Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After years of wrangling, Napa County took a first step to better police its more than 500 wineries with an updated code enforcement program approved by its board of supervisors on Tuesday.
The board by a 4-0 vote approved a resolution that would revamp the county’s winery enforcement program that has been criticized as ineffective and having no teeth for violators. For example, county officials found in 2014 that almost half of the wineries audited did not comply with code requirements, such as exceeding their production or visitor limits.
The vote comes with increasing backlash to the wine sector that wields considerable political influence through the Napa Valley Vintners trade group and as the dominant economic driver in the county of more than 140,000 residents.
In recent years, industry opposition has been bubbling up, especially over greater traffic on Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. In June, local voters narrowly rejected an amendment that would have limited vineyard development on hills and mountains to provide greater protection to the environment.
Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/napacounty/9036162-181/napa-wine-tourism-regulation
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ken and Diane Wilson’s latest winery, to be built in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, won final approval Tuesday from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, leaving the couple relieved to get a green light 13 years after the project was first proposed.
Culminating a three-hour public hearing packed with accolades for the winemaking family, the board voted 4-1 to deny a valley resident’s appeal challenging a previous county decision supporting the project, which was first proposed in 2005.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents winery-rich Sonoma Valley, cast the lone no vote, saying she was concerned that supervisors have failed to resolve the high-stakes question of over-concentration of wineries, which number more than 440 outside city limits.
“We have yet to grapple with it,” she said, referring to an issue that gained public traction in 2014.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8871075-181/wilson-family-wins-sonoma-county
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday revived one of their most controversial land-use debates, examining potential changes to a planned quarry west of Cotati that has been in the works for a decade and a half.
Quarry developer John Barella wants to alter some of the conditions the county imposed when it narrowly approved his project off Roblar Road eight years ago. The Board of Supervisors last year hired a consultant to study Barella’s proposed changes and is now considering a draft of the resulting environmental analysis.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered around a 1.6-mile stretch of Roblar Road that would be used hundreds of times daily by large trucks hauling aggregate from the quarry. Barella’s team says the original county requirement to widen the road to 40 feet proved unworkable and proposed constructing a road that’s 32 feet wide instead.
The proposal prompted safety concerns from some supervisors and community members, particularly since the road is used by cyclists.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the only current board member who was in office when the project was approved, called for further road improvements that would slow traffic and better accommodate bicycles.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8845302-181/sonoma-county-mulls-changes-to
Paris Marx, MEDIUM
For the past several years, Silicon Valley’s tech titans have been telling us that autonomous vehicles will become the future of urban mobility. No longer will we have to drive personal vehicles or even walk the “last mile” from transit stops to our final destinations — pods piloted by computers will whisk us wherever we want to go at minimal cost.
Our most ambitious technologists even claim that mass transit is outdated — it’s dirty, scary, and doesn’t get you to your final destination. Autonomous vehicles will make “individualized” transportation accessible to all — space limitations of dense urban cores be damned!
Can you seriously see us trying to cram all the pedestrians of New York City, or almost any major city around the world, into autonomous pods without creating the worst gridlock we’ve ever seen? It’s a hilarious proposal, but some technologists still believe it. (Remember, Elon Musk wants to build a ton of tunnels below Los Angeles for this exact reason.)
The truth is, autonomous vehicles will probably not dominate the streets of the future. Tech boosters’ blind fantasies are finally being revealed for the pipe dreams they really are. Self-driving cars aren’t imminent, the technology isn’t there yet. And while the reality of being sold a lie leaves some discouraged, a much more exciting vision of the future of mobility is emerging. Instead of streets hostile to anyone not in a metal box weighing a ton or two, we may see people reclaiming roadways for themselves.
The fatal crash of a self-driving Uber that killed a pedestrian as she crossed a Tempe, Arizona, street in March impacted the industry enormously. Ambitious visions were replaced by cautious statements about the prospects of autonomous technology. For once, it seemed industry leaders were coming to terms with the realities of a technology that they’d lost touch with after several years of building hype.
Read more at https://medium.com/s/story/the-future-of-mobility-belongs-to-people-not-self-driving-cars-625c05b29692
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County is heading into a period of powerful change: The rising number of senior citizens will outpace growth in working-age residents, increasing the county’s reliance on workers who live in other parts of the Bay Area.
A shortage of affordable housing is compounding the demographic shift, forcing more and more people to commute into the county every day to fill employers’ need for workers.
Those projections are addressed in a new, wide-ranging report from county economic development officials. The report, the 2018 Unabridged Sonoma County Indicators, is a virtual almanac of facts about the local economy, housing market, environment and health of residents.
The report is one of many released in 2018 that offer a wealth of socioeconomic data on the county. The compilation of statistics comes in a year where officials have been studying both threats and opportunities for the county and the greater Bay Area.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8664855-181/study-sonoma-county-getting-older
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
Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Jeremy Nichols is a board member of the nonprofit Bird Rescue Center that serves Sonoma County, and he is troubled. The county is kicking the bird hospital out of its Quonset hut in the middle of 82 acres of public property known as Chanate.
Forested hills straddle Chanate Road as it winds through eastern Santa Rosa toward the ashes of Fountaingrove. The county has promised the land to William Gallaher, a local banker who develops senior living communities and single-family homes.
Gallaher’s partner in the deal, Komron Shahhosseini, is a planning commissioner for Sonoma County—a relationship which may pose a conflict of interest, according to a Haas School of Business ethics expert who reviewed details of the deal.
Hundreds of Santa Rosans, including Nichols, have mobilized to stop the sale, objecting to its terms at public meetings, in letters to the editor and in a lawsuit that went to trial in Superior Court last Friday in front of Judge René Auguste Chouteau. The trial took three hours, and the judge is expected to rule within 30 days on whether the development deal can go forward.
In early July, Nichols and two members of the activist group Friends of Chanate took me on a walking tour. Since the 1870s, the Chanate property has been the dumping ground for the county’s social and medical ills. It was originally the site of a work farm for low-income residents, then a public hospital complex. Now it’s ragged and falling down.
Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/the-fate-of-chanate/Content?oid=6621048
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hundreds of people crowded into a Santa Rosa community center Monday to weigh in on a proposed housing project at the site of Sonoma County’s old hospital complex in the city’s northeastern hills.
Most reflected strong resistance to the size of the planned development and the impact they fear it would have on traffic, local schools and the character of their neighborhoods, among other concerns.
The project as currently envisioned would include nearly 870 housing units at the 82-acre county-owned site off Chanate Road. It was presented for feedback at a neighborhood meeting at the Finley Community Center, a step required by the city before the developer applies for planning permits.
The crowd of more than 300 community members often erupted into cheers and applause — or even some booing, when appropriate — to reflect the severity of its displeasure with plans that one commenter described as a “monstrosity.”
Of particular concern to those in attendance was the impact to traffic on Chanate Road, which is predominantly two lanes and serves as a main thoroughfare in the area. Critics are deeply concerned that placing hundreds of new residents right off an already congested route would make getting around even more difficult, particularly during commute times, and potentially exacerbate difficult evacuations during a disaster like last year’s wildfires.
“Every route that you had there was cut off,” said Frank Schulze, who lives near the project site, describing roads in the area during the October firestorm. “The only way to get the hell out of the way of this fire was to come out Chanate Road and go down onto (Mendocino Avenue). That was it.”
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8471490-181/proposed-867-unit-chanate-road-housing
Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER
The 14-year-old Sid Commons, one of the largest proposed residential projects in Petaluma, continued its slow crawl toward approval thanks to a split city council vote on the development’s preliminary environmental report after a lengthy meeting Monday night at City Hall.
Residents near the project site, located on 15 acres at the terminus of Graylawn Avenue between the train tracks and Oak Creek Apartments and just south of the Petaluma River, trumpeted trepidations for a draft environmental impact study they felt came up short on traffic analysis and mitigating the potential harm to the area’s hard-fought flood protections.
The council echoed those concerns to the developer, J. Cyril Johnson Investment Corp., and city staff. On a 3-2 vote, with council members Gabe Kearney and Chris Albertson absent, the council allowed preparation of the final environmental impact report to begin contingent on an updated traffic study of Payran Street, which has steadily become a main thoroughfare, connecting Petaluma Boulevard North and East Washington Street.
“People use it to avoid East Washington and Petaluma Boulevard and they use it to get to the north end of the boulevard,” said councilwoman Kathy Miller. “There’s quite a bit of traffic there … you sit for a long time.”
Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8354231-181/petaluma-housing-development-moves-forward
Janet Perry, THE WINDSOR TIMES
One of Sonoma County’s most highly acclaimed vintners has found his vision for the future at odds with citizens concerns over the impacts of commercial vineyards and their events.
David Ramey said that he “purchased the old pumpkin farm, which attracted substantial visitors and traffic, with the vision of building our family winery for coming generations. We’ve been leasing our two wineries in Healdsburg but do not own them, which involves a measure of uncertainty.”
Ramey was granted a conditional use permit by the County Board of Zoning Adjustments for development on his Westside Farms’ property on Westside Road.
The permit, issued Sept. 21, was appealed by environmental groups and citizens on Oct. 2. Appellants are calling upon the board of supervisors to “address the cumulative impacts from the commercialization of agriculture land, and define protective standards that preserve what brings tourists to Sonoma County in the first place, our rural character and small town charm.”
Craig Enyart, of Maacama Watershed Alliance, challenged the county supervisors in the appellants’ Oct. 5 press release announcing the appeal. “Enough is enough — it’s past time for the supervisors to provide staff, planning commissioners, applicants and taxpayers the guidance they’ve repeatedly requested, addressing general plan requirements and the cumulative impact issues raised during the 2015 Winery Working Group process.”
(In 2015, Sonoma County appointed 21 locals from among the wine industry, environmental groups and rural residents to a working group tasked with identifying the growing pains of the wine industry in Sonoma County and how best to mitigate those problems.)
Read more at: Westside Farms caught up in local fight for more restrictions of vineyards | News | sonomawest.com