Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
County supervisors on Tuesday are set to authorize a $2.2 million expansion of county bus service along existing routes serving Healdsburg, Sonoma Valley and communities along the lower Russian River.
The move is expected to boost access to transportation for low-income people, seniors and those with disabilities who struggle to secure transportation to essential services such as doctor visits, as well as day-to-day access to food outlets and reliable travel to work.
Upon approval, the funding would decrease wait times for riders during busy morning and evening commute hours, officials said, as well as help the county purchase two new energy-efficient buses.
County supervisors hailed the expansion as a much-needed link between rural communities and the North Bay’s planned passenger rail line, set to begin service by the end of next year.
“It’s been a challenge to figure out how we link SMART service to people in Sonoma Valley, along the river and in Healdsburg who may be far removed from the spine of Sonoma County,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin. “This is very critical — I hear from many constituents about how difficult it is to reach services, whether it’s health care, food or education.”
Bryan Albee, a manager with Sonoma County Transit, said the county likely will roll out the bus system expansion by the end of 2016, coinciding with the current timeline for the start of service on the 43-mile SMART line.
“We’re expecting great demand for the new rail service and increased ridership on all of our bus routes,” Albee said. “So as we get closer, we’re looking for ways to fund expanded services and additional buses.”
Read more via Sonoma County looks to expand rural bus service | The Press Democrat.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Bill Kortum, Sonoma County’s premier environmental activist, was remembered Saturday as a family man, home winemaker, veterinarian, croquet enthusiast and a personal inspiration to others who joined him in defending the landscape here and along the entire California coast.
More than 700 people, representing a who’s who of the local environmental community, attended a celebration of Kortum’s life at the Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center in Rohnert Park, 4 miles north of the Kortum family home, known as Ely Hill, on the outskirts of Petaluma.
Kortum, who spent most of his life fighting to rein in urban sprawl and protect public access to the coast, died at home Dec. 20 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 87.
Read more via Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sonoma | The Press Democrat.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The agency tasked with building the North Bay’s commuter rail line is about to embark on a $1.9 million environmental restoration project that will create new wetlands, protect valuable habitat for endangered species and help the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority meet the conditions of its construction permits.
Without discussion, the SMART board Wednesday approved a deal with contractor Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog to restore the former Mira Monte marina site — 56 acres of marshland straddling the Sonoma-Marin county line at the spot where San Antonio Creek joins the Petaluma River.
The agency last year spent $2.5 million on the land that is a key piece of the Petaluma Marsh ecosystem, supporting an array of bird, plant and animal species including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail. The habitat work is required by a slew of state and federal agencies that issued environmental permits to SMART as it builds the 43-mile commuter rail line from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. Service is expected to begin in late 2016.
Read more via SMART gives go-ahead to large wetland restoration | The Press Democrat.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two-thirds of Sonoma and Marin county residents surveyed recently in a poll commissioned by SMART said they would consider riding the North Bay’s future commuter train, an indication that agency officials said reflects the possibility of commuters’ high interest in the rail service.
The telephone poll of 900 residents in the two counties found that 91 percent of those who would consider riding the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train said they would do so if the service and schedule fit their travel needs.
SMART is currently constructing tracks in preparation for service to begin in 2016 between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. Critics have predicted that trains will run nearly empty, especially since the first phase of service will not connect to the Larkspur-San Francisco ferry due to a lack of funding.
SMART officials suggested the poll results bolster their case that the service will have a thriving ridership within the North Bay.
Read more via SMART poll shows high interest among potential riders | The Press Democrat.
Lori A. Carter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With a little twisting and a lot of heavy lifting, the rare Cotati chimera redwood was hoisted out of the ground Thursday and loaded on a flatbed truck for a short move to its new home across the street, much to the delight of preservationists who fought for months to save the unusual tree.
“It’s a nice, happy ending,” said Tom Stapleton, an arborist who studies the rare green-and-white trees. He and Cotati historian Prue Draper led the effort to protect the Cotati specimen from the log pile.
The 56-foot tree, planted in the 1940s, was growing inside the federal safety zone for a second side track planned for SMART commuter train service that is planned to begin running in 2016.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit initially planned to cut the tree down, based on its original arborist report that said the tree wasn’t particularly rare and moving it or working near it would kill it. After community members raised concerns and steadily pushed SMART for months with scientific evidence of the tree’s uniqueness, the agency agreed to relocate the tree and care for it on SMART land.
On Thursday, after more than a week of prep work, a huge crane lifted the tree using straps linked under the tree’s mesh-encased root ball and moved it — in an upright position — to a waiting truck.
via Cotati chimera redwood uprooted to safety (w/video) | The Press Democrat.
Eric Gneckow, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Efforts to connect the North Bay’s upcoming passenger rail system to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal took a major step forward Wednesday after a regional Bay Area transportation authority allocated what amounts to half of the necessary funds.
The $20 million award from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which redirects a pool of bridge toll funding once slated for a discarded highway interchange project between the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge and Highway 101, is the most significant boost yet for the proposed southernmost stretch of Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit.
SMART is currently planning to begin service on a nearly 40-mile segment between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, a stretch expected to account for the majority of passenger volume in the system. Yet the Larkspur extension remains a priority, with those MTC funds raising the likelihood for additional federal grants and the possibility of a ferry connection at or near the expected start of rail service in 2016.
via SMART gets $20 million for Larkspur ferry connection – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.
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Laila Kearney, REUTERS
Northern California preservationists are fighting to keep a rare albino redwood, one of just 10 trees of its kind known to exist, from being chopped down to make way for a new commuter rail system, arborists and city officials said on Wednesday.
The albino chimera coast redwood, standing 52 feet high in a commercial district of Cotati, a town in California’s wine country, also is the tallest and widest specimen of its type, said Tom Stapleton, a certified arborist who is leading a group of researchers and community members pushing to save the tree.
“To lose this tree would be an absolutely huge loss to science and the ability to study albinism in redwoods,” Stapleton said.
The tree is a form of albino redwood with a genetic mutation that causes its branches to be striped, in a candy cane-like pattern, with a mix of green and white needles.
It stands 12 feet away from a planned stretch of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line, a voter-approved passenger rail and bicycle-pedestrian pathway system.
via Preservationists fight to save rare albino redwood tree in California | Reuters.
Lori A. Carter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Standing inconspicuously beside a block wall across the street from a glass shop in Cotati is one of the rarest living life forms in the world, an albino chimera coast redwood tree.
Researchers say fewer than 10 of the genetically mutated trees are known to exist.
But if SMART’s rail plans proceed, the tree — the largest of its kind — soon will be cut down so commuter trains can safely zoom past.
“This tree is irreplaceable,” said Tom Stapleton, a former Sonoma County arborist who is now based in Amador County and studies the rare mutations. “They need to do something more than just cut it down.”
via Rare redwood faces chopping block in Cotati | PressDemocrat.com.
Santa Rosa Planning Commission: Thursday, May 24, 4:00 pm
Santa Rosa City Council Chambers, 100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa
After months of public meetings and workshops, the Guerneville Road SMART Station Area Plan will be up for a vote at the Santa Rosa Planning Commission on Thursday. One important piece currently included in the plan is the bike/pedestrian bridge over Hwy 101 connecting the Santa Rosa Junior College on the east to Coddingtown and the SMART station on the west. For information about other issues and comments on the Plan see the following evaluation by Greenbelt Alliance.