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Major fixes for addressing traffic, sea level rise on Highway 37 identified

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Imagine driving along a four-lane elevated causeway above the brackish San Pablo Bay, shaving more than an hour off the normal Highway 37 commute.

Transportation planners have for years envisioned remaking the 20-mile route from Novato to Vallejo into the North Bay’s most important east-west corridor. Now, they are ready to act.

Officials in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties have been meeting for several years, pondering solutions to Highway 37’s notorious bottlenecks, where 45,000 cars per day stretch the normal 20-minute commute to as much as 100 minutes. They have also acknowledged that traffic improvements will be irrelevant without addressing sea level rise — without action, the highway will be underwater in 30 years.

The first fixes will be completed within the next seven years, officials say, and a new formal partnership defines the roles various agencies will play and sets the process in motion.

Branded as Resilient State Route 37, the program that includes the transportation agencies of the four counties plus Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, is planning vast changes to the highway. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority signed onto the partnership on Monday.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9236578-181/major-fixes-for-addressing-traffic

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Sense of Place: Petaluma River once considered a creek

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Petaluma River flows from its headwaters on Sonoma Mountain, past the city of Petaluma and out to San Pablo Bay. With a watershed smaller than that of neighboring Sonoma Creek, it was called Petaluma Creek up until about 1960, though most of it is actually a tidal slough.

River, creek, slough … What’s the difference?

Sonoma Creek’s flow typically exceeds that of the Petaluma River, sometimes by a wide margin. During the 2006 New Year’s flood, the Petaluma River was running at 9,600 cubic feet a second while Sonoma Creek hit 20,000 cubic feet a second (the Missouri River, a hundred miles below its headwaters, only occasionally tops that). In fact, some 19th-century mapmakers labeled the stream the “Sonoma River.” During a winter storm, it easily earns the title, though in the summer it sometimes dries up in places.

In the United States, a creek is “normally smaller than and often tributary to a river.” Originally a British term for “a narrow sheltered waterway, especially an inlet in a shoreline or a channel in a marsh,” its meaning changed over time. As settlement progressed inland above saltwater and tides, the word followed and was applied to freshwater channels, too.

Around San Francisco Bay, sloughs are tidal channels where salt and freshwater mix (elsewhere they can be freshwater side channels). At low tide that brackish water flows “downstream” into the Bay, but when the tide comes in, the flow reverses and goes “upstream.” Our sloughs are similar to British “creeks.”

So how did Petaluma Creek become the Petaluma River? As Newt Dal Poggetto, a lifelong county resident described it: “It was Petaluma Creek until Clem Miller got it named a river.” After being elected to the House of Representatives in 1959, Miller “found out that if you could change the name of a creek to a river, you qualified for the Army Corps of Engineers budget. Spending money! So he got Congress to change the name, which qualified it to get federal funding for dredging and building levees.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9174338-181/sense-of-place-petaluma-river

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Op-Ed: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic 

Fraser Shilling and Steven Moore, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
State Route 37 — which snakes across Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California — is living on borrowed time.
At times, the highway appears to be impassable because of the 44,000-plus vehicles that travel portions of it every day. However, the effects of climate change will render this critical northern Bay Area crossing absolutely impassable during high tides unless we collaborate regionally on the best way to balance traffic needs and the valuable wetlands the roadway straddles.
The societal challenge we face is adapting to environmental changes in a resilient way while being ecologically sustainable. In the Bay Area, rebuilding State Route 37 to avoid its potential loss in the next 20 years because of flooding will be our first regional foray into adapting to sea level rise — an issue that will threaten most of our shoreline infrastructure, coastal ecosystems and population centers.
State Route 37 provides a critical “northern crossing” of the San Pablo Bay as it stretches from Interstate 80 in the east, to Highway 101 in the west, serving local residents, commuters and visitors, as well as freight haulers traveling between the Central Valley and the Santa Rosa area. Today the highway is built atop a berm, an outdated method of building roads across marshes and waterways that constricts the ability of the bay to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, produce more fish and wildlife, and absorb floods.
The temptation may be to work on a quick, easy fix that reduces traffic congestion while ignoring long-term consequences. These consequences include traffic congestion returning to current levels in a few years, and the San Pablo Bay tidal marshes being cut off from the life-giving ebb and flow of the tides.
Read more at: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic – San Francisco Chronicle

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History of Sonoma Baylands, the ‘big sky country’

Arthur Dawson,  THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Editor’s Note: To the south, Sonoma and Napa counties melt into San Pablo Bay, a coastline of many marshy miles. When healthy, those wetlands function like natural sponges, filtering toxins and absorbing water from tidal surges and rising sea levels. Since 1996, the Sonoma Land Trust has been working to restore portions of that marshland, often breaching levees built by farmers to keep the water out. Here, historical ecologist Arthur Dawson explains the land’s history and its valuable environmental attributes.
The Sonoma Baylands have been nicknamed “big sky country,” and they are. Standing by the edge of the bay, there is a delicious sense of solitude. Millions of people live nearby, but you may not see a single one of them, even though the horizon stretches all the way to Mount Diablo and Tamalpais.
It wasn’t always this way. Fifteen thousand years ago you would have seen a wide valley, greened by countless creeks and dotted with the villages of the First Peoples. Across that valley flowed an enormous river, carrying half the runoff of California. A tremendous roar filled the Golden Gate, as all that water poured over a steep cascade on its way to the ocean, which lay beyond the hills that would become the Farallon Islands.
As the last ice age ended, the sea slowly rose and that valley was transformed into San Francisco Bay. Vast tidal marshes formed as pickleweed, tules and other salt-tolerant plants colonized the water’s advancing edge. This rich habitat attracted myriads of fish and birds. By necessity, the First Peoples periodically moved their villages to higher ground, but stayed close to the marsh because it was such a good place to hunt and fish.
With such abundant resources, the Bay Area was more densely populated than almost anywhere else in the Americas when the Spanish arrived in the 18th century. Groups along the marsh edge soon began losing their people to the missions. Some were taken forcibly, others chose to leave. Introduced diseases, against which they had no immunity, also took a heavy toll.
Read more at: Sonoma Baylands, the ‘big sky country’

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Highway 37 commute corridor will be underwater in 40 to 100 years due to sea-level rise

Jay Gamel, THE KENWOOD PRESS

Highway 37 is already deteriorating due to water levels that were eight inches higher in 2014-2015 than predicted by the U.C. Davis studies just a few years ago. The central segment is basically an elevated berm, or dirt mound, roughly 10 feet higher than the bay water level. In storm and high tide conditions, water can be at the nine-foot level.

Sonoma County Supervisors listened intently to plans to address State Highway 37 congestion and rising ocean levels that are likely to submerge portions of the North Bay’s major traffic conduit. Highway 37 connects Solano, Sonoma, and Marin counties along San Pablo Bay. Napa is intrinsically affected by what happens to the highway as well.
The issues driving Highway 37 congestion work the same for Highway 12 through the Valley of the Moon – rising housing costs in Sonoma and Marin are driving more of their workforce to Solano and other East Bay counties in search of affordable housing.
The transportation departments of all four counties are working to find the best solutions to replacing or rebuilding the 21-mile corridor, which isn’t easy in the current fiscal landscape.
“There is no money for transportation projects,” Sonoma County Transportation Authority Director Suzanne Smith told the county supervisors on Aug. 9. “There are no Measure M bond funds, no North Bay tax measures, and very little likelihood of state action this year.”
In May of this year, United Bridge Partners, a private group, offered to rebuild the two-lane segment and finance it with tolls. California has very few privately funded roads, toll or otherwise, and special legislation would be necessary to make this work. That proposal will be considered, Smith said, along with every other type of possible funding.
Read more at: The Kenwood Press – Saving Highway 37 from flooding will be an expensive, long-term project

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Measure AA passage assures funding source for North Bay restoration projects 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SEARS POINT— On this spread of flooded former hayfield edging San Pablo Bay, clumps of native pickleweed are sprouting, seabirds and raptors soar overhead and fish forage on the incoming tide.
It’s a scene wetland experts hope to replicate along the North Bay shoreline and on nearby creeks as part of an ambitious effort to improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat and bolster natural defenses against sea-level rise.
Here, on 960 acres of land where a century-old levee was breached last fall and bay waters rushed in, some of that transformation is already under way. It is part of a decades-long, patchwork effort to reverse degradation of San Francisco Bay’s once-vast complex of tidal and freshwater wetlands.
And soon there will be more public money to expand the restoration. It will come from a $12 annual parcel tax passed last week by voters in the nine-county Bay Area, a turning point, conservationists say, in the regionwide quest to recover the fringe of wetlands that historically rimmed the region’s 1,600-square-mile estuary.
Measure AA, the Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure, is expected to generate $25 million a year for wetland restoration and related projects, providing a reliable funding source for environmental projects for the bay and its watersheds, conservationists said.
Read more at: Measure AA passage assures funding source for North Bay restoration projects | The Press Democrat –

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Bay Area wetland restoration tax passes

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A ballot measure expected to raise $500 million over two decades for wetlands restoration and other projects designed to improve the health and resilience of San Francisco Bay passed Tuesday.
As of Wednesday morning, the measure received 69.3 percent of the vote. To pass, it needed support from two-thirds majority, or 66.7 percent of voters within the nine Bay Area counties.The measure fell short with 63.3 percent of the vote in Sonoma County, one of four North and East Bay counties where it trailed. The others were Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties.
The measure, the San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Program, would impose a $12-a-year parcel tax on property owners in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma and San Francisco counties, generating about $25 million a year over its 20-year lifespan.
The money would be used to fund a host of shoreline projects around the region intended to restore tidal marshes and freshwater wetlands that play a critical role in filtering bay water, creating wildlife habitat and buffering against flooding and climate-related sea rise.
Wetlands are the bay’s “heart and lungs,” keeping the water clean and providing abundant wildlife habitat, according to Save the Bay, an environmental advocacy group. Yet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region has lost 95 percent of its original wetlands due to human activity since the mid-19th century.
“We’ve done extensive polling on the measure and about people’s attitudes toward the bay for many, many years,” said David Pine, chairman of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. “What’s encouraging is people across the bay — even those who don’t live near the bay shore — have a strong affinity toward the bay and see it as a defining asset of our area and one that needs to be passed on to the next generation in better shape than we got it.”
Source: Bay Area wetland restoration tax passes | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay 

Dave Koehler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The San Francisco Bay defines our region — a shared natural resource that unites residents and visitors with its breathtaking beauty. The truth is, the bay is highly threatened by pollution and sea-level rise. Thousands of acres of wetlands must be restored because miles of bay shoreline face increasing flood threats from extreme weather and rising seas. If we are going to pass on a healthy, beautiful bay to our children and grandchildren, we need to come together and act now to protect and restore it.
For the first time in our history, the entire Bay Area has an opportunity to financially support the San Francisco Bay and make it healthier and safer for future generations. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot in all nine Bay Area counties is a small parcel tax that generates big benefits. For only $12 per year per parcel, amounting to $1 per month, Measure AA will raise $500 million over 20 years to restore wetlands around the bay — including in Sonoma County — that will provide habitat for fish and wildlife and filter out pollutants from the water. These wetlands — such as the Sonoma Land Trust’s own Sears Point Wetland Restoration project along Highway 37 — also provide a natural barrier against flooding and offer recreational open space for all of us.
North Bay counties will receive millions from Measure AA for essential wetland restoration projects. The allegation made by some that these counties — and Sonoma County in particular — will receive less than our fair share of the $500 million in funding is simply inaccurate. Measure AA has many built-in provisions to ensure the funds are used where they are most needed. Sonoma County has thousands of acres of wetlands restoration projects ready to go, and our projects will be highly competitive with other regions.
Of all the anti-AA arguments, the claim that the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is not answerable to the public completely distorts the truth. The restoration Authority board was set up under state law and is made up entirely of local elected officials. In other words, they are the same county supervisors and city council members who we rely on and interact with every day. Each region of the bay has a designated representative on the board. The current North Bay representative is Supervisor Keith Caldwell from Napa.
Our own Supervisor Susan Gorin has expressed interest in being nominated to the authority for the North Bay seat when it opens up for a term change. Measure AA also includes an additional level of openness and accountability by establishing a citizen oversight committee whose sole job is to make sure the authority is following the law and being transparent with its funding decisions.
Measure AA is endorsed by the most diverse coalition the Bay Area has ever seen, including local and national environmental organizations, leading businesses and organized labor and mayors and other elected officials, from Gov. Jerry Brown to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson — more than 600 groups and individuals in all. They understand Measure AA will bring us critical bay improvements for people and wildlife, and green infrastructure that will help protect our cities from flooding.
Sonoma Land Trust is campaigning hard for Measure AA because we have confidence in its safeguards and believe it is our best chance to fund the restoration of large sections of the Sonoma and northern bayshore before ocean levels rise even higher. We trust you won’t believe the scare tactics of the anti-tax groups. Please free to reach out to us if you have additional questions.
Dave Koehler is the Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust.
Source: Close to Home: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

New hiking trail opens up along San Pablo Bay 

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s newest hiking trail officially opened Sunday just a few hundred yards from the often backed up and typically frustrating Highway 37.
The Eliot Trail, located at the edge of tidal wetlands near where Lakeville Highway meets Highway 37, gives travelers an experience opposite to the nearby roadway.
The two-and-a-half mile trail offers walkers, joggers and cyclists a tranquil view of Mount Tamalpais and the skyscrapers of San Francisco as they traverse the flank of the new northern border of San Pablo Bay.
“It is such nice place to take a run,” said Julian Meisler, the Baylands program manager for Sonoma Land Trust. “For Sonoma County, this is one of the best access points we have to the bay.”
Jim Jackson of Sonoma said he was impressed with the extremely flat trail after doing the round-trip five-mile hike with his wife, Sharon.
“You get great views of the entire bay. It’s extremely peaceful and quiet out there. You can hear the water lapping by you,” Jackson said. “You realize how quickly you are away from 37.”
Read more at: New Sonoma County hiking trail opens up along San Pablo Bay | The Press Democrat

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Bay Area-wide tax aims to protect against rising sea levels 

Denis Cuff, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Bay Area voters will be asked in June to approve a $12 annual parcel tax to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay shoreline and wetlands from rising sea levels due to climate change.
The proposed tax is believed to be the first to go on the ballot in all nine Bay Area counties. It needs two-thirds approval to pass.
In authorizing the measure unanimously on Wednesday, members of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority said the tax is needed to provide $500 million over 20 years to fortify levees and create flood relief plains to protect homes, businesses, airports, highways and parks around the bay, and restore wetlands important to fish and wildlife.
“This is a historic day for Bay Area counties to get together on wetlands restoration on a scale not seen before,” said Dave Pine, a San Mateo County supervisor who is chairman of the restoration authority board. “San Francisco Bay is a common resource people in our region want to protect. It’s part of our identity.”
The panel is made up of seven elected county, city and special district officials who oversee a partnership that aims to protect bay wildlife and wetlands.
Board members, environmentalist and business leaders say the tax is needed to guard against the growing risk of flooding from rising sea levels because of climate change. Scientists predict the sea level to rise 3 to 5 feet through 2100.
Business groups such as the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and environmental groups such as Save San Francisco Bay, back the measure.
Read more at: Bay Area-wide tax aims to protect against rising sea levels – San Jose Mercury News