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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.
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Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport sets record for January passengers

Kevin Fixler, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The popularity of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport continues to grow, with the regional hub recording its highest-ever passenger count for the month of January.

Nearly 37,000 commercial passengers traveled through the local airport during the first month of 2020, which represented a 30% increase from the same time last year. In January 2019, Sonoma County airport counted another record for the month, with 28,400 passengers — an 8% gain from the prior year.
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County airport adding more flights to major hubs

With the addition of new routes, including the introduction of nonstop flights to Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth in 2019, the local airport set a new record last year with more than 488,000 passengers. The all-time high maintained a decadelong streak of annual growth.

The airport, which began offering commercial service in 2007, expects to add three more flights later this year, which at its peak will bring the number of daily departing flights to 19. American Airlines already launched a second daily flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Feb. 13. Starting March 19, Alaska Airlines will add a second daily route to each of San Diego and Orange County.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10727039-181/charles-m-schulz-sonoma-county-airport

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Montage Healdsburg resort developer recommended for $4.9 million fine for environmental violations

Mary Callahan & Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a luxury Healdsburg resort faces a record $4.9 million fine for egregious environmental violations after allowing an estimated 6.6 million gallons of sediment-laden runoff to leave the construction site during heavy rainfall last winter, threatening already imperiled fish species in tributaries of the Russian River.

Staffers for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board documented 38 violations of the federal Clean Water Act between October 2018 and May 2019 by developer Robert Green Jr., the owner of Montage Healdsburg, previously known as Saggio Hills.

The violations — hundreds of examples of them — were observed during repeat inspections, despite warnings to the developer of inadequate efforts to control erosion and runoff at the 258-acre site, according to regulatory documents.

Board personnel twice suspended construction through work stoppage orders, yet deficiencies still were abundant once crews were given permission to resume work, regulators said.

Even though there were points at which improvements were made, erosion control measures such as straw wattles and coverings for bare, exposed ground were not maintained, said Claudia Villacorta, the water quality control board’s prosecution team assistant executive officer.

Eventually, the controls were removed while wet weather still lay ahead so that a storm that came through in mid-May rained on the landscape without anti-erosion measures in place, she said.

“We felt like the conduct was, frankly, grossly negligent,” Villacorta said by phone. “They repeatedly failed to take action, implement effective practices, and I think that’s the reason why the penalty — the proposed fine — was significant.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10619065-181/montage-healdsburg-resort-developer-recommended

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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

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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

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To help the environment in 2020, just do less

Nicole Dieker, LIFEHACKER

If you’re still thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions, here’s one suggestion that can benefit not only your own life, but also the state of our planet: do less.

What does that mean? Less travel, especially if it involves flying. Fewer car trips; maybe it’s time to drop a few extracurriculars or social activities and block off one or two nights as “stay-home evenings.” Less time spent chasing novelty and entertainment and more time enjoying what you already have—and if you don’t have it already, you might be able to get it at the library.

At The New York Times, author and environmentalist Paul Greenberg lists a number of climate-related resolutions that we can implement for 2020, many of which are already very familiar: eat less meat (and opt for chicken and fish over pork and beef), avoid buying single-use plastics, unplug appliances when you’re not using them, and so on.

And then he mentions the value of spending more time at home, doing nothing:

Read more at: https://lifehacker.com/to-help-the-environment-in-2020-just-do-less-1840773817

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Healdsburg exploring higher fees for new hotels, new nonprofit to boost affordable housing stock

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg will explore an array of new funding programs to preserve and expand affordable housing for its workforce, including additional fees for future hotel projects and formation of a city nonprofit to seek federal dollars unavailable to local governments.

The Healdsburg City Council on Monday asked staff to settle on the amount of potential fees required of hotel developers to support housing construction. Under a plan in the works for nearly two years, the city would charge up to $100,000 in fees for each room. A formal proposal including that provision isn’t expected until early next year.

Every two hotel rooms built in the city creates the need for one housing unit to accommodate the employees required to staff the commercial property, said Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg’s housing administrator. And while the city has been successful in negotiating with developers for housing in several recent hotel projects, he said, Healdsburg needs additional tools to better ensure it meets growing need for workforce housing.

“One of the strengths that our city has for funding affordable housing is that we have political will to do so, and we have a community that supports us in doing so to expand these opportunities for our residents,” Sotomayor told council members Monday. “Over the lifetime of this, depending on the number of hotels that are developed within the city … this could be a potential large funding source.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10410823-181/healdsburg-exploring-higher-fees-for

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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

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Rangers’ suit claims Broadway Under the Stars is ‘inappropriate’ use of Jack London park

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An association of active and retired state park rangers has sued over the continued use of Jack London State Historic Park for open-air Broadway-styled musical productions that since 2012 have drawn thousands of enthusiastic patrons to the protected ruins of the late novelist’s old winery on summer nights.

The unprecedented lawsuit by the more than half-century-old California State Park Rangers Association claims the State Parks department improperly approved a five-year extension for the Transcendence Theatre Co., contending its large-scale productions conflict with the park’s general plan and the historic site’s protected status.

“The issue, in its simplest form, is that California State Parks is attempting to legitimize the creation of a large, ongoing, multi-million dollar operation and commercial-style theatrical facility right in the heart of Jack London State Historic Park, a national and state historic landmark, and within the ruins at the Beauty Ranch area of the park,” Mike Lynch, president of the rangers association, CSPRA, said in a written statement.

The lawsuit says State Parks officials should have subjected the operation to more thorough study and public scrutiny under the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s bedrock land-use law.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10104973-181/lawsuit-targets-transcendence-theatre-operations

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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