Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

Planning commission works on new rules for Sonoma County winery events

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Planning Commission on Thursday made some progress to finish new rules to regulate winery events that have triggered disputes between neighborhood activists and the wine industry over past years.

The panel revisited the draft that it initially considered last June, and again in February, in its quest to find a balance between rural neighbors who have complained about traffic and noise among wine tourists, against the local industry that contends the need for visitors.

But after five hours of debate, commissioners said they realized they had more work to do and would reconvene June 7 in attempt to finish the proposal. The Board of Supervisors is slated to take up the proposal on Sept. 27.

The rules would apply to only new and modified event applications. There are more than 460 winery permits in Sonoma County and roughly 60% have visitor components, such as tasting rooms, according to county staff.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/planning-commission-works-on-new-rules-for-sonoma-county-winery-events/

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Proposed hotel sparks controversy among Healdsburg residents

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

Many Healdsburg residents are up in arms over a proposed four-story 16-room hotel — called Hotel Healdsburg Residences — that would be segmented into three separate buildings at 400, 412 and 418 Healdsburg Avenue.

While residents and planning commissioners share some of the same concerns regarding the scale of the project and its proposed design elements, the main concern for several community members is the project in relation to the city’s hotel ordinance, which limits the amount of hotels built in the Plaza retail area and in the city’s Downtown Commercial District (CD) near Piper, Vine, East and Mill Streets.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/proposed-hotel-sparks-controversy-among-healdsburg-residents/article_19536ba2-82ba-11ec-8cb7-b31ba0b8200c.html

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

Pacaso: You can’t unring a warning bell

Rue Furch, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The latest assault on the social fabric of our rural neighborhoods has arrived. The Pacaso LLC business model sells a “fractional ownership” to eight parties, providing access to a rural mansion multiple times a year. There is no limit on the number of people occupying the timeshare and the model skirts the obligation to pay Transient Occupancy Tax. Pacaso’s “party pads” are now found in Santa Rosa, Dry Creek Valley and Napa County, with more timeshare sales underway.

Pacaso is just the latest destructive element in “Tourism’s Faustian Deal” – the term coined at a 2015 NapaVision2050 Conference, where tourism and economic experts presented compelling data about Napa’s tourist-based economy and its unintended consequences both to communities and public trust resources.

Organizations have formed across Sonoma County including in Sonoma Valley (StopPacasoNow) and Dry Creek Valley (S.C.A.T. – Sonoma County Against Timeshares). Preserve Rural Sonoma County presented data to Sonoma’s decision makers demonstrating that the “Arm’s Race” for winery use permits was resulting in destructive competition, and that the inevitable economic course correction would result in harm to our signature small, family wineries.

Despite subsequent disruption from fire, flood and drought, Napa and Sonoma officials ignored expert advice and gave in to the lure of “Tourism’s Faustian Deal” – seemingly ignoring tourism’s external costs. The 2020-21 pandemic brought the economic realities home to tourist-oriented businesses.

Meanwhile, cities continued permitting hotel rooms and large-scale restaurants, while County officials opened ag and forest lands to accessory dwelling units, with no restrictions limiting their use as vacation rentals. New residents are building massive water and energy-intensive structures for use a few weeks each year, or for the short-term rental market.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/pacaso-you-cant-unring-a-warning-bell/

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

A startup is turning houses into corporations, and the neighbors are fighting back

Greg Rosalsky, NPR

On a sleepy cul-de-sac amid the bucolic vineyards and grassy hills of California’s Sonoma Valley, a $4 million house has become the epicenter of a summer-long spat between angry neighbors and a new venture capital-backed startup buying up homes around the nation. The company is called Pacaso. It says it’s the fastest company in American history to achieve the “unicorn” status of a billion-dollar valuation — but its quarrels in wine country, one of the first regions where it’s begun operations, foreshadow business troubles ahead.

Brad Day and his wife, Holly Kulak, were first introduced to Pacaso in May after a romantic sunset dinner in their yard. “And we just saw this drone, coming up and over our backyard,” Day says. “And we’re like, what is that?”

Pacaso denies directing or paying a drone operator to film the neighborhood. But its website does have drone photos of the house in question, located at 1405 Old Winery Court. It says it bought the photos after the fact.

Nonetheless, after the drone incident, Day and Kulak got suspicious about what was going on in their neighborhood. About a week later, their neighbors told them they were moving and selling their house to a limited liability corporation, or LLC. But they were super vague about it.

Day and Kulak began speaking with other residents on their cul-de-sac. One of them, Nancy Gardner, had learned from a friend in nearby Napa Valley about a new company called Pacaso that was buying houses in the area. The company was co-founded by a Napa resident, and it converts houses into LLCs. Pacaso then sells shares of these corporate houses to multiple investors. Gardner Googled Pacaso, and, sure enough, the house on their cul-de-sac was on its website. The company had named the house “Chardonnay” and was now selling investors the chance to buy a one-eighth share of it for $606,000.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2021/08/24/1030151330/a-unicorn-startup-is-turning-houses-into-corporations

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County winery events could be limited by Planning Commission

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After years of wrangling, Sonoma County officials are moving forward this week with a measure that will spell out what wineries can and can’t do when it comes to hosting events.

It’s the latest chapter in a long debate that has pitted the politically powerful sector against local activists and residents who say an influx of tourists is threatening their quality of life with traffic congestion and noise.

The county’s Planning Commission will hold a Thursday meeting in which the panel intends to vote on a draft ordinance that has been crafted by staff.

Planning Commission Meeting information

Planning officials searched for a middle ground between the interests of a main economic driver in the county against mobilized community groups in the areas of Sonoma Valley, Westside Road and Dry Creek Valley where the issue has become a flash point. Permit Sonoma held a virtual forum in February to solicit suggestions from stakeholders and their input went into the document.

The ordinance would set new standards for winery events, spelling out rules covering parking and traffic management; food service; event coordination with neighbors; and noise.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-winery-events-could-be-limited-by-planning-commission/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future

Henry Wismayer, THE WASHINGTON POST

…the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

A future without travel? Until recently, I admit, it’s not a concept I’ve been able to imagine, much less embrace. Ever since I turned 18, I have shaped my life, and scratched a writer’s living, around the pursuit of foreign places. In that time, the weeks that I spend overseas have often seemed like a prerequisite of contentment: a source of not only stimulation, but also self-actualization.

That is how vital travel can feel to those of us who let it. In an era in which spirituality has in many ways been supplanted by a quest for temporal experience, to venture abroad is to accumulate evidence that we are making the best of our short time on Earth. Bask in the afterglow of the last adventure. Count down to the next.

At least that’s how it used to be.

For the last few months, the borders have closed, and the skies have emptied. The cruise ships have all docked, the hotels have shuttered. Suddenly, those of us who love to travel have found ourselves living in a strange limbo, lavished with a surfeit of time, yet deprived of the liberty to take full advantage of it.

In the months since the coronavirus outbreak pushed much of the global population into quarantine, many of us have sought distraction, even enchantment, in photographs of the newly empty human world. Among these, tourist attractions can seem among the most poignant and uncanny, for it is rare that we get to see these places without the throngs of visitors that usually populate them. It is interesting to consider what our response to these images suggests about travel today.

Of course, there is longing. The sight of famous destinations, absent crowds and traffic, evoke a Sartre-like ideal — travel, without the hell of other people — that only accentuates their enticement. But alongside this desire, for me at least, there is also melancholy, for it is impossible to witness the serenity of the paused planet without feeling a tinge of regret for what travel has become. In the same way that some of us have found a misanthropic thrill in apocryphal tales of dolphins swimming up a Venice canal, or satellite images of pollution dissipating over China, the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

Recently, I marked 10 years of travel writing feeling uneasy about the state of modern tourism. In part, my idea of foreign places had become infected by the unavoidable backdrop of an angrier, destabilizing world. And while millions still jumped on planes for leisure, I couldn’t shake the creeping sense that so much of what we call travel is extractive, the commodification of someone else’s sunshine, culture and photogenic views. In my most cynical moments, I had started to see travel as something monstrous, a vector of humanity’s infestation that has evolved out of all proportion with what the planet can sustain.

Last summer, I looked on, aghast and complicit, as the world’s most celebrated sights and cities were inundated like never before. Regions once off-limits to all but the most intrepid now teemed with rubberneckers from every corner of the world. Those tourists brought with them a litany of collateral issues, from environmental damage and consumer price inflation to cultural insensitivity and urban displacement. Lines snaked beneath the summit of Mount Everest. Behemoth cruise ships jostled for space at the Venice quayside.
Continue reading “A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future”

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , , ,

After another record-breaking year, Sonoma County airport adding more flights on established routes

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Commercial carriers operating out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport will add four direct fights on existing routes early this year, building on the growth in local air travel after another record-breaking year for passenger numbers in and out of Santa Rosa.

American Airlines will add a second daily flight next month to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The world’s largest airline launched service from Santa Rosa to its Phoenix hub in February 2017, and will increase service Feb. 13 with an evening flight, supplementing its existing early afternoon departure.

American Airlines also is set to resume its flights in April to Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles International airports. The routes debuted last summer as seasonal offerings but passenger counts were high enough on each flight that the airline is planning to offer them year-round this year, according to airport officials.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10590414-181/after-another-record-breaking-year-sonoma

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

Sonoma County reviewing pitches for two large hotel projects near Santa Rosa airport

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Developers are proposing to build a pair of large hotels near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, more than tripling the number of hotel rooms to serve travelers at the growing transportation hub.

The two projects, each more than 100 rooms, could help the Santa Rosa airport draw more regional travelers who currently head to Bay Area hubs in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and even east to Sacramento to catch their flights, according to local airport and economic development officials.

The developments, which would open next year, are working their way through the county’s permit review process. The first, a six-story, 166-room luxury Hyatt Place, would offer conference rooms, a roof deck and restaurant about 300 yards away from the airport. The second, a four-story, 101-room Tru by Hilton, would be located near the Highway 101 offramp.

They would join the existing hotel near the airport, a 90-room Hilton Garden Inn next to the highway that also provides meeting spaces for guests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10571140-181/sonoma-county-reviewing-pitches-for

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , ,

Sonoma County airport feels crush of holiday travel during another record-breaking year

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The forecast 10% rise in passengers over last year burnishes the airport’s standing as one of the fastest growing in the nation, based on rate of passenger increase over the past four years, according to airport officials. It also extends a now nine-year streak of gains, stretching back to the sluggish years following the nation’s economic recession.

The holiday rush this week at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport was another symptom of the regional hub’s clear growing pains, reflecting its rising popularity among air travelers but also laying bare the need for a planned terminal expansion.

Through November, the airport had already set another record this year for passenger traffic, surpassing the 440,000 people who flew in and out last year. Once December’s numbers are added, airport leaders expect nearly 500,000 passengers will have passed through the facility in 2019.

But with the swelling passenger totals, waits in security and check-in lines have increased inside the 52-year-old building, which operates with one small baggage claim and a single queue for passenger screening.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10508867-181/sonoma-county-airport-feels-crush

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Studies criticize wineries’ effect on rural Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Click here for links to traffic studies

Sonoma County wineries should bear the bulk of the responsibility for improving relations with rural neighbors, according to a pair of recently released county studies calling for fewer events, more coordination and a higher standard of review for new or expanding wineries.

The studies, which waded into the county’s most persistent land-use fight, encompass three of the most popular wine growing and tasting areas: Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road, as well as Sonoma Valley. In the reports, GHD, a private company with offices in Santa Rosa and Walnut Creek, looked at traffic counts, crashes and other symptoms of a long-running battle over the character of rural Sonoma County and expansion of its signature industry.

The reports include some of the strongest criticism of the industry to emerge from the county’s prolonged look at wineries’ rural footprint, including the profusion of events and promotional activities now held by many winemakers. About 450 wineries exist in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Many in the wine industry are not convinced of the need for more strict regulations.

DaVero Farms and Winery owner Ridgely Evers said it’s about balance. The No. 1 problem is a lack of enforcement for current rules, he said. And bad actors will ignore more restrictive rules just like they do now, he added.

“This is a classic issue that you run into any time you intermingle residents and commerce,” said Evers, a 35-year county resident whose winery sits at Dry Creek Road and Westside Road, near the epicenter of the fight. “If you look at it from that perspective, obviously the right thing is some kind of balance.”

But neighbors say the study recommendations don’t go far enough to reduce cumulative impacts, and say many of the suggestions already are standard practice for nearly the past decade.

Judith Olney, co- chairwoman of Preserve Rural Sonoma County and chairwoman of the Westside Community Association, two organizations at odds with continued winery growth in rural areas, said recommendations like expanded shuttle service could actually increase traffic.

And she worries about undue influence from industry leaders, who want to authorize more winery events — and with them, more traffic, Olney said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10273278-181/sonoma-county-studies-take-issue