A series of environmental and regulatory blunders that brought unfavorable attention to Sebastopol winery owner Paul Hobbs in recent years could cost the renowned winemaker millions of dollars in civil penalties if a pending lawsuit filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office prevails.
The District Attorney’s Environmental and Consumer Law Division lodged the civil complaint in May, saying Hobbs and his company “recklessly and carelessly” violated state and local land-use regulations in clearing trees and other vegetation from three prospective vineyard properties in west Sonoma County.
A spokeswoman for District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the aim of the May 28 suit is to safeguard the environment and protect the public interest by ensuring compliance with environmental rules governing vineyard development and other human interventions.
But attorneys for Hobbs said the case seeks “exorbitant and disproportionate civil penalties” in excess of $13 million, and does so improperly, suing on behalf of state agencies for which it has no authority to do so, according to court filings. Hobbs’ lawyers also said they intend to dispute the underlying facts as presented by the district attorney.
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.
Artesa Vineyards and Winery of Napa has shelved its hotly disputed plans to plant a vineyard on forest land near Annapolis and has put the 324-acre property on the market for $1.5 million, the company announced Tuesday.
The decision was hailed by environmentalists, who last year persuaded a Sonoma County judge to rule that the vineyard project’s environmental studies were flawed.
“For us and the forest, it’s great news,” Friends of the Gualala River President Chris Poehlmann said of the winery’s decision.
Gaye LeBaron, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT Here’s the “nut graf” for this column, as we say in the trade: It has been said, by respected historians, that forests were so dense in the eastern part of what would become the United States that, before European settlement, a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River without touching the ground.
This is a terrific image, isn’t it?
Of course, we are now told, by iconoclastic bloggers, that it isn’t true. That the Native Americans cleared land just like the latecomers, that forests recede on their own and, I suppose, that no squirrel has that kind of stamina. Thus, the westbound squirrel, leaping from leafy treetop to treetop, passes into folklore. But the point is still taken. There were plenty of trees here in the 1600s. And most of them are gone.
The reason I bring this up is the current news that some of Santa Rosa Junior College’s majestic oaks, which have long defined that beautiful campus, are doomed.
This is admittedly very bad news. The account I read estimated they were about 100 years old. I’m not an arboreal scientist, but I do know that the SRJC campus was built on a 40-acre parcel of “oaks and wildflowers” that was owned by the Chamber of Commerce and designated for a park called Luther Burbank Creation Gardens, honoring the famed horticulturist who died in 1926.
via LeBaron: SRJC oaks just the latest to be mourned | 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.”
Most people feel helpless when it comes to impacting the outcome of an event. Yet they DO have influence, and they CAN effect change. What it takes is having enough people to be heard – and solid information to gain respect..
We changed the outcome of a tree removal in my neighborhood by contacting people who had the power to stop the operation before long-term permanent damage occurred. In the process, we learned that laws and systems in place are not enough, and that oversight is essential to protect our environment from ignorance.
Our Back Yard
River Drive is a small neighborhood at Hacienda Bridge in Forestville. What we came to call the “Hacienda Timber Harvest,” without intervention, would have been a redwood clear-cut on two lots going down to the river on both sides of Hacienda Bridge. This brought many in our neighborhood and community together in outrage over what Clear View tree service was doing with a Cal Fire “exemption” permit and little oversight.
How did this happen?
How could a timber harvest occur along the banks of the Russian River, which has been designated critical habitat for three species of salmon? How could this be permitted when multiple agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars on studies alone to save the fish and their habitat?
Both lots were recently purchased by out-of-area owners…people who don’t live here, or intend to live here…and who appear to be ignorant of local environmental protections. Both have applications to raise these original summer cabins along the river using FEMA flood mitigation assistance funds. Both contacted Clear View tree service to remove a few trees they considered a fire hazard, and in their way of intended construction.
Do not be deceived by the thin perimeter of a few live apple trees remaining next to Apple Blossom School and the five schools near 622 Watertrough Road in the Sebastopol countryside. A glorious, historic 40-acre orchard that nurtured people, wildlife, and the environment thrived there for many decades. Chain-sawed trees now languish on their sides with dying green apples, which will never ripen to red, cut down on June 14. Witnessing this slaughter is enough to make a grown man weep.
Paul Hobbs Winery plans yet another chemical vineyard by this clear cutting. The orchard attack is only the first in a series of blows. The downed beauties will soon be burned or disposed of in some way. The soil–which tests indicate contains DDT, arsenic, and lead–will be ripped deeply, adding more waves of deadly drift to the schools, its students, teachers, staff, and visitors.
The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department announced it will hold an informational public workshop in Santa Rosa to seek input on proposed amendments to the Zoning Code to incorporate existing General Plan policies. Stream setbacks were established in the adopted Area and Specific Plans and in the General Plan 2020. Zoning code changes will not result in any new setbacks, not previously adopted.
What: Informational Public Workshop to seek input on proposed amendments to the Zoning Code to incorporate existing General Plan Policies
When: Wednesday, May 22, 20134:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Where: Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa CA 95403
Zoning requirements for properties with streams will be amended to be consistent with the Sonoma County General Plan 2020, any applicable Area Plan and the County’s existing Building and Grading ordinances.
Karina Ioffee, PETALUMA PATCH Work crews cut down an old eucalyptus grove on Petaluma Boulevard South on Sunday evening, much to the disappointment of environmentalists who told Caltrans the trees are used for nesting for egrets and herons and had asked for alternatives.
Caltrans is set to begin work on an interchange project in the area and said that removing the 15 or so trees was needed so that construction was not delayed. Egrets and heron are federally protected, meaning that the trees could not be cut down once the birds started nesting there later this spring.
via Eucalyptus Trees Cut Down Along South Petaluma Boulevard – Petaluma, CA Patch.
Chainsaws were roaring on Sonoma Mountain last week as PG&E moved ahead with its new policy of gradually removing all vegetation except grass from under and around high voltage lines. Trees being removed are on steep slopes, above streams, and in a Regional Parks-owned property, Sonoma Mountain Woodlands.
A new federal standard was enacted in 2006 to put pressure on utilities that had been negligent in maintaining vegetation near high voltage lines, causing fires and blackouts. Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has clarified that this policy does not require clear-cutting, PG&E’s long-term plans are now to eliminate all vegetation taller than three feet under and near the lines.
High voltage lines run through some of the most scenic parts of Sonoma County, including Open Space District properties, Annadel State Park, and Shiloh Ranch Park. PG&E has trimmed old oaks, madrones and even redwoods in these line easements for over 50 years, keeping a generous safety margin of 25 feet between trees and lines, and there have never been any outages or fires.
A local group, SOS-Trees, has been negotiating with PG&E on behalf of affected property owners, who have been shocked at the extent of tree-removal which PG&E now wants. Their website, at sos-trees.org, contains information about PG&E vegetation management policies and stories of other communities that have opposed the new rules. SOS-Trees website FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff comments on clear-cutting by utilities