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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

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Tracking Sonoma County’s mountain lions

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Have you had an encounter with a mountain lion? Organizers of Audubon Canyon Ranch’s mountain lion study want to hear from you. Fill out their survey at surveymonkey.com/r/MTLIONACR.

In his office at Glen Ellen’s Bouverie Preserve, Quinton Martins has several collars equipped with GPS technology that he has used to track and study leopards in remote places around the world.
The South African biologist and acknowledged authority on big cats is now gearing up to track a different predator — the mountain lions that call Sonoma and Napa counties home. Audubon Canyon Ranch has hired the famed researcher to conduct the groundbreaking study, which the nonprofit agency hopes to use as the basis for protecting what remains of the habitat in which the lions and other creatures live.
Nobody knows for sure how many mountain lions roam Wine Country. That’s one key question Martins hopes to answer with his research. He said under optimal conditions, he would expect to find as many as 50 adult mountain lions living in the 1,000-square-mile territory included in the study.
The general public, however, usually only hears about the cats when something unfortunate happens, such as the rare occasion when a lion attacks pets, livestock or humans. Or, when a lion is the victim of circumstance, as was the case March 1 when an adult female was struck and killed by a motorist on Highway 116 near Monte Rio.
The less headline-grabbing, but just as compelling, story is how these beautiful and powerful animals, which can reach 220 pounds and stand 3 feet tall, have managed to survive in an increasingly urbanized environment, hunting prey (mostly deer), mating and doing their best to avoid contact with humans who are, in Martins’ words, “super-predators.”
Read more at: Tracking Sonoma County’s mountain lions | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

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Public open space outside Santa Rosa grows with deal for Mark West Creek land

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Generations of kids and other nature lovers will continue to enjoy outdoor experiences at a Mark West Creek ranch northeast of Santa Rosa under a new conservation deal that maintains public access to the property in perpetuity.
More broadly, open space advocates say preservation of the 124-acre Rancho Mark West builds upon a legacy of protecting land from development in the sensitive environmental area while offering the public more opportunities to engage with nature a short distance away from Santa Rosa.
“We hope to be able to walk people from Santa Rosa to Rancho Mark West to spend the night. That would be a pretty incredible opportunity,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of the nonprofit group LandPaths.
LandPaths will continue to operate In Our Own Backyard, Owl Camp and other popular outdoor programs for kids at the St. Helena Road ranch under an updated conservation easement that protects public access to the site.
Read more: Public open space outside Santa Rosa grows with | The Press Democrat

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Community separators could be a voter favorite in 2016

Jay Gamel, THE KENWOOD PRESS
Measure to curb urban sprawl set to expire next year
Many organizations concerned with the future of the county’s Community Separator program are being proactive about the impending sunset of the voter-approved measure coming up next year. A survey commissioned by the Greenbelt Alliance indicates strong voter support for not only re-approving the concept of preventing urban sprawl, but even strengthening it to include a wider area of protection, such as riparian habitat, and protecting drinking water, among others.
Community separators basically seek to preserve a greenbelt around each Sonoma County city by prohibiting increased building density without a public vote. They do not restrict any other permitted development within the designated zoning overlay. To qualify for a county mandated community separator, each city had to establish its own Urban Growth Boundary – a limit on how far the city would seek to expand in the future.

Map of Northeast Santa Rosa Community Separator
The Northeast Santa Rosa Community Separator (shown in yellow) encompasses 3,300 acres. (Map courtesy of the Greenbelt Alliance)

With a few exceptions for schools, fire departments and other public interest developments, the community separator concept has been successful: there have been no increased density developments within them for the past 18 years, though there have been developments, such as Kenwood’s La Campagna/Sonoma Country Inn on the Graywood Ranch property, which was permitted through an exception for “overriding considerations,” such as enhanced tax revenue.
Two years ago, the county’s Board of Supervisors budgeted time and resources for its Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) to examine the effect of the community separators and what to do when they expire. A PRMD analysis is expected to be delivered before the end of the year. The direction was to review and strengthen General Plan community separator policies.
However, as far as strengthening the law, Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin said, “PRMD has limited resources to work on the necessary outreach to consider adding extensive land to the separators, in anticipation of a ballot initiative.”
The process for renewal of a similar or expanded community separator law involves either the supervisors putting it on the ballot, or it being created through a voter petition, requiring nearly 15,000 signatures in Sonoma County. The former is the preferred process of just about everyone concerned.
A wide range of interested people gathered at the Sonoma Land Trust office in Santa Rosa on Oct. 8 to hear the Greenbelt Alliance survey findings. Those present included representatives from the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, Valley of the Moon Alliance, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sonoma Land Trust, Wine & Water Watch, American Farmland Trust, Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, Greenbelt Alliance, Preserve Rural Sonoma, and city council members from Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Read more at: The Kenwood Press – Community separators could be a voter favorite in 2016