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Developers may scrap plans for Kenwood resort

Lorna Sheridan, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Chinese real estate developer Tohigh Investments appears to be walking away from its plan for a high-end resort at the base of Hood Mountain in Kenwood.

Sources close to what was supposed to be the Sonoma Country Inn development said that the 186-acre property is now on the market, although the company’s official real estate and lobbying representatives reached on Monday were unable to confirm its status.

Initial development plans for the former Graywood Ranch property were first approved in 2004, when the parcel was dubbed La Campagna. But the development proposal languished for a decade, due in part, to the economic downturn in 2009.

Tohigh purchased the Kenwood property in 2014 for $41 million from Bob Piccinini, chairman and CEO of Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets. Tohigh is a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Oceanwide Holdings.

Despite some fierce neighborhood opposition, the Sonoma County Planning Commission voted unanimously in 2017 that the Tohigh project had a vested right to go forward.

Read more at: https://www.sonomanews.com/business/9602897-181/chinese-may-scrap-plans-for?ref=moststory

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Sonoma County hotel sector poised for expansion

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s hoteliers are playing catch-up to make room for the growing number of visitors.

The lodging industry is undergoing unprecedented expansion with about a dozen properties slated to open in the next few years.

The hotel building boom comes after a dearth of new lodging in the earlier part of the decade. Developers and hoteliers now appear to be making up for inactivity in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the county remains a prime destination for wine tourism and an array of other activities and places to visit.

“This is a very strong county. … The occupancy level is very, very high,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president for STR, a Tennessee research firm and longtime tracker of the global hotel industry. “Developers see a hot market and say, ‘Let’s get into it.’”

Developers are betting Sonoma County can keep delivering more tourists. It’s averaging about 7.5 million visitors a year. Those visitors are staying in more than 7,000 hotel rooms and 3,700 campground and recreational vehicle spaces, according to Sonoma County Tourism figures.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9247313-181/sonoma-county-lodging-sector-bustling

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Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Amid a growing public outcry over the proliferation of hotel rooms downtown, Healdsburg’s city council has asked staff to draft a new ordinance banning any more hotels in the town’s central retail hub.

The council’s directive, issued Monday, follows a surge of complaints from residents over the past year and a recent community survey that showed support for slowing hotel growth.

In addition to barring hotel construction in the downtown core, the ordinance would create new affordable housing requirements and limit new lodging projects within the wider downtown district to five or fewer rooms, with no more than five total rooms on each side of downtown streets.

The affordable housing mandate, which received unanimous support, would require developers of hotel rooms to create one affordable housing unit for every five hotel rooms built, or pay a yet-to-be-determined fee that would go toward a fund aimed at creating such housing.

The decision, which still requires council endorsement at later public meetings, comes as a response to a recent spike in hotels, namely in the downtown core where visitor accommodations have increasingly displaced local businesses.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8654337-181/healdsburg-set-to-limit-future

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County residents request a moratorium on new winery spaces

Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

While many wine country regions have welcomed revenue from new businesses, the somewhat-still-rural hamlet of Sonoma County clearly has conflicted sentiments.

Compared to the top-dollar region of Napa Valley, which was smart enough to self-regulate itself a half century ago, and less affluent areas such as the New York Finger Lakes that tend to support new development for economic reasons, wine industry regulation and growth in Sonoma has not been an easy process.

The county includes some of the most bucolic land – complete with ocean views – in California wine country. Its major towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg and, more recently, Sebastopol have been attracting low-key, yet quite profitable tourism for some decades. Most of the area’s tasting rooms also don’t charge a $50-plus per-person reserve tasting fee and traffic has primarily been manageable on Sonoma’s small roads for a number of decades.

However, local residents have come to a boiling point about vehicles, noise and general exuberant indulgence within their county’s limits. Roads in the region are rustic and new wineries have been sprouting up like poppies for decades.

According to Tennis Wick, the Santa Rosa-based director of Permit Sonoma, the county currently has 467 wineries approved in unincorporated areas. The “general plan for Sonoma County projected 239 wineries by the year 2020 because that number was environmentally prudent. From 2000 to 2015 there was a 300-percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 500 now,” shares Padi Selwyn, the co-chair of Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), a group that has spearheaded local residents’ desires to moderate new winery and event space openings.

Read more at https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2018/08/locals-continue-to-clash-with-sonoma-wineries

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Tourism responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, study finds

Daisy Dunne, ECOWATCH-CARBON BRIEF

Worldwide tourism accounted for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2013, new research finds, making the sector a bigger polluter than the construction industry.

The study, which looks at the spending habits of travelers in 160 countries, shows that the impact of tourism on global emissions could be four times larger than previously thought.

The findings suggest that tourism could threaten the achievement of the goals of the Paris agreement, a study author told Carbon Brief.

However, the results may still be underestimating the total carbon footprint of tourism, another scientist told Carbon Brief, because they do not consider the impact of non-CO2 emissions from the aviation industry.

Tourism’s Footprint

The global tourism industry is rapidly expanding. Fueled by falling air travel prices and a growing global middle class, the number of international holiday-makers is currently growing at a rate of 3-5 percent per year.

The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, explores how the recent growth of global tourism has impacted greenhouse gas emissions.
Tourists contribute to climate change in a number of ways—through travel by air, rail and road, for example, and by consuming goods and services, such as food, accommodation and souvenirs.

For the new analysis, the researchers considered all of these factors together in order to calculate tourism’s “global carbon footprint,” explained study author Dr. Arunima Malik, a lecturer in sustainability from the University of Sydney. She told Carbon Brief:

“Our analysis is comprehensive and, hence, takes into account all the upstream supply chains to quantify the impacts of tourist spending on food, clothing, transport and hospitality.”

The research finds that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s annual global carbon footprint increased from 3.9 to 4.5bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

This figure is four times higher than previous estimates and accounts for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the research finds. The rise is largely driven by an increased demand for goods and services—rather than air travel, the research finds.

Read more at https://www.ecowatch.com/tourism-global-greenhouse-gas-2566752788.html

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Author says big wine money has ruined Napa and Sonoma may be next

Bill Swindell, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

James Conaway is angry.

Author and journalist, Conaway has been the foremost chronicler of Napa
Valley for more than three decades. His “Napa: The Story of an American Eden” in 1990 told of the early pioneers who turned a family farming community in the valley into the premier wine region of the United States.

He followed that book with “The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley” in 2002 that covered how new investors were changing the valley with their emerging focus on tourism and marketing higher-priced cult wines to consumers.

His new book does not hide his current feelings for Napa Valley. “Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity” takes aim at the investors and big companies, which he contends have transformed the area with crass commercialism that has overridden the quality of life and harmed the environment.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8179182-181/author-says-big-wine-money

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A growing Sonoma bursts at its seams

Patrick Hoge, SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE
Wine tourism: booming. Mass transit: zooming. Big cannabis: looming. For a once-quiet agricultural region, Sonoma is suddenly an economic engine. And not everybody’s loving the noise.
Liza Hinman lives in two Sonoma County worlds on the same continuum. In one, she is cofounder and chef of the Spinster Sisters, a hip, fun, homey restaurant bringing life and house-made granola parfaits to a formerly run-down part of Santa Rosa. She’s part of a vanguard of entrepreneurial Sonomans who are catering to both locals and tourists through the unifying power of good eating, good drinking, and smartly designed community spaces. In the other world, Hinman, as a mother of three and the wife of a Sonoma native, is unsettled by the changes that have overtaken her hometown of Healdsburg, a once-dilapidated agricultural town of almost 12,000 with a quaint central plaza that has utterly transformed in the last 15 years into a crowded, swanky destination for affluent out-of-towners and second-home owners.
In one world, increased tourism and a well-earned Michelin recommendation are boons for Hinman, a rosy-cheeked, smock-wearing 40-year-old with a broad smile and a gifted touch with locally grown foods. In the other, she finds herself conflicted, avoiding Healdsburg’s downtown of pricey restaurants, clothing stores, and art galleries because of traffic and lack of parking, and shaking her head at the area’s 30—30!—wine tasting rooms. “It’s the ad nauseam conversation that we all have as more and more tourists and Bay Area people discover us,” Hinman says, proffering some of her signature deviled eggs. An East Coast transplant who got her professional start studying and cooking in San Francisco, Hinman knows that it wasn’t long ago that numerous businesses in downtown Healdsburg were shuttered. And she appreciates the tax revenue that supports city services. “It’s our lifeblood here,” she says. “But there has to be a way to find balance, to have a vibrant community for locals and services for tourists.”
Hinman’s contrasting sentiments are echoed across Sonoma County these days, as moneyed visitors from around the world and urban refugees flood into the North Bay in search of the good life. Tourism spending is soaring; hotel and winery development is widespread; and housing prices are climbing fast and approaching an all-time high—all factors that have led to a growing disquiet among longtime valley dwellers. Still a vast Eden of vineyards, restaurants, and resorts, Sonoma maintains a natural beauty and a relatively affordable cost of living that have made it a release valve for the over-pressurized Bay Area. But this restfulness has been disturbed by new strains of anxiety that Sonoma’s laid-back feel, small-town charms, and country roads are being trammeled by too many outsiders with too much cash.
Read more at: San Francisco Magazine | Modern Luxury | A Growing Sonoma Bursts at its Seams

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Op-Ed: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Jerry Bernhaut, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Our lawsuit has overturned the Climate Action Plan as a basis for enabling new development with inadequate greenhouse gas mitigations. It has not prevented the cities or the county from proceeding with greenhouse gas reduction measures in the plan.

The basic issue in the lawsuit that overturned the approval of the Sonoma County Climate Action Plan was the failure to account for emissions from vehicle miles traveled in the global distribution of wine and other products and travel to tourist destinations in the county from around the world.
In a recent article (“Battling climate change at the local level,” Aug. 11), Supervisor David Rabbitt made the following claims:
1) The lawsuit argued for a growth moratorium for wine and tourism. A moratorium is not enforceable.
What we actually called for was consideration of a moratorium or significant limitation on new wineries/vineyard expansions and/or tourist destinations to provide an adequate assessment of feasible measures to reduce Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions. State law allows a county or city to adopt an interim ordinance prohibiting any uses that may be in conflict with a plan or proposal the city or county intends to study. The statute allows an interim ordinance of 45 days with provisions for extensions to a total of about two years.
We were advocating for just such a measure to evaluate some controls on additional growth in high emissions land uses. We argued this was a legitimate request for relevant information under the California Environmental Quality Act. The court agreed. The simple reality is that an economy dominated by global tourism and production for global export generates enormous travel-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Read more at: Close to Home: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions | The Press Democrat –

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David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
One of Sonoma County’s most esteemed vintners has cleared a key hurdle on his way toward building a long-sought winery on Westside Road, but he’s bracing for continued opposition from residents who say his plans would place too great a strain on the rural corridor outside Healdsburg, already one of the most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions in the county.
David Ramey, winemaker and co-owner of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, received the blessing this week from a majority of planning officials who considered his proposal for a 60,000-case winery and tasting room operation that has been in the works since he and his wife, Carla, bought the 75-acre site of the former Westside Farms nearly five years ago.
While Ramey’s project passed the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments on a 3-to-1 vote Thursday, it could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors by any one of the residents who oppose the project, citing concerns about its scale and impact, including traffic from events and visitors to the public tasting room. Ramey is expecting an appeal, meaning supervisors could have the final say on the matter, barring a court battle.
Read more at: David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan

Jerry Bernhaut, the lead attorney for River Watch, said his client did not want to block the entirety of the regional climate plan, which he said contained some “perfectly valid measures” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“There’s nothing stopping the cities and the unincorporated county from going ahead with measures that were described in the climate action plan,” Bernhaut said. “The legal force of the climate action plan is now null and void.”
But stronger, substantive progress would require a more dramatic reshaping of an economic system that includes international product distribution and a “tourist industry on steroids” where people travel from all over the world, Bernhaut said.

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A settlement reached between Sonoma County’s regional climate agency and a Sebastopol environmental group with a history of suing local governments has left the countywide plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions legally toothless.
Under terms of the settlement with California River Watch, the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority agreed this week not to challenge a court decision that struck down the environmental document underpinning its blueprint for fighting climate change.
A Sonoma County judge sided this summer with River Watch, which sued the agency and argued its climate plan did not properly account for emissions generated outside county borders, including from tourism and the wine industry.
Read more at: Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan | The Press Democrat –