Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Author says big wine money has ruined Napa and Sonoma may be next

Bill Swindell, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

James Conaway is angry.

Author and journalist, Conaway has been the foremost chronicler of Napa

Valley for more than three decades. His “Napa: The Story of an American Eden” in 1990 told of the early pioneers who turned a family farming community in the valley into the premier wine region of the United States.

He followed that book with “The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley” in 2002 that covered how new investors were changing the valley with their emerging focus on tourism and marketing higher-priced cult wines to consumers.

His new book does not hide his current feelings for Napa Valley. “Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity” takes aim at the investors and big companies, which he contends have transformed the area with crass commercialism that has overridden the quality of life and harmed the environment.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8179182-181/author-says-big-wine-money

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

A growing Sonoma bursts at its seams

Patrick Hoge, SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE

Wine tourism: booming. Mass transit: zooming. Big cannabis: looming. For a once-quiet agricultural region, Sonoma is suddenly an economic engine. And not everybody’s loving the noise.

Liza Hinman lives in two Sonoma County worlds on the same continuum. In one, she is cofounder and chef of the Spinster Sisters, a hip, fun, homey restaurant bringing life and house-made granola parfaits to a formerly run-down part of Santa Rosa. She’s part of a vanguard of entrepreneurial Sonomans who are catering to both locals and tourists through the unifying power of good eating, good drinking, and smartly designed community spaces. In the other world, Hinman, as a mother of three and the wife of a Sonoma native, is unsettled by the changes that have overtaken her hometown of Healdsburg, a once-dilapidated agricultural town of almost 12,000 with a quaint central plaza that has utterly transformed in the last 15 years into a crowded, swanky destination for affluent out-of-towners and second-home owners.

In one world, increased tourism and a well-earned Michelin recommendation are boons for Hinman, a rosy-cheeked, smock-wearing 40-year-old with a broad smile and a gifted touch with locally grown foods. In the other, she finds herself conflicted, avoiding Healdsburg’s downtown of pricey restaurants, clothing stores, and art galleries because of traffic and lack of parking, and shaking her head at the area’s 30—30!—wine tasting rooms. “It’s the ad nauseam conversation that we all have as more and more tourists and Bay Area people discover us,” Hinman says, proffering some of her signature deviled eggs. An East Coast transplant who got her professional start studying and cooking in San Francisco, Hinman knows that it wasn’t long ago that numerous businesses in downtown Healdsburg were shuttered. And she appreciates the tax revenue that supports city services. “It’s our lifeblood here,” she says. “But there has to be a way to find balance, to have a vibrant community for locals and services for tourists.”

Hinman’s contrasting sentiments are echoed across Sonoma County these days, as moneyed visitors from around the world and urban refugees flood into the North Bay in search of the good life. Tourism spending is soaring; hotel and winery development is widespread; and housing prices are climbing fast and approaching an all-time high—all factors that have led to a growing disquiet among longtime valley dwellers. Still a vast Eden of vineyards, restaurants, and resorts, Sonoma maintains a natural beauty and a relatively affordable cost of living that have made it a release valve for the over-pressurized Bay Area. But this restfulness has been disturbed by new strains of anxiety that Sonoma’s laid-back feel, small-town charms, and country roads are being trammeled by too many outsiders with too much cash.

Read more at: San Francisco Magazine | Modern Luxury | A Growing Sonoma Bursts at its Seams

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, TransportationTags , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Jerry Bernhaut, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Our lawsuit has overturned the Climate Action Plan as a basis for enabling new development with inadequate greenhouse gas mitigations. It has not prevented the cities or the county from proceeding with greenhouse gas reduction measures in the plan.

The basic issue in the lawsuit that overturned the approval of the Sonoma County Climate Action Plan was the failure to account for emissions from vehicle miles traveled in the global distribution of wine and other products and travel to tourist destinations in the county from around the world.

In a recent article (“Battling climate change at the local level,” Aug. 11), Supervisor David Rabbitt made the following claims:

1) The lawsuit argued for a growth moratorium for wine and tourism. A moratorium is not enforceable.

What we actually called for was consideration of a moratorium or significant limitation on new wineries/vineyard expansions and/or tourist destinations to provide an adequate assessment of feasible measures to reduce Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions. State law allows a county or city to adopt an interim ordinance prohibiting any uses that may be in conflict with a plan or proposal the city or county intends to study. The statute allows an interim ordinance of 45 days with provisions for extensions to a total of about two years.

We were advocating for just such a measure to evaluate some controls on additional growth in high emissions land uses. We argued this was a legitimate request for relevant information under the California Environmental Quality Act. The court agreed. The simple reality is that an economy dominated by global tourism and production for global export generates enormous travel-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more at: Close to Home: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , ,

David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

One of Sonoma County’s most esteemed vintners has cleared a key hurdle on his way toward building a long-sought winery on Westside Road, but he’s bracing for continued opposition from residents who say his plans would place too great a strain on the rural corridor outside Healdsburg, already one of the most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions in the county.

David Ramey, winemaker and co-owner of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, received the blessing this week from a majority of planning officials who considered his proposal for a 60,000-case winery and tasting room operation that has been in the works since he and his wife, Carla, bought the 75-acre site of the former Westside Farms nearly five years ago.

While Ramey’s project passed the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments on a 3-to-1 vote Thursday, it could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors by any one of the residents who oppose the project, citing concerns about its scale and impact, including traffic from events and visitors to the public tasting room. Ramey is expecting an appeal, meaning supervisors could have the final say on the matter, barring a court battle.

Read more at: David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan

Jerry Bernhaut, the lead attorney for River Watch, said his client did not want to block the entirety of the regional climate plan, which he said contained some “perfectly valid measures” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s nothing stopping the cities and the unincorporated county from going ahead with measures that were described in the climate action plan,” Bernhaut said. “The legal force of the climate action plan is now null and void.”

But stronger, substantive progress would require a more dramatic reshaping of an economic system that includes international product distribution and a “tourist industry on steroids” where people travel from all over the world, Bernhaut said.

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A settlement reached between Sonoma County’s regional climate agency and a Sebastopol environmental group with a history of suing local governments has left the countywide plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions legally toothless.

Under terms of the settlement with California River Watch, the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority agreed this week not to challenge a court decision that struck down the environmental document underpinning its blueprint for fighting climate change.

A Sonoma County judge sided this summer with River Watch, which sued the agency and argued its climate plan did not properly account for emissions generated outside county borders, including from tourism and the wine industry.

Read more at: Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , ,

Westside Road winery seeking expansion

Frank Robertson, HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Whether the rural splendor of Westside Road can withstand its evolution into a high-end wine tasting mecca will be one question in the air at a public hearing coming up in two weeks.

The Sept. 21 county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) hearing will address renowned winemaker David Ramey’s ambitious plans for a winery with multiple tasting rooms, guest housing, commercial office space and picnic grounds to accommodate more than two dozen annual promotional parties, some with up to 300 guests.

Ramey’s project has drawn outcry from opponents who say it’s simply too much even for Westside Road, one of the most visitor-centric destinations in wine country.

“This is the most intense project ever proposed for Westside Road,” read a letter from the Westside Community Association regarding the Ramey project on 75 acres known as Westside Farms, where a weathered hop kiln building is a designated county historic site.

Besides a new winery and wine cave, The Ramey project includes a tasting room in the old hop kiln building and another private tasting room in the adjacent barn, along with overnight marketing accommodations and parking for approximately 80 cars.

Read more at: Westside Road winery seeking expansion | News | sonomawest.com

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Developer drops plans for controversial Sonoma boutique hotel in favor of housing 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Faced with a lengthy approval process and unrelenting opposition from a citizens’ group, developers have dropped plans to build a boutique hotel project northeast of the Sonoma Plaza.Caymus Development Group of Sonoma said they are eliminating a proposed 30-room hotel, restaurant and bakery and will concentrate instead on building more housing than originally planned on the 3.4 acre site.

Dropping the commercial portion, they said, will allow for additional units over the 27 condominiums and five single-family homes they were proposing. Under the city’s general plan there could be as many as 70  residential units on the site, but the developer declined to say if they would seek the maximum amount.

They portrayed their decision as driven by the urgent need for housing in the region. They also downplayed opposition to the proposed hotel, in a neighborhood some call Sonoma’s “backyard” — a collection of Little League ballfields, a senior center, a veterans hall and Depot Park that offer a respite of sorts from the bustling tourist-dominated plaza.

The hotel on First Street East was dropped “because housing is a humanitarian crisis,” said Caymus executive Ed Routhier. “We need to step up and do everything we can.”

Read more at: Developer drops plans for controversial Sonoma boutique hotel in favor of housing | The Press Democrat –

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Sonoma City Council votes to require more study for downtown hotel

Jason Walsh, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

The Sonoma City Council has voted unanimously to uphold an appeal seeking additional environmental study of a 62-room hotel project on West Napa Street.

The 5-0 council vote, in a special meeting on Monday, formally affirmed an appeal lodged by project opponents after the Planning Commission in April approved the environmental impact report for the $40 million Hotel Project Sonoma, which also includes a spa and 80-seat restaurant.

The special meeting followed a July hearing in which council members endorsed further work on the environmental report.

Critics said the report failed to fully disclose potential environmental impacts, address certain mitigation measures and offer project alternatives.

Bill Hooper, president of Kenwood Investments, the developer of the hotel, said the company supports the council’s decision because the extra study items will result in a more thorough document for the project. He noted the report is being written by an outside consultant selected by the city.

Read more at: Sonoma City Council requires votes to require more study for downtown hotel | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

Local Sonoma Valley Attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan

SONOMA VALLEY SUN

Superior Court Judge Nancy Case Shaffer in Santa Rosa has ruled in favor of local Sonoma Valley attorney Jerry Bernhaut’s lawsuit challenging Sonoma County’s Climate Action 2020 Plan. A lawyer with River Watch, a Sonoma County firm active in filing environmental challenges, Bernhaut’s suit argued that the county’s plan violated various provisions of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Quoting from the 41-page ruling: “The court finds that the Sonoma County Regional Climate protection Authority’s Final programmatic EIR (“the Peir”) for Climate Action 2020 and Beyond, its Climate Action Plan (“CAP”) and the County of Sonoma”s approval of the CAP violate CEQA, in that the inventory of greenhouse gas emissions is based on insufficient information, the PEIR fails to include effectively enforceable, clearly defined performance standards for the mitigation measures regarding Green House gas (“GHG”) emissions, identified as “GHG reduction Measures”, and fails to develop and fully analyze a reasonable range of alternatives.”

Commenting on the ruling, Bernhaut said, “The court’s ruling validates River Watch’s contentions that:

1. By failing to account for GHG emissions from global tourist travel and global distribution of wine and other Sonoma County products, the CAP grossly understated the true GHG emissions generated by activities in Sonoma County.

2. By failing to identify clear and enforceable reduction measures, the CAP failed to provide  reasonable assurance that its program would result in the projected reduction of the County’s GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels, as predicted in the CAP, or even to 1990 levels by 2020, consistent with AB32.

3. By refusing to evaluate an alternative involving a moratorium or any form of control of growth in tourist destinations and/or wine production, the CAP failed to consider environmentally superior alternatives which are necessary for any realistic hope of reducing Sonoma County’s contribution to global GHG emissions to levels required to avoid reaching tipping points for irreversible catastrophic global warming.”

Bernhaut added, “It’s time to admit that perpetual growth on a planet with limited resources and carrying capacity is not sustainable.”

The County’s Climate Action Plan 2020 was adopted by Sonoma County last year, but River Watch’s legal action has placed the program on hold. The plan was that all nine Sonoma County cities would join the county and sign-on to the plan, conforming to its goals and methodology. That process was halted while the lawsuit proceeded, and now that the court has made its ruling, it’s unclear as to the next steps. The county can appeal the court decision, or it can decide to revamp and reissue the plan in accordance with the corrections and changes the court decision highlights.

Of particular note is the court’s reference to the need to use VMT calculations (Vehicle Miles Traveled) to better asses and calculate the full impacts of GHG (Greenhouse Gas emissions). During the recent, successful appeal of the certification of the EIR for the proposed hotel on West Napa Street, appellants objected to the fact that VMT methodology was not used to calculate the project’s GHG impacts, but city staff and the EIR consultant argued that calculations using VMT need not be used. It’s unclear what, if any, this court decision will have on that EIR, which is currently undergoing review and amendment.

Source: Local Sonoma Valley Attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan | Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA

Posted on Categories TransportationTags ,

Sonoma County airport grows, bucking a trend 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Airlines took interest in starting service here after the airport in 2014 completed a $55 million runway expansion, allowing larger aircraft to fly in and out. Airport and business officials long had sought the facility upgrade and the expanded air service for its benefits to commerce in general and the county’s hospitality sector in particular.

For most of the past decade, the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport has enjoyed steady but incremental growth in the number of passengers served by one commercial airline.

But with the addition of more carriers this year the number jumped, prompting the airport to erect a new temporary waiting area and to make plans to build a larger terminal that could cost roughly $25 million.

Even as Allegiant Air last week confirmed it will end its weekly Santa Rosa-to-Las Vegas service later this month, the airport is about to gain its third new airline of the year. On Aug. 24, Sun Country Airlines will begin a weekly seasonal route from Minneapolis to Santa Rosa.

The comings and goings will result in a total of four airlines, three of which offer routes with daily year-round service.

The growth is rare among small U.S. airports, say airport officials and airline industry analysts.“We definitely are not the norm,” said airport manager Jon Stout. “We are the exception.”

Read more at: Sonoma County airport grows, bucking a trend | The Press Democrat