Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

After fires, a push to fix housing crisis

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As it emerged from the Great Recession and a moribund housing market, Sonoma County in 2011 needed seven years to build nearly 5,000 new homes.

The fires of October wiped a greater number of houses and apartments off the map here in a single day.

The unprecedented disaster deepened an existing housing crisis and fueled calls by local officials to dramatically accelerate the pace of new home construction — perhaps to a level never before seen in the county, even in the decadeslong building boom following World War II.

By two recent estimates, a yawning gap exists between the housing stock the county had before the fires — about 208,000 homes, apartments and other units — and what is needed to keep the economy growing and to comfortably house a wide range of workers and families.

It could be as high as 30,000 units — equivalent to what exists in Rohnert Park, Windsor and Sebastopol — according to county supervisors, who set that figure as an ambitious five-year building target that would include both the burn areas and surrounding communities.

“We are eroding the character of our county by not allowing people who work here to live here and be a part of the community,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore. The county, he said, came up with its estimate of 30,000 homes “not as a hopeful aspiration, but as an analysis of how much we’re short from a healthy housing market.”

But some leaders in the local building and real estate industry say there is no conceivable way for the county to build 6,000 houses and apartments a year, equivalent to completing 16 homes a day. The obstacles, builders say, include insufficient levels of labor, materials and projects ready to go.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8011910-181/fires-fuel-a-daunting-push

Posted on Categories WaterTags , ,

Benzene found outside Fountaingrove contamination area

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa may be zeroing in on the cause of the contamination in the water supply of the devastated Fountaingrove neighborhood, but there are also troubling signs that the problem may extend beyond the immediate advisory area.

Since Jan. 24, when the city last released detailed test results, the city has found 58 additional instances of benzene in the drinking water in the Fountaingrove area. The vast majority came from the 184-acre area north and south of Fountain Grove Parkway around Fir Ridge Drive, an area once home to 350 families. Only 13 homes remain following the October wildfires.

Residents of the area have been under a strict advisory for months to not drink or boil the water while the city tries to find the source of the contamination and fix the problem, something that could cost upwards of $20 million if the area’s water system needs replacement.

But a handful of tests have recently detected benzene in areas outside the advisory zone, a new development that may complicate the 3-month-long hunt for the cause of the contamination.

In response, the city is launching a more aggressive regimen of water tests covering all the burned areas of the city, including Coffey Park, in its effort to make sure other burn zones aren’t experiencing similar problems.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8025423-181/benzene-found-outside-fountaingrove-contamination

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Post-fire health survey now open to North Bay residents

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more about the UC Davis study, click here

Researchers at UC Davis hope to enlist thousands of Northern California residents in an online survey designed to gather the personal experiences, household circumstances and health effects from devastating wildfires that burned over 245,000 acres in six counties and killed 44 people.

About 140 people signed up in advance to take the survey, which went live Thursday (February 1).

But the push to get the word out is just beginning, with particular focus in hard-hit Sonoma and Napa counties, said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist and director of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center.

“If you’re living there, you’re living it,” said Hertz-Picciotto, the research leader.

Residents of other affected counties, including Mendocino, which suffered significant losses, are urged to take part, as is anyone else affected by the fire and smoke that plagued the region for weeks beginning Oct. 8.

Researchers said the survey should take about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Owner of Journey’s End mobile home park in Santa Rosa won’t rebuild after Tubbs fire

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The fire-ravaged Journey’s End mobile home park will not reopen, but its owner is seeking to partner with a developer to build an apartment complex on the north Santa Rosa property, residents learned this weekend.

The family that owns the 13.5-acre site at Mendocino Avenue and Fountaingrove Parkway is working with nonprofit Burbank Housing to explore the feasibility of redeveloping the property into a mixture of affordable and market-rate apartments, Burbank chief executive officer Larry Florin said Sunday.

“We see this as an opportunity to preserve affordable housing but also to create something more permanent,” Florin said. “There’s a housing crisis, obviously, in Sonoma County.”

The decision not to rebuild throws former residents into another bout of uncertainty, with the hope of someday returning to their economical, tight-knit community now gone.

The mobile home park, a refuge for low-income and senior residents for nearly 60 years, has remained closed since the October wildfires. The Tubbs fire destroyed nearly three quarters of the 160 coaches on the property, killed two of its residents, incinerated its electrical and gas systems and irreparably contaminated the well supplying water to the community.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7972490-181/owner-of-journeys-end-mobile?utm_source=home

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem

Posted October 31, 2017, by THE CALIFORNIA CHAPARRAL INSTITUTE BLOG

Many in the fire science community are disappointed by the recent reporting in High Country News (HCN) on the tragic fires in northern California (Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires, HCN 10/24/2017).

Portraying the ecology of the region as “choked” by native shrublands not only demonizes California’s richly biodiverse, characteristic habitat, the chaparral, but fails to come close to explaining why and how the fires occurred. Little effort was made in the article to help readers understand the situation. Instead, the article simply repeated hackneyed phrases over-used to describe fires in the western US.

Every fire is different. Large, high-intensity wildfires have long been a natural feature of these chaparral landscapes. What has changed is that we have put people in harm’s way.

A quick overview on Google Earth of what burned in the devastating Tubbs Fire would have revealed that it was not “shrub-choked wildlands,” but rather a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed.
http://google.org/crisismap/google.com/2017-tubbs-fire

Tubbs veg area south no fire

“Shrub-choked wildlands?” The area burned in the Tubbs Fire was actually a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed. Most of this area shown above burned within the southern portion of the Tubbs Fire, including the neighborhood of Coffey Park (in the lower left hand corner).

Tubbs distance with arrow

The distance of the devastated neighborhood of Coffey Park (tip of arrow) was approximately 1.6 miles from any significant amounts of wildland vegetation (beginning of arrow). Brown/amber colored areas under arrow indicate non-native grasslands burned during the Tubbs Fire.

Blaming nature and past efforts by firefighters to save lives and property through fire suppression ignores the actual problem – poorly planned communities in high fire risk areas.

Ironically, the article quotes a source that admits large fires have occurred before, but the source goes on to ignore the full history to support his contention that the recent fires were unusual, a classic logical fallacy. Yes, the article reads, there were large fires in the past (when we were suppressing fires), but the recent fires are different because we have been suppressing fires.

Memories are short. Despite claims to the contrary, wildland fires along California’s west coast and inland valleys have not changed much since the 1964 Hanly Fire, a blaze which burned nearly the same territory as the Tubbs Fire but was even larger. What has changed is human demography.

Read more at: A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem | The California Chaparral Institute Blog

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Rejuvenated by fire

Sonoma Ecology Center

All around the Valley now, we’re seeing new sprouts from the branches and roots of fire-scarred oaks, madrones, toyons, and coyote brush. Grasses have transformed blackened ground to bright kelly green. (The photo above shows beargrass rising from its roots in the chaparral on Arrowhead Mountain.) And fire followers – native flowers that germinate after wildfire – are close behind.

In other words, the Valley is doing what it’s done for countless centuries after a fire. Given this swift regeneration, what can we do to help burned land?

The answer is simple. When it comes to burned areas that are away from roads, ditches, and buildings, most often the best response is just to watch and be amazed. The land is glad for these fires and knows how to respond. In these areas, our urge to “clean up” – in particular by cutting trees – can make the situation worse by leading to soil erosion and landslides. And putting equipment, vehicles, or too much foot traffic onto burned soils will crush germinating plants and compact the fluffy soil. That’s why we’re advising all Sonoma Valley property owners: PLEASE DO NOT CUT YOUR BURNED TREES unless they pose a risk to life or property. Most will grow back from branches or roots, and the ones that don’t will serve as important native habitat. This is especially true of redwoods and of native hardwoods such as oaks, manzanitas, and madrones.

There are exceptions. Burned Douglas fir, or non-native trees such as eucalyptus and some conifers, may well need to come down. We also understand that some landowners may face irresistible pressure from insurance to cut and remove burned trees, even those that would recover.

Here are some ways to help the land now:

If you own Sonoma Valley property with burned man-made structures on it, please contact us right away. With your permission, our Emergency Watershed Protection Program will organize volunteers to isolate toxic ash and debris so it doesn’t wash away this winter to pollute the Valley’s soil or streams.

Another beneficial activity is to pinch off all but two or three of the sprouts on trees and shrubs, which will then grow faster with less crowding. And, if you steward land where invasive weeds like Himalayan blackberry or French broom burned, this could be a crucial time to make progress by keeping these invaders trimmed back until newly germinating natives can establish.

You can also observe and record the fascinating changes on your land or public land. For example, set up a nature camera, as Sonoma filmmaker Tim Wetzel did on behalf of Sonoma Ecology Center, and create time-lapse footage to watch the landscape turn from ashen to green. Water monitoring and bird watching are other options – contact us for help on any “citizen science” project you have in mind.

 

Please help us spread the word on this important message!

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , ,

Sonoma County wildlife show amazing recovery after wildfires

John Beck, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“I had no idea what to expect,” Steven Hammerich says, as he scans through wildlife images on his computer at Pepperwood Preserve.At the end of September and early October, the scene looks much like any other fall in Sonoma County. You see a lone bobcat on the prowl the night of Sept. 28. A deer wanders by on Oct. 2. A coyote stands alert on Oct. 7.

And then, at 1:57 a.m. Oct. 8, as the Tubbs fire roared through Pepperwood on its way from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, the motion-activated field camera captures frame after frame filled with a sea of flames and red-hot tracers of flying embers. A Douglas fir ignites and the temperature shoots up to 133 degrees by 2:15 a.m.

By the end, more than 85 percent of Pepperwood’s 3,200 acres — home to 900 species of plants and animals — would burn, mostly at a low to moderate intensity. By the time Hammerich and the rest of the Pepperwood staff returned several weeks later, many field cameras had completely melted. But in other cameras the storage cards survived, allowing them to piece together a rare narrative of wildlife survival.

“It really is like detective work,” says Hammerich, Pepperwood’s resident camera tech, as he cues up footage from the same E5 camera that captured the previous images before and during the fire.

Two days after the fire, the first sign of wildlife appears: The blurry head of a buck at 3:22 in the afternoon. Two days after that, a jackrabbit bounds by at 12:44 a.m. On Oct. 15, a deer appears at daybreak. And like that, in photo after photo, a coyote, a squirrel, more deer and another jackrabbit return. Other cameras on the preserve capture mountain lions on Oct. 13 and 16, a black bear on Nov. 6 and Nov. 24 and a bobcat on Nov. 8.

Read more at: Sonoma County wildlife show amazing recovery after wildfires

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

Bikes for fire victims

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition

For many kids and adults, a bike is an important mode of transportation and/or recreation. A number of organizations have been working to obtain donated new and/or used bicycles for North Bay Fire Victims, and recently began launching their programs to distribute bicycles to individuals and families in need.  We hope that helping get bikes into the hands of those who lost so much will bring some joy and a sense of normalcy to the thousands of  families affected by this disaster.

Check this page for a list of bike giveaway programs: http://www.bikesonoma.org/bikes-for-fire-victims/

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

Arborists: Charred trees may still regrow

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Danny and Sky Matula have tied bright green ribbons near the base of about 50 charred Douglas fir trees standing behind the ruins of their home in the rolling hills west of Kenwood.

“They’re just toast,” Sky Matula said, as light rain fell on the ashen remains of the home his father built on the wooded 10-acre parcel adjoining Trione-Annadel State Park.

The black, denuded firs — including two that stand about 150 feet tall — are almost certainly dead, and stand far too close for comfort to the once and future family home.

The green ribbons mark them for removal by one means or another.

But like countless other homeowners, the Matulas are stuck in an uncomfortable dilemma regarding the fate of fire-scarred trees, including stout oaks and tall, slender firs, that impart majesty to their property.

Like California’s iconic redwoods, oaks are cloaked in thick, protective bark that enables several of their species to survive all but the worst wildfires, experts say.

And as homeowners begin to plot their post-fire recovery, tree advocates are urging restraint in removing burned trees and shrubs in favor of waiting at least until spring to see if fresh green growth emerges from vegetation that has adapted to survive fire.

Read more at: Burned trees in North Coast fire areas pose dilemma for homeowners