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Friends rally for Santa Rosa’s open-space heart, Trione-Annadel State Park

Gaye LeBaron, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Parks like this need friends, which is why, three years ago, an organization that calls itself just that, Friends of Trione-Annadel, was organized. Its membership represents the spectrum of usage — hikers and horsemen, runners, mountain bikers — everyone from the casual stroller to the dedicated botanist and naturalist on the prowl to catalog a new plant.

Today we’re talking about Trione-Annadel State Park, that magnificent stretch of hills and dales where, if a runner, hiker, horseman or mountain biker starts in Howarth and enters through Spring Lake, he or she can do at least 15 miles on pathways before emerging in Kenwood.

(Of course, as armchair jockeys are quick to point out, then they have to get home.)

I am aware I am preaching to the choir here because most of you already know what an asset this is to our area. It is the most-used park in this part of Northern California, closing in on 150,000 visits a year to its 5,500 acres.

All that love comes with some problems, as Supervising Ranger Neill Fogarty points out. One, of course, is abuse — physical abuse to the fields and forests by those who would “make new trails,” daredevils who sometimes fail to abide by the old rules of kindergarten to “play nicely with others,” and financial abuse from the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people each year who don’t pay the toll.

The appreciative ones, according to Fogarty, pay up at the Channel Drive entrance, and many park visitors have annual park passes, but there are the inevitable freeloaders, their mission made easier by the fact the park can entered from so many populated areas — not only Santa Rosa, Kenwood and Bennett Ridge but all borders in between. Many nearby homeowners can walk into the park from their neighborhood.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8402436-181/gaye-lebaron-friends-rally-for

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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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Sonoma County advances key Bay Trail link, with projected cost of up to $14 million

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The estuary of Tolay Creek southeast of Petaluma offers refuge to a host of wildlife, including rare shorebirds and waterfowl and a species of endangered mouse that lives only in the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay.

But the tidal waterway, which widens as it drains into San Pablo Bay just south of where it crosses under Highway 37, also sits in the way of a key link in the 500-mile trail envisioned to one day circle San Francisco Bay. About 70 percent of the network is complete.

To span the creek and close the 0.8-mile gap between two existing trails, parks officials are proposing a foot and bike path with a hefty projected price tag: $9 million to $14 million, depending on the design and alignment.

“It’s not a cheap endeavor,” said Ken Tam, planner with Sonoma County Regional Parks. “Where the trail alignment is located is actually in mud flats, and the materials to support a pier structure have to go very, very deep in the bedding to be sound. That increases the overall cost of the construction.”

The money could come from an proposed ballot measure in June that would increase in tolls on state-owned bridges in the Bay Area by $1 to raise an estimated $4.45 billion for transportation upgrades in the region. Up to $100 million could go to a long-delayed overhaul of Highway 37, where rebuilding costs are estimated at $1 billion to $4 billion.

The proposed Sears Point trail connector was endorsed as a parks priority last month by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors after an initial study highlighting the recreational demand and obstacles associated with the project.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8156043-181/sonoma-county-advances-key-bay

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National Park Service considers fee hike of up to 180% for most popular parks, including Yosemite

Hugo Martin, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The National Park Service will accept public comment on the proposal until Nov. 23 at the park’s public comment website. Under the proposal, fees for commercial vehicles entering the parks would also rise. The increases could go into effect as soon as next spring.

To raise funding for maintenance and repairs, the National Park Service said Tuesday it is considering raising vehicle entrance fees by up to 180% at the nation’s most popular parks during the peak visiting season.

Under the plan to raise funding to fix roads, bridges, campgrounds and bathrooms, the federal agency is proposing a $70 fee for each private, noncommercial vehicle — up from the current fares of $25 to $30, depending on the park. The fee for a motorcycle would more than double to $50 from the current $15 to $25. Visitors on foot or bicycle would pay $30, up from the $10 to $15.

The annual pass for all federal lands would remain $80.

The increase at 17 of the nation’s most popular parks would generate an extra $70 million a year over the $200 million now collected annually from entrance fees, the parks agency estimated. The 17 parks would include Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, Zion, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Read more at: National Park Service considers fee hike of up to 180% for most popular parks, including Yosemite – LA Times

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Pop-up parklet comes to Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square 

Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of local designers hung out all day Friday in a little pop-up parklet they created on the western side of Old Courthouse Square. The space — a carpet of sod with orange chairs and stools perched atop it — took up two of the square’s metered parking places from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, with the city’s OK, as part of a larger call to think about the way cities utilize urban space, billed internationally as Park(ing) Day.

A parklet is a pedestrian patch extending beyond a sidewalk into the street, intended to provide additional recreational amenities for people in areas typically devoid of them.

In Friday’s case, the parklet abutting Santa Rosa’s reunified square — a temporary one set up by TLCD Architecture, Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning, and MKM Associates Architects — wasn’t really in a place in need of a parklet, but that wasn’t the point.

The design firms set it up to open a conversation with passers-by about the way cities are planned — around people or cars.In Santa Rosa, the parklet producers argue, it might be the latter.

“The whole premise behind Park(ing) Day is that the majority of our open space is dedicated to the private vehicle and not to people,” said Christine Talbot, a landscape architect with Quadrica.Beyond that, the parklet’s theme was shade. Specifically, Santa Rosa’s lack of it, Talbot said.

“We came up with a concept to engage the space and talk about what we thought was important, which was shade,” she said. “I think we’re talking about public space in general, and I think in Santa Rosa there are some lovely streets with amazing trees, and then there are other streets where there is no room for trees or the trees have been stunted. Our shade canopy is not as lush as it could be.”

Read more at: Pop-up parklet comes to Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square | The Press Democrat –

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Lafferty plan: Access for all

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

[Fishman] said plans are in the works for a “spectacular” hiking park once access is secure. Plans include a 20-space parking lot and restroom with a trail accessible to people with disabilities on a raised boardwalk above the wetlands to an overlook with picnic benches. Other trail systems would run to the top of the property, affording even greater views.

Trekking through chest-high grass still tinged green from heavy winter rains, Mike Healy startled a white-tailed deer that bounded off through some cattails.

Farther along his hike through Lafferty Ranch, a city-owned parcel on the flank of Sonoma Mountain, the Petaluma city councilman stopped at an overlook.

The expansive Petaluma Valley stretched below with familiar downtown buildings just visible among green treetops. In the distance, the lazy Petaluma River meandered towards San Pablo Bay. Farther still, the prominent triangular peak of Mt. Tamalpais towered stoically over the vista.

“This is the money shot,” Healy said, gesturing toward the distant horizon.

The longest tenured of Petaluma’s current council members, Healy likes to visit the 270-acre Lafferty Ranch on occasion to remember why the city has been fighting for public access to this space for 25 years.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to get another look at your city from above,” he said. “The city has owned this land since 1959. It would be great to get people up here.”

Healy said he is hopeful that a resolution with neighboring land owners can be reached in the near future, ending one of the longest land use battles in Petaluma in a generation.

“The parties are continuing to discuss,” he said. “I have reason for optimism of a successful conclusion soon.”

Read more at: Lafferty plan: Access for all | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

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Op-Ed: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping 

Tim Stafford, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Early in 2002, I asked then-Mayor Mike Martini if he would like to take a short hike on land that was coming up for a Santa Rosa zoning decision. I knew Martini casually because our kids went to school together. Like a lot of my neighbors, I had concerns about a developer’s plans to build houses on land where we had taken innumerable walks and where my children had spent many hours exploring. He accepted my offer, so on a rainy day I showed him the land.

I didn’t try to discuss the land-use decision with Martini, and he didn’t say much as we hiked. I had the impression, however, that he was stunned by the beauty he saw. That impression was ratified by his subsequent actions. Within days, he had talked to the major players involved and helped arrange for the Open Space District to buy the land.

The arrangement was celebrated as a win for everybody. The Press Democrat wrote an editorial citing it as a great example of government working together for the common good. Chris Coursey, then a columnist for the paper, wrote enthusiastically of the “little slice of wilderness” that had been preserved.

Joined to two adjacent parcels that run along Paulin Creek — one a small pie-shaped county-owned property known as Parcel J, the other a larger parcel owned by the Water Agency for flood control — the open-space property was named Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve and shown on Open Space District maps. A large sign at the head of Beverly Way, the only road access to Parcel J, was put up by a county agency stating the existence of Paulin Creek Preserve as an entity preserved by multiple government agencies and urging that it be used with care. We neighbors believed the matter was settled forever.

In Coursey’s column, he quoted Martini saying, “I didn’t know places like this existed in Santa Rosa anymore.” Fifteen years later, it still does. But it may not, if the county’s plan to include Parcel J in the sale of the old Sutter Hospital property goes through. Parcel J has nothing to do with the hospital properties. They are adjacent, but they don’t access each other, not even on foot. But Parcel J is critical to the Paulin Creek Preserve. Without it, the other two properties are cut off from each other.

To be clear, the neighbors trying to separate Parcel J from the land sale have no objection to the development of the hospital lands. We know that housing is needed, and even though we live very close to that potential development, we aren’t opposed to it. What we hope to preserve is the small, beautiful swath of meadow and oak-studded hills, the wetlands and the creek that make up the Paulin Creek Preserve.

Read more at: Close to Home: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping | The Press Democrat

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Housing added to Santa Rosa greenway design

KEVIN McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Read the latest plan for the Southeast Greenway here.

A subtle struggle is underway in southeast Santa Rosa between providing housing and preserving open space, and the pressure to provide housing appears to have the upper hand.

The latest design for a 57-acre greenway running on Caltrans right-of-way from Farmers Lane to Spring Lake calls for about 190 units of housing, most of it apartments clustered at the western end of what’s being called the Southeast Greenway.

That’s a 26 percent increase over the most intensely developed of the three options presented to city leaders late last year. It’s also 153 percent more units than the minimalist design favored by the group that’s been advocating for a greenway for eight years.

The revisions, made publicly available last week, followed months of public input and direction from members of the City Council and Planning Commission in November, many of whom stressed that the plan should reflect the city’s top priority, which is housing, and ensure the project can pay for itself, which more development would theoretically allow.

So Tuesday’s follow-up joint meeting of those two city bodies should prove a telling study in where city leaders are leaning when it comes to developing the ribbon of vacant land once eyed for the extension of Highway 12 over Spring Lake.

Will they embrace the new higher-density plan as presented, scale back development out of deference to neighbors hoping for the lightest footprint possible, or set aside even more land for housing near Yulupa Avenue and Summerfield Avenues?

Read more at: Santa Rosa greenway design makes room for more housing | The Press Democrat

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New Oakmont bike-pedestrian trail may solve long-simmering access dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new path nearing completion in Oakmont will soon link the retirement community in east Santa Rosa to Trione-Annadel State Park, and in the process may help solve a long-simmering access dispute.

The 400-foot-long gravel trail is designed to allow bicycle riders and pedestrians to skirt a piece of private property over which the city once held an easement frequently used by the public.

The new path runs parallel to that driveway, links up with city property once used as a wastewater treatment plant and creates a continuous link between Stone Bridge Drive and Channel Drive on the northern side of Annadel.

“We’ve totally bypassed the private property with this path,” said Ken Wells, executive director of the Sonoma Trails Council, which is building the trail with 36 yards of gravel and a lot of volunteer labor from Oakmont residents.

The trail should open as soon as the area has five solid days of warm weather to help the material set, Wells said.

If the city designates a recreational trail across its property – which it is expected to do later this month – the city property and the Oakmont trail together could create a public trail that will not only allow Oakmont residents to access the park but help cyclists stay off busy Highway 12.

“It’s really a good example of the city working with a community group to come up with a creative solution,” said Mayor Chris Coursey, who rode past the path on his bike Thursday afternoon.

Read more at: New Oakmont trail may solve long-simmering access dispute | The Press Democrat

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Narrow defeat for Sonoma County parks measure likely to prompt another try 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County voters came tantalizingly close in 2016 to approving a sales tax measure that arguably would have led to the most sweeping changes to the county’s parks system in its 50-year history.

Measure J supporters said the half-cent sales tax measure, which would have generated an estimated $95 million over a 10-year term, was needed to fund an overhaul of the parks system, including a vast expansion of public lands offering new recreational opportunities.

Under this vision, county-owned properties, including those with jaw-dropping views along the Sonoma Coast, would fully open to the public. Miles of new trails would come online, amenities such as campgrounds would be installed and aging infrastructure at existing parks would be spruced up or repaired.

Those lofty plans stalled after Measure J went came up just shy of the required two-thirds majority in the November election. It failed by 1,082 votes out of nearly 69,800 cast on the initiative.

“Obviously, it’s a shame that it didn’t pass and that it came so close,” Caryl Hart, the county’s Regional Parks director, said this month.

Given the narrow margin of defeat, Hart and other Measure J supporters are now considering whether to go back to voters in 2017 with another tax measure.

Read more at: Year in Review: Narrow defeat for Sonoma County parks measure likely to prompt another try | The Press Democrat