oct. 28 meeting were potential uses of the new properties, such as the possible locations of trails for hiking, biking, and horses, and educational activities that might include an educational center.
Participants emphasized the need to protect the wildlife corridor and the pond, the need for reforestation in some areas, the removal of barbed wire fencing and invasive weed species on the Curreri land, and a general focus on native land management practice.
All were interested in the potential of Regional Parks acquiring further SDC property that is next to Sonoma Valley Regional Park, especially an area that contains Suttonfield Lake.
Regional Parks staff will take the input from the public and use it as they develop a master plan. Environmental and other studies need to be done, and future public meetings held. It is hoped that approval of the master plan would go in front of the Board of Supervisors in the fall of 2016, with trail construction beginning in the Spring of 2017.
Regional Parks is also preparing a master plan for a 247-acre addition to Hood Mountain Regional Park, known as the Lawson Addition. The Open Space District purchased the property in 2005 for $1,160,000, and then transferred title to Regional Parks in 2014.
A public workshop on the Lawson Addition master plan will take place Wednesday, Nov. 18, 6 to 8 p.m., also at the Kenwood Fire House.
Source: The Kenwood Press – Plans discussed for new Sonoma Valley Regional Park lands
Rob Jordan, STANFORD REPORT
Feeling down? Take a hike.
A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.
Specifically, the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.”
More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.
In fact, city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.
Is exposure to nature linked to mental health? If so, the researchers asked, what are nature’s impacts on emotion and mood? Can exposure to nature help “buffer” against depression?
Read more at: Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa signed off Tuesday on long-sought deal paving the way for Caltrans to transfer a strip of land to the city and county for what proponents hope will become a future urban greenway.
The unanimous vote by the City Council, which followed a similar nod by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last month, was cheered by dozens of supporters wearing green shirts reading “Imagine a greenway to Spring Lake and beyond.”
The members of the Southeast Greenway Campaign have worked for years to convince Caltrans officials to turn over 52 acres of former Highway 12 right-of-way to groups that can preserve the land for public open space, bike paths and other uses.
“There’s been long-standing interest in pursuing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community,” said Linda Proulx, co-chair of the campaign.The agreement states that Caltrans will offer the city and Sonoma County Water Agency the right of first refusal to purchase the property. The city has agreed to take ownership of the largest portion, from Farmers Lane to Summerfield Avenue, while the county has said it will take the portion running east uphill to Spring Lake. Caltrans has already agreed it does not need the land it acquired decades ago for a now-defunct plan to extend Highway 12 over Spring Lake, bypassing the busy Farmers Lane area.
Convincing the state agency not to just declare the property surplus and sell it to the highest bidder was considered a crucial step. Vice Mayor Chris Coursey doubted it would ever happen.
“When I first heard this proposal, I thought, ‘Caltrans is never going to give up that land,’ ” Coursey said.
Much work remains to be done. The property still needs to be appraised, a price agreed upon, money raised, and a plan for the land approved.
Read more at: Santa Rosa signs off on deal for Southeast | The Press Democrat
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The California Coastal Commission will consider the state’s controversial proposal to expand the number of places on the Sonoma Coast where day-use fees would be charged at the commission’s April 15 meeting in San Rafael.
The state is seeking permission to install 15 self-pay machines at beaches on the Sonoma Coast and charge visitors $7 for parking.
The areas where the new fees would apply are Stump Beach, Russian Gulch, Goat Rock, Shell Beach, Portuguese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach, North and South Salmon Creek, Campbell Cove and Bodega Head. The state for decades has been charging a day-use fee at several Sonoma Coast parks, including Fort Ross, Bodega Dunes and Wrights Beach.
State Parks originally sought a coastal permit from Sonoma County to implement the new fees. Supervisors in June 2013 unanimously rejected the plan, mainly on the grounds that they felt the new fees would restrict access to the coast, particularly for low-income people and seniors.
The commission’s April 15 meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Marin County Board of Supervisors chambers in San Rafael.
More information about the meeting can be found at www.coastal.ca.gov/mtgcurr.html.
via California Coastal Commission to hear proposal to charge | The Press Democrat.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in the House and Senate on Thursday to designate the 360,100-acre Berryessa-Snow Mountain region — all federally owned land — as a national monument.
The move represents a slight shift for Thompson and Boxer, who tried in 2013 to get the sprawling area, which runs for 100 miles south-to-north through Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Solano and Yolo counties, placed in a national conservation area.
Neither of those bills came to a vote in either chamber, and now both the Senate and House are under Republican control.
Thompson said in an interview Thursday that he will “work with the leadership in the House” to advance the new bill, noting that he has succeeded in the past with the House Committee on Natural Resources, where his bill was sent.
Thompson helped secure passage of a bill that established permanent protection of 273,000 acres of publicly owned land in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake and Napa counties in 2006, when former Rep. Richard Pombo, a conservative Republican from Tracy, chaired the committee.
The current chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has a 4 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental nonprofit group that rates federal lawmakers on a zero to 100 scale based on their votes on key issues. Thompson has a 91 percent lifetime score.
At the same time, Thompson said he is working with the Interior Department on the possibility of getting President Barack Obama to declare the area a national monument.
Read more via Legislation introduced to make Berryessa-Snow Mountain into national | The Press Democrat.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday approved the development of a new park, with basketball courts, soccer fields and a baseball diamond, at no cost to the city. The move overturned an earlier Parks and Recreation Commission decision denying the development and exposed a rift between the council and the influential commission.
The park will be built by the developer of the 1,450-unit University District housing development, a project just north of the Green Music Center that will add the first new homes in Rohnert Park in 25 years.
A state law allows cities to require that developers dedicate parkland as part of new housing projects. Rohnert Park’s code calls for 5 acres of parkland for every 1,000 new residents, in this case amounting to 21.96 acres, but it also allows the developer to provide park improvements instead of land.
Brookfield Homes, the University District developer, proposed to dedicate 13.66 acres, spread out over two parks, and make up the difference by adding around $2.5 million worth of amenities including sports fields, playgrounds and lighting. The Parks and Recreation Commission in November, voted 4-1 against this proposal, preferring instead to require the full 21.96 acres of vacant land for a future park.
Read more via Rohnert Park council OKs plan for new parks | The Press Democrat.