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Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley

Teri Shore, SIERRA CLUB SONOMA GROUP

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen) remains uncertain and contentious after the first round of public hearings on potential land use and planning options released last month.

Sonoma County planners proposed three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that featured hundreds of single-family homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will be reviewed under CEQA next year.

The surrounding 745 acres of open space were prioritized for conservation. However, the protection of the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features were given little attention. The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-valley-wildlife-corridor/ is a critical link for multiple keystone species such as mountain lions, bears and badgers to travel from as far as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain Wilderness to the East to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast. Millions of public and private funds have been invested in acquiring lands and protecting the wildlife corridor for decades.

As proposed, the draft alternatives would comprise the biggest subdivision and development in the history of Sonoma Valley – equal in housing units to the sprawling Temelec, Chanterelle and & Flags subdivisions on the south end of Sonoma Valley. All three alternatives would drastically increase driving and associated Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and undermine decades of city-centered growth policies. The plans also conflict with local, county, regional and state polices to reduce climate-changing emissions, achieve equitable housing and preserve biodiversity.
Continue reading “Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley”

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Sonoma Ecology Center’s vision for the former SDC campus

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

Resources

If Sonoma Ecology Center has learned anything from 30 years helping our community care for its environment, it’s that everything is connected. If we want to succeed at solving the most pressing environmental issues, including climate change and the biodiversity crisis, we must find solutions that address multiple challenges simultaneously: environmental, social, and economic.

SDC is a place where all these interests come together. We have a chance to do something meaningful in this place for the site, our Valley community, and perhaps for life on earth. In the coming weeks, SEC will be engaging with the SDC Specific Plan process. The public has been invited to make recommendations on draft versions of this plan. Following are some of our recommendations, which are not adequately reflected in the current alternatives.

Protecting the SDC Campus’ Wild Spaces

First, new development on the site needs to protect the site’s wild spaces, especially its significant wildlife corridor. We would like to see the wildlife corridor expanded at its narrowest point along the north and northeast side of the campus, by pulling the boundary of the developable area inward. Setbacks along Sonoma Creek should be larger–100 feet–to make room for a reestablished floodplain, riparian habitat, steelhead recovery, and groundwater recharge. The wetlands in the eastern meadows should be protected and restored. The site’s many water features–reservoirs, springs, streams, wetlands–should be managed holistically to produce multiple benefits to the entire Valley’s people and ecosystems. Developed areas should all have foot trails connecting to natural spaces, for all the benefits that occur from human connection with them, while assuring that they retain their ecological function. Paths and recreational areas are good, but they should keep away from the wildlife corridor and Sonoma Creek. Built areas and paths should use Dark Sky standards.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/sdc-vision/

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Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan updates

PERMIT SONOMA

Permit Sonoma has released the SDC Alternatives Report which presents and analyzes three draft land-use alternatives to guide redevelopment of the 900-acre site. Each alternative transforms the shuttered campus, bringing significant benefits to the community including affordable housing and diverse living-wage jobs. View the alternatives report here on the project website, and get ready to share your feedback at one of the community outreach events below!

Alternatives Overview
All of the alternatives create important community amenities. Plans call for between 990 and 1,290 housing units, creating a walkable community with an emphasis on affordable housing and active transportation to lessen automobile use. All three alternatives propose the protection of 700 acres of open space between Jack London State Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and each alternative expands the existing wildlife corridor and preserves Sonoma Creek and its tributaries. Commercial, recreational, and civic spaces are proposed to benefit residents, employees, and the greater Sonoma Valley.

Developed after extensive feedback from the community and technical experts, each alternative approaches achieving the goals for the campus differently:

Alternative A: Conserve and Enhance preserves the most historic buildings and the second most jobs of any proposal;
Alternative B: Core and Community creates the most housing units and creates a walkable mixed-use core;
Alternative C: Renew creates a regional innovation hub bringing the most jobs of any proposal, neighborhood agriculture, open space preservation, and housing units to support these uses.

Community Input
Permit Sonoma wants your feedback on the alternatives at three upcoming public meetings!

Please join us to discuss the alternatives and the future of the SDC site at one or more of the following meetings:

SDC Alternatives Workshop on Nov 13 at 10-11:30 am
Zoom registration: https://dyettandbhatia.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYvdeqopjksH9WSm0ml5nN1evaOGrARPZOP

SDC Spanish Language Town Hall on Nov. 16 at 5:30-7 pm
In person at Hunt Hall @ St. Leo’s Catholic Church, 601 W. Agua Caliente Rd Sonoma, CA 95476
Joint SMAC/NSVMAC/SVCAC Meeting on Nov. 17 at 6:30 pm
Zoom link: https://sonomacounty.zoom.us/j/96931443054?pwd=UFAxc2o1bHRTRW9waWxSR2NCdDZqZz09

In addition to the public meetings, stay tuned for an online survey that will ask you to give input on the options presented in each of the Alternatives, as well as other priorities for the site.

You can read the draft report and register for upcoming public participation opportunities at https://www.sdcspecificplan.com/.

Source: https://mailchi.mp/18b2fd7e8006/sonoma-developmental-center-specific-plan-updates-13413680?e=d2966a32b0

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Sonoma’s vision for open space, affordable housing included in state budget request

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Two of Sonoma’s most desirable goals – affordable housing and open space – are being baked into plans for the extensive Sonoma Developmental Center property, as part of the state’s recognition of the “unique and historic resources of the property,” according to a three-year budget request made on April 22 by the Department of General Services.

The three-year timeline was confirmed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes the developed campus and much of the surrounding open space.

“We have been working for the past four years to protect and preserve the open space watersheds and wildlife corridors while at the same time establishing a community-driven process that will plan for the next generation of the SDC campus,” McGuire told the Index-Tribune.

McGuire has been working with his fellow legislators, state Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, as a delegation from Sonoma on the SDC process.

“The SDC Coalition has been working with state legislators for years to move to this point,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin about the group of local stakeholder organizations she’s been working with as the Developmental Center transitions to its next stage. “We wanted a community-driven process for the future of the SDC, and we were rewarded.”

The detailed inclusion of budget numbers through June 2022 signals that the state is stepping up to honor the commitment it made to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 to bear the cost of managing SDC for the next three years, while the property is in “warm shutdown” mode, giving the county time to prepare a specific reuse plan for the historic property.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9556028-181/sonomas-vision-for-open-space

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Sonoma County signs on $40 million state deal on Sonoma Developmental Center

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors approved a $40 million state-funded plan to plot the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center on Friday before an appreciative crowd of residents, state lawmakers and officials who have worked for years to assure the prized property would not fall to ruin in the wake of its closure after 128 years of service to residents.

The four supervisors present voted in favor of a so-called “hybrid process” in which the state will pay up to $13 million a year for three years to maintain the 880-acre property, including 700 acres of open space, while the county crafts a development plan for the land and its aging facilities, built as far back as the 1800s.

“This is sacred property for many people for many reasons,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, one of three legislators who helped broker the deal.

“This is historic,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, thanking everyone responsible for bringing “an amazing experience before us today that will unleash the future of the developmental center.”

The redeveloped property will provide housing and jobs, she said, noting the center was once Sonoma County’s largest employer.

Richard Dale of the Sonoma Environmental Center, one of the stakeholders in charting the center’s future, said the commitment to local planning was “a very different scenario than we were expecting.”

“We actually have a chance to do something right,” he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9468612-181/sonoma-county-signs-on-40

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Owners give up developmental rights to protect critical watershed land in Mark West

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ambling through a forest on his rural Mark West area property, Ray Krauss bent over to pinch a fir tree sprout and pull it from the rain-damp ground. If the tiny green seedling grew much larger, Krauss would have to nip it with pruning shears, and were it to become a substantial tree he would fell it with a chainsaw.

But the 76-year-old retiree, who wears a bright red bicycle cap to keep his bald head warm, is considered a patron saint — not a plunderer — of the 63 acres of critical watershed land he has stewarded for nearly half a century.

“It’s been an utter privilege to live here all these years,” Krauss said. “It’s such a special location.”

Were the land and the wildlife on it able to speak, they might thank him for his dedication.

Sonoma Land Trust, which has protected more than 50,000 acres of land for future generations, embraced the early Christmas gift it got last week from Krauss and his wife, Barbara Shumsky. The couple donated a conservation easement, prohibiting development and guaranteeing the land will remain largely unchanged in perpetuity, foregoing the potential for substantial profit.

“We have a special affection for the Mark West watershed,” Ariel Patashnik, the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s land acquisition program manager, said while visiting the property on a foggy afternoon.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9088793-181/owners-give-up-developmental-rights

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SDC study recommends confining development to existing campus

Chris Lee, KENWOOD PRESS

For more information about the site: Transform SDC

A conceptual plan for the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) proposes large portions be designated for wildlife corridors and natural areas, with any new development confined to the existing central campus. This outline was presented at a June 23 “community workshop,” hosted by the consulting firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), authors of a pending 3,000-page “Existing Conditions Report,” to offer a preview of its findings. Some 200 people attended.

The material that was presented focused primarily on the results of surveys and community outreach about the 860-acre campus, and an inventory of campus land and buildings. Notably, the land use proposal was presented as a recommendation from the consulting firm, not merely an expression of public opinion. “This is a framework for how we think the conversation should move forward,” WRT Principal Jim Stickley said.

The community input that informed the study was more direct. “A large hotel or resort would be seen as a failure,” said Tania Carlone, a facilitator for Consensus Building Institute, a subcontractor of WRT. “The general feeling was that there is a saturation of luxury homes, of tourism. Folks were consistently concerned that the development in the core campus could encroach on the open space.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin agreed that the community wants open space and parks. “This is who we are and this is what we value and believe in,” she said. Economist Walter Kieser of Economic & Planning Systems, another WRT expert, cautioned that the county’s housing shortage and low residential vacancy rate could create pressure to explore other options. “You see tension between uses that have a lot of market potential and uses that have a lot of community value,” he said. In the subsequent question and answer session, local resident Scott Braun was explicit about the possibility of a big development. “Anyone who thinks there aren’t plans out there is living in a fool’s paradise.”

Commissioned by the state, the $2 million WRT study began 14 months ago but was interrupted by the October fires. Completion is expected in July or August. As part of the study, 65 community members were interviewed. From this input, consultants identified five community priorities: protection of SDC land and water, preservation of a legacy of care, community character and historical preservation, contribution to economic diversity and viability of Sonoma Valley, and a focus on community benefit.

Read more at http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/10018?full=1

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Hood Mountain Regional Park to grow with donation of Santa Rosa Creek property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A pristine, quarter-mile stretch of upper Santa Rosa Creek will be permanently protected as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve after the Sonoma Land Trust’s recent purchase of a 40-acre parcel on the park boundary.

The new property, located near the Los Alamos Road entrance at the northern end of the park, contains the last stand of redwoods in headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek and a cool shaded creek canyon ideal for rare steelhead trout, one of which was spotted in its waters just last week, land trust representatives said.

The newly acquired property is relatively small — particularly compared to the 1,750-acre wilderness park it adjoins — but it has important value as a buffer between the park and a growing number of estate homes being built in the area, along Los Alamos Road, the nonprofit group said.

It also extends an established wildlife corridor through the hills above Highway 12 and the Oakmont/Kenwood areas. That corridor has become a focal point of local conservation efforts in recent years, as land managers seek to create room for mountain lions, deer, bear and a host of other critters to roam across Sonoma and neighboring counties.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8172398-181/hood-mountain-regional-park-to

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In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ
Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.
“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.
Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.
In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.
“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.
Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.
Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

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Researchers collar Sonoma Valley mountain lion for tracking purposes

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a first, Audubon Canyon Ranch biologists trapped a female mountain lion Wednesday night in Sonoma Valley and outfitted the sedated animal with a GPS collar before letting her back into the wild so they could track her movements.
The delicate operation is part of a groundbreaking effort to protect what remains of the Wine Country habitat where lions and other creatures live.
The study is being led by Quinton Martins, a South African biologist whose experience includes tracking leopards in remote corners of the world.
Martins and a team that included two veterinarians were alerted Wednesday at about 8 p.m. that a mountain lion they’d previously spotted on a wildlife camera had entered a cage filled with road-kill deer.
The trap was set on the grounds of Glen Oaks Ranch, a 234-acre Sonoma Land Trust property that borders ACR’s Bouverie Preserve in Glen Ellen.
The research team reached the trapped lion in less than 10 minutes and sedated the big cat using a blow pipe, according to Wendy Coy, a spokeswoman for ACR.
The biologists fitted the lion with the GPS collar and also collected blood, tissue and other biological samples. The cat, named P1 for “Puma 1,” is estimated at between 8 and 10 years old. She weighed about 86 pounds and was over 6 feet long from her nose to the tip of her tail.
Read more at: Researchers collar Sonoma Valley mountain lion for tracking purposes | The Press Democrat