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Opinions, Letters and Editorials
• Why Susan Gorin Won: Blue-Green Alliance and Grassroots Politics
• Converting Local Forests for the 1%
• SMART and our post-repair world
• SMART didn't just stop being a good idea
• ide Water Firghts: The wine industry versus salmon.
• The Case for SMART
• Supervisors need to hold firm in opposing asphalt plant
• DON'T SELL OUR LANDFILL
• ELECTRIC CARS
• CARRILLO's CASH
• CARRILLO AND FURCH
• SAVING ENERGY
• TOMORROW'S LEADERS TODAY ON RAILROAD SQUARE
• MINING MOONSCAPE
• THIS TIME, THE TRAIN RUNS ON WEEKENDS
• NO SUCH THING AS WASTEWATER ANY MORE
• Enjoy the Sweet Darkness of Winter
• Potential Mess
• FREE FROM SPRAWL
• FUTURE CONNECTIONS
• SQUARE DEAL
• THE CAMPAIGNS BEHIND THE CAMPAIGNS
• Whither Wal-Mart?
• PROPOSAL TO LIMIT RAIL TO SONOMA COUNTY IS REJECTED
• SCCA SUPPORTS SMART RAIL
Why Susan Gorin Won: the Blue-Green Alliance and Grassroots Politics in Sonoma County
By Martin J. Bennett, SCCA Board Member
Susan Gorin’s election to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in the 1st District is a pivotal moment for Sonoma County politics. For the first time in decades there is a progressive majority on the board including Gorin, Shirlee Zane (3rd District), and Mike McGuire (4th District).
What were the main reasons for her victory--and why would Susan ultimately prevail, when polling suggested two weeks before the election that she and her opponent, John Sawyer, were running neck and neck with 30 percent of the voters undecided?
This brief overview will assess the main reasons for the 2012 Election Day success of the Gorin campaign. Without a doubt, the ground campaign in the Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa was the decisive factor that enabled her to win.
Main Reasons for Victory
First, Susan had a solid base of support in eastern Santa Rosa and Oakmont as a result of her many years of citizen activism, her four years on the school board and her six years on the city council. She brought an impressive record of advocacy for smart growth and transit-oriented development, good jobs, mass transit, affordable housing, protection of open space and agriculture, and water conservation to the supervisorial campaign. Her appearances at events in the Sonoma Valley, election forums, precinct walking, and media interviews demonstrated to attentive voters that she was a thoughtful, compassionate, and experienced candidate with a firm understanding of local government and key issues before the Board of Supervisors.
Second, Susan has played a central role during the last decade in the building of a “blue-green” coalition of labor and environmentalists that includes the North Bay Labor Council, SEIU 1021, Living Wage Coalition, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Accountable Development Coalition, Sonoma County Bike Coalition, Housing Advocacy Group, Concerned Citizens of Santa Rosa, Friends of SMART, Sierra Club, Progressive Democrats, Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, the North Bay Organizing Project and various neighborhood organizations. In addition, local and smaller businesses, including wineries and family farmers, played an important role. Finally, the Sonoma County Democratic Party is an essential partner in the emerging blue-green alliance, and for the Gorin campaign the party provided funding, volunteers, and a critical endorsement.
Third, her participation and leadership in numerous campaigns and policy initiatives that were supported by labor, environmental, and community-based organizations in Santa Rosa and the county enabled Susan to develop strong relationships with leaders and rank and file members of these organizations. The main campaigns initiated by the emerging blue-green alliance included: the jobs-housing linkage fee campaign in 2005, the anti-Wal-Mart campaign in southwest Santa Rosa in 2006-2008, the Santa Rosa green building standards ordinance in 2007, approval for the SMART sales tax initiative in 2008 and opposition to the repeal campaign in 2011, the Santa Rosa Lowes anti-big box campaign in 2009, and the proposed Highway 101 connector/bicycle bridge for Santa Rosa in 2011.
Fourth, Susan has clearly “walked the walk” as an elected official, who, over many years, has worked closely with, and believes she is accountable to, the labor, environmental, nonprofit, Latino, faith-based and neighborhood organizations which comprise her base. The substantial number of highly motivated volunteers in her campaign reflected her long-standing relationships with social movements and progressive advocacy organizations in the district and the county.
Fifth, Susan raised sufficient funding to be competitive, despite the fact that contributions from developers and other big business interests enabled Sawyer to spend $100,000 more. Many more individuals contributed to the Gorin campaign, while Sawyer received large contributions from a relatively small number of business interests.
The Ground Campaign
Her major campaign costs were for staff and five targeted mailers that introduced her to Sonoma Valley residents, conveyed her positions, values, and endorsements, and accurately portrayed her opponent as a conservative Democrat with long-standing ties to the most powerful developer and big agricultural interests in the county. Two of the campaign’s mailers, “Who is Trying to Buy Sonoma County?” and “Think Like An Elephant” (after Sawyer received the Sonoma County Republican Party endorsement) were effective.
I believe the final precinct tallies will indicate that the most important reason for Susan's victory was the ground operation in the precincts in the Sonoma Valley/Boyes Hot Springs and, to a lesser extent, Oakmont and Santa Rosa. Both Susan and her opponent were well known in the northern part of the district in Santa Rosa, and the candidates split the vote there during the primary. Most of the voters in the southern part of the district, however, preferred a local candidate during the primary, and the run-off in the fall general election depended on which of the two candidates could prevail in the Sonoma Valley.
It was Susan’s ground operation that enabled her to win, particularly given that it was certain the election would be very close. On the flip side, Sawyer did not organize any substantial precinct walking or phone banks in the Sonoma Valley--and he likely had few volunteers willing do such work.
Recent academic research confirms that face-to-face contact with voters is still the best way to win votes and to turn people out to vote. Moreover, door-to-door canvassing and precinct organizing is much less costly than television and mailers. Ground campaigns have become more sophisticated in recent years, deploying massive databases, hand-held smart phones, and other devices to identify voters in a particular household. As demonstrated by the nationwide 2008 Obama campaign, and in selected battleground states like Ohio in 2012, door-to-door canvassing is most effective when experienced, paid community and grassroots organizers provide training for highly motivated volunteers who are part of a team assigned to a given neighborhood or precinct (1).
Role of Environmentalists
Sonoma County Conservation Action’s (SCCA) ‘Know Your Neighbor (KYN)’ program has a dedicated and full-time staff person who recruited campaign volunteers, organized volunteer environmental walkers, and raised funds for the campaign from environmentalists in the district.
The SCCA canvass team walked the entire district early in the campaign, and SCCA mobilized 150 volunteers to participate in the campaign. A dozen SCCA canvassers returned to the Sonoma Valley during the last week of the campaign for the final push and the Get Out the Vote (GOTV). All together the canvass knocked on more than 20,000 doors in the 1st Supervisorial District during the run-off.
The SCCA canvass played a critical role informing environmental voters that on numerous issues concerning smart growth, environmental protection, and sustainability, Sawyer consistently came down on the side of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and the largest developers and real estate interests in the county. Susan’s opponent falsely attempted to reinvent himself as an environmentalist and sent numerous mailers to voters touting his nvironmental achievements. SCCA sent its newsletter and “environmental report card” (Gorin received an ‘A’ and Sawyer an ‘F’) to nearly a thousand members in the district. The Sierra Club also notified its members about the club’s early endorsement of Gorin by a post card and in their newsletter sent to all members in the district.
Role of Labor
Labor mounted an equally impressive ground operation (2). SEIU 1021 assigned a full-time staff person to mobilize their members for local elections; and SEIU 1021 members began to walk precincts in the 1st District before Labor Day and participated in a phone bank to inform all their members about the union’s endorsements of Gorin and other candidates for state and local offices. The North Bay Labor Council, with a full-time phone bank coordinator and a political organizer assigned by the AFL-CIO, organized labor volunteers to phone bank all labor households in the district and to walk precincts. For the final push and GOTV four days prior to the November 6th election, labor flooded the 1st Supervisorial District with more than 80 labor walkers, and volunteers phone banked thousands of labor union households.
During the campaign labor canvassers carried walk lists identifying labor households and distributed a flyer supporting Susan. Labor walkers also carried literature for other state and local labor endorsed candidates. Most labor walkers and phone bank volunteers also asked voters to support Proposition 30 and to oppose Proposition 32. Without question, Susan benefitted by her support for 30 (Sawyer opposed) and opposition to 32 (Sawyer supported). Labor also provided significant funding for Susan’s campaign, including important contributions in the final weeks.
The Sonoma Valley Grassroots
Finally, many volunteers for Susan Gorin’s ground operation, particularly those who began walking precincts and organizing for the November run-off immediately after the June primary, were part of a grass roots infrastructure developed over the last 15 years in the Sonoma Valley.
A committee of Sonoma Valley residents and a local campaign staffer anchored the Gorin campaign in the valley. Most of these volunteers participated in one or more past grassroots campaigns such as Mike Smith’s successful SRJC trustee race in 1998; approval of a ballot initiative banning the construction of a resort hotel on the last open space in the city; the City of Sonoma urban growth boundary campaign in 2000; the City of Sonoma Living Wage campaign in 2004; and several successful city council campaigns, including those of progressives Joe Costello in 2000, and Steve Barbose in 2006. Many who supported Will Pier’s insurgent campaign against incumbent Supervisor Valerie Brown in 2008 (that fell short by a mere 200 votes) became involved in the Gorin campaign.
Local volunteers walked precincts, tabled at farmer’s markets, rganized house meetings and fundraisers, wrote numerous letters to the editor, and tapped into their own extensive personal and social networks to build support for Susan. Perhaps most importantly, the ground campaign and personal networks in the Sonoma Valley were essential to inform Democratic voters--before absentee voting began and then prior to the general election--that the Democratic Party endorsed Susan and that John Sawyer was endorsed by the Sonoma County Republican Party.
The Sonoma County Democratic Party also mailed their endorsements to all Democrats in the district, and walkers for theGorin campaign carried the Democratic federal, state, and local endorsements door-to-door.
The Gorin campaign is an excellent example of how organized people can prevail over organized money. Feedback from voters at the door suggests that if anything, Sawyer’s numerous robo-calls (almost daily during the final stretch run), his flood of mailers, and gargantuan signs on large sites alienated many voters. By contrast, the Gorin campaign’s direct contact with voters by door-to door canvassing, phone bank, and personal networks were the deciding factors in the race.
The most important lesson of the Gorin campaign is that progressives in Sonoma County need to prioritize building an enduring grassroots electoral infrastructure in each supervisorial district. What we do between election cycles to develop such an infrastructure is as important as the election campaign itself. Money is important, but not decisive in local elections. Polling can be helpful, but cannot replace direct contact with voters at the door. Mailers are important, but do not win close elections. We cannot win elections and maintain progressive majorities on city councils and the Board of Supervisors without a long-term commitment by labor, environmental, faith and community based organizations to build systematically a bottom-up people-powered ground operation across the county.
Susan Gorin’s victory is a stunning defeat for the county’s political establishment represented by the Sonoma County Alliance and led by former Congressman Doug Bosco, former Santa Rosa City Manager Ken Blackman, political consultant Herb Williams, and elected officials like Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares. Gorin’s election is directly linked to the progressives and the emerging blue-green alliance attempts to win a majority on the Board of Supervisors. The first major breakthrough in recent years was the election of Shirley Zane who defeated former Santa Rosa mayor Sharon Wright in 2008.
The ‘old regime’ as described by James Wilkinson in his insightful book, Who Rules Santa Rosa and Why It Matters, is deeply entrenched and remains a powerful, if not the dominant force in Sonoma County politics (2). In the recent elections, progressives failed to win a majority on the Santa Rosa City Council or the Petaluma City Council, and Measure Q, mandating district elections in Santa Rosa, was rejected by a wide margin. Earlier this year, the Santa Rosa City Council majority weakened smart growth principles for the North Station Area Plan for the Guerneville Road SMART train station (as a consequence of the Coddingtown Mall’s opposition to higher density and more affordable housing), and the council approved a 143,000 square foot Target for Coddingtown close to the train station that will create hundreds of low wage jobs without benefits. In addition, by a 3-2 split vote, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in September rejected a proposed Project Labor Agreement for all public works projects above $25 million.
Progressives are now a majority on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, but can progressives maintain that majority and can the progressive bloc govern? Can progressives articulate and implement a comprehensive agenda for sustainable and equitable growth that addresses the structural issues of growing income inequality; deepening racial segregation and discrimination against immigrants; systematic defunding of the public sector and public education; and the continued approval by local government of land use decisions that undermine smart growth and promote auto dependency, big box retail, and unaffordable low-density housing?
Martin Bennett teaches American history at Santa Rosa Junior College, serves on the board of Sonoma County Conservation Action, is past president of the California Federation of Teachers Local 1946, and a research and policy analyst for UNITEHERE Local 2850, representing hotel and gaming workers in the East and North Bay. He resides in the City of Sonoma and has canvassed his precinct every election cycle since 1994. Contact him at: email@example.com
(1) A recent article in the New Yorker summarizes the academic research on this issue:
Also see these two books based upon extensive field research:
Donald Green and Alan Gerber - Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout (Brookings Institution: 2008)
Rasmus Nielson – Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns (Princeton: 2012).
According to sociologist Marshall Ganz, in the best ground campaigns there is ongoing community organizing between election cycles that incorporates voter registration, education, and leadership training, and local residents canvass and organize their own precincts during the election. Ganz is a legendary former United Farm Workers organizer who teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School. Ganz trained organizers for the 2008 Obama campaign and developed the three-day ‘Camp Obama’ trainings and curriculum for Obama staff and volunteers:
Marshall Ganz – ‘Organizing Obama: Campaign, Organizing and Movement’ (unpublished paper Harvard Kennedy School 2009).
(2) It should be noted that the North Bay Labor Council and most unions endorsed Susan Gorin. However, several important public safety unions endorsed John Sawyer including the Santa Rosa Firefighters Association, Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, and the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association. The county’s two largest environmental organizations, the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action, endorsed Susan Gorin; Sawyer received no endorsements from environmental organizations.
(3) James Wilkinson – Who Rules Santa Rosa and Why It Matters chs. 2-5 (Universe 2010)
GUEST OPINION: Converting local forests for the 1 percent
By DENNIS ROSATTI
Published: Monday, April 24, 2012
Sonoma County's forests and wildlands are at risk. In an increasingly global marketplace, wine industry giants are seeking to convert existing forestlands into vineyards and water storage ponds. While the search for higher, cooler territory is partly driven by global warming and scarce agricultural land, the real bounty is high prices for premium varietals. Domestic and Asian wine consumption is up, and high demand and short supply have led North Coast vintners to scramble to fill the gap.
Who is creating the increased demand for premium wine? We are experiencing a “generation of widening inequality,” according to the California Budget Project. Between 1987 and 2009, the average inflation-adjusted incomes for the upper 1 percent of California taxpayers increased by 50 percent, and those of the upper 10 percent of taxpayers increased by 30 percent, while the average incomes of taxpayers in the bottom fourth-fifths declined. The median income for Sonoma County families from the 2012 census was $56,063. Only the wealthy can afford wines above $50 a bottle. Should we welcome the conversion of our forests for the upper echelon of income-earners?
Years of lowered water quality and fish habitat have led to the near-elimination of the once mighty salmon and steelhead runs of the Russian River. Prior decision-makers traded environmental quality for agriculture and urban development and their industry dollars.
Through great effort and cost, Sonoma County has worked to restore the habitat of the Russian River and its tributaries. Many growers are following best practices and work hard to be good stewards of the land. But much of the traditional agricultural lands on valley floors and gently sloping upland areas have been utilized. Thus, the next frontier of vineyard development is on steeper hillsides and ridgetops, many of which are forested. This pressure is leading to the next land rush in our forested and remote areas.
The county agricultural commissioner's office is now dealing with this crisis. It is working with stakeholders to develop new standards for regulating tree removal for vineyards and orchards in forested areas. We applaud the agriculture commissioner and county supervisors for calling a temporary time-out on forest conversions. They recognized the lack of enforceable rules governing this major invasion into the environment and the threat to water quality through soils movement.
We see utility in adopting the currently proposed standards for small acreage projects. However, we believe industrial-scale projects require more scrutiny. Regulations must protect public waterways and forests from environmental harm that any industry might bring. Thus, we recommend the following additional policy steps:
Larger projects must be subject to thorough discretionary review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Treating five acre projects the same as 100-acre projects is unreasonable. Grape industry leaders speak of the regulatory burden on small farmers. But 80 percent of vineyard acreage is owned by only 20 percent of growers. We feel a 10-acre threshold is sufficiently large to enable a small family farm or vineyard expansion under currently proposed standards.
Ephemeral streams need stronger protection. These “winter creeks” carry the rainwater drainage from ridges and slopes to the “blue line” indicated streams in the general plan. Ephemeral tributaries must be protected from tree removal, re-contouring and road impacts. There should be setbacks from the top of the banks of these ephemeral streams to ensure a net-zero runoff.
A process must be established to examine forest conversion impacts more comprehensively. The current process has been limited to soils impacts. Issues of habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, water demand and cumulative impacts of forest conversion must be examined in order to arrive at an informed policy decision.
Conservation Action is not alone in this thinking. Numerous organizations and individuals have expressed their support for preventing forest loss through vineyard expansion. We are not against grape growing; we recognize the importance of agriculture, wine production and tourism for the Sonoma County economy. We are against the conversion of forests for the benefit of the 1 percent.
Dennis Rosatti is executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action.
SMART and our post-repair world
By Paul Gullixson
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011, Press Demorcrat
I'm reminded of how much ours is a throwaway culture every time I go to my mother's house in Oakmont. A child of the Depression, she has cans, pieces of string and appliances — including a stalwart Hoover vacuum cleaner — that are older than her children.
Hers is a generational ethic that believes nothing is used that can't be reused, nothing that is empty can't be refilled, and nothing that is broken can't be fixed — somehow.
It's a commendable perspective albeit problematic for Depression child descendents, like me, who learned how to save but not repair.
The byproduct of this age of planned obsolescence, I fear, is that we're losing not only the expectation that things can be fixed but our confidence and desire to do so. When things — and by this I include people — break or merely malfunction, our tendency is to cut them loose. We add them to the junk pile and start over.
This comes to mind in terms of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line and the effort now under way to repeal the quarter-cent sales tax that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008.
Why would we junk this? Because the economy went in the tank, forcing SMART board members to build what they can now (a truncated Santa Rosa-San Rafael line) and do the rest later.
In short, the repeal folks want to make the worst of a bad situation. They don't like that the line is being cut short, and they don't like some of the decisions SMART officials have made. So they're tapping into that simmering desire among many to quit when the going gets rough.
Walk away. Junk it. Purge.
To what end? It doesn't matter. Something better will come along, right?
Odds are that something is a car or a truck. Because if this effort succeeds, that is our future. There will be no second chance at creating a rail line or some similar system. We will not only be tied to highway travel, but we're destined for a bitter dispute as to how to divide what SMART money exists and what is still owed. It won't be cheap or easy.
There are no simple solutions for SMART.
Nevermind that this issue has been debated for generations and that a plan was in place back in 2000 that could have had rail up and running by 2004 were it not for many of these same opponents and foot-draggers.
Yes, the costs of building the rail line have escalated over the years. But at some point you have to ask, given all the money that's been spent over the past decade overcoming the opposition, confronting the same arguments and dealing with delays — how much are opponents to blame for the higher costs?
Nobody knows whether the repeal effort will go anywhere. (I have my doubts.) But just the act of going out and gathering signatures is also taking a toll. SMART General Director Farhad Mansourian told me recently that the repeal effort is already having a financial impact on SMART's efforts to float $171.2 million in bonds by next month in order to start construction in the spring. How much is not clear. But just the additional cost in attorney and staff time — as well as some possible padding by contractors for contingencies — is running up the bill.
And what would happen to all of the contracts that SMART has already signed as well the federal and state funds that SMART has received? The Metropolitan Transportation Commission last month awarded SMART $31 million in regional funds to help with its construction. I'm sure other Bay Area transit agencies would love to see Sonoma and Marin counties abandon SMART and go back to the days when our tax dollars and bridge tolls primarily went to pay for public transit projects in other counties.
The fact is, quitting is expensive.
Granted, SMART has been its own worst enemy at times. Mansourian may turn out to be just the person the North Coast needs to see this project through. But his exorbitant salary and the board's ineffectual explanation for why such a compensation package was necessary have only fueled the criticism.
Meanwhile, SMART's after-the-fact decision to tamper with the repeal initiative — when even the California secretary of state's top attorneys contend such a move is unjustified — makes little sense. I fear these ham-handed efforts are doing more to help the opposition and draw more attention to the repeal effort than if the board had just let the matter play out.
All that said, one thing is true. The need for SMART exists. And it will still exist the day after we kill it — or not.
I support SMART not because I plan to use it for my commute. I don't support it simply to create jobs, nor do I believe that it will take an abundance of cars off the highway in the near term.
I support it for what will grow from it.
My point is that it may be hard for many to see how they would use SMART. But it's not hard to imagine how our children might use it. It's not hard to imagine the mixed-use housing, job centers and transit-oriented projects that would inevitably develop along a rail line — as they have appeared along transit lines in Europe and elsewhere.
We're sticking the next generation with $14 trillion in federal debt. We're sticking them with massive debt on college loans and massive unfunded pension liabilities — as detailed in other Forum columns today — and proposing to fix them with two-tiered proposals that simply ensure our generation continues to get more while our children get less.
Worse, we're sticking them with an ethic that says what happens now — to us — is all that matters.
Let's at least do them a favor and stick with SMART. Yes, it has problems, but these we can fix.
Paul Gullixson is editorial director of The Press Democrat.
TWO VIEWS: SMART didn't just stop being a good idea
By JACK SWEARINGEN
Published: The Press Democrat, Friday, December 10, 2010
The SMART rail and trail project is a key step to a better future for residents of the North Bay.
We have learned that it is not possible to pave our way out of congestion. We envision that walkable communities supported by trains and pathways will be essential elements of our mobility as energy becomes more costly in the 21st century. Some of us are even optimistic that SMART's ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2014 will be for a project that is larger, perhaps much larger, than the plan being proposed due to the financial constraints that SMART faces today.
SMART recently estimated that it had only enough firm funding to open an initial stage of rail service between downtown Santa Rosa and the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael. This news disappointed many and was seized upon by critics as a reason to delay and even to halt the project. Some went so far as to suggest that SMART should suspend its plan to issue bonds pending yet another financial review of the project.
At the same time, some are suggesting that SMART has ways to stretch its available funding farther. SMART has already considered numerous cost-saving options such as railcar leasing, using second-hand equipment initially, repairing instead of replacing bridges and culverts, postponing some stations and delaying certain parts of the maintenance facility. And there are additional possibilities, including postponing the seismic upgrade at Puerto Suello tunnel and deferring some track upgrades.
More significantly, the recession has enabled many highway projects to be built at prices 30 percent below engineering estimates. Once SMART knows whether rail projects can benefit from similar savings, the initial operating segment might be extended. Due to the differences between highway and railroad projects, the only way to find this out is to solicit bids. SMART plans to get construction bids next spring, after issuing the bonds needed to support capital expenditures.
Meanwhile, SMART is seeking the support of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to pursue additional sources of funding, and the commission staff is closely reviewing the financials. Experience tells us that fully developed plans for key segments of major transportation systems, along with strong partnerships with local jurisdictions, are important factors for raising necessary funds for any transportation project.
We hope that Marin County policymakers will throw their muscle into pursuing additional funds and finding other ways to support SMART instead of encumbering the project with additional demands.
Calls to delay or de-fund of the entire project, charging SMART with failure to anticipate decreases in sales tax revenue, seem rather presumptuous. Even former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said, “I didn't see (the recession) coming.”
SMART has been a good idea for 25 years, and it doesn't become a bad idea just because it can't be done in one fell swoop.
The only way to get the entire project done is to get started, and the only time better than now is yesterday.
Jack Swearengen is chairman of Friends of SMART. He lives in Santa Rosa.
Water fights: The wine industry versus salmon
by Shepherd Bliss
Sonoma West Times and News, Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I appreciate your three informative November articles on the wine industry’s claim for the life-giving water without which native salmon would perish. I support the State Water Resources Control Board proposed regulation that would defend endangered fish from deadly practices by the wine industry.
The wine industry diverts water to protect its mono-crop from frost, which reduces water levels and kills salmon. Current self-regulated wine industry practices threaten the local survival of this key species. Who trusts a “self-regulated” fox to guard chickens?
Your Nov. 10 commentary by an attorney for the environmental watchdog group Northern California River Watch, Jerry Bernhaut, criticizes a speculative study by SSU economics professor Robert Eyler. “River environmental advocates,” according to your Nov. 4 news article, describe the study as “more wine industry propaganda than objective research.” David Keller of Friends of the Eel River says that to have academic credibility that study should have been peer reviewed, which it was not.
New York City’s former deputy mayor John Dyson, who now owns the Williams Selyem Winery, funded it. He warns that California’s new rules would “damage the entire nation.” Pardon this journalist’s skepticism about his inflated assertion. We do love our wine, including myself, here in the Redwood Empire. But most of the “nation” does not even drink wine.
Water board spokesperson William Rukeyser notes that similar regulations on the Napa River have existed for decades without creating “desolation and destruction” for their powerful wine industry. Water board Executive Director Tom Howard calls those regulations “reasonable and feasible.”
The wine industry speculates that some profits would be lost. The alternative is that lives would be lost, those of salmon, an indicator species whose health in our region indicates the well-being of our watersheds and ecosystems as a whole.
As a food farmer, I have a further concern with the excessive power of a profit-driven wine industry. Wine has become big business and its industry throws its weight around. Sonoma County’s agriculture and economy have become too dependent upon one crop. Mono-crops are dangerous; they are more vulnerable to be destroyed by a pest or by changing economics and tastes.
We derive benefits from wine. A moderate amount of wine would be fine, but we now have an economy dominated by this powerful industry, much of which is owned by global corporations based outside the county.
The wine industry claims that the new regulations would “force some vineyards out of business.” Some were planted in vulnerable bottomlands where they should not be. Now they want us to sacrifice salmon at the wine god’s altar?
The wine industry has reacted before with irrational fear. About a decade ago it alleged that the glassy-winged sharpshooter was a potential pest that could destroy the industry. So it proposed pre-emptive strikes by spraying deadly pesticides on people’s lawns and farms, without their permission, to kill the bug. This would have destroyed Sonoma County’s organic farms and worsened the health of vulnerable people.
Fortunately, citizens organized the No Spray Action Network and backed off the wine industry. The feared pest did not take the industry down. It’s time to support salmon, as well as redwoods and forests that the wine industry continues to cut down.
Before this special region was reduced to the mono-crop and commercial designation “wine country,” it was known as “The Redwood Empire,” a natural description. Redwoods and salmon are more important to the long-term sustainability of this area than more wine.
Around 100 environmentalists, alcohol producers, and water professionals attended a recent meeting on this issue. A next stage of this power struggle will be a Sonoma County Supervisors public hearing Dec. 7, 2:30 p.m.
Support the salmon and redwoods!
Dr. Shepherd Bliss teaches at SSU and has operated a fruit farm in the Sebastopol countryside since 1992. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GUEST OPINION: The Case for SMART
By Jack C. Swearegen
Printed Tuesday, February 9, 2010, ThePress Democrat
Charting a path to recovery from today's difficult economy suggests good reasons why nearly 70 percent of voters gave SMART the go-ahead in 2008.
Highway 101 traffic is temporarily lighter today, and we have been importing less petroleum; but the price of gasoline is headed up. And if we don't create better alternatives to driving, international competition for oil will challenge us when the economy recovers. Meanwhile, the importance of cutting greenhouse gas emissions becomes greater every day.
The evidence says that SMART is crucial, because in places where trains are running, record numbers of Americans have been riding them. Public transit ridership set 50-year records in 2008. Specifically:
• Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation and boarded 35 million times each weekday;
Charting a path to recovery from today's difficult ec
• Ridership increased by 38 percent from 1995 through 2008 — a growth rate higher than the 14 percent increase in U.S. population and higher than the 21 percent growth in the use of the nation's highways over the same period.
The nationwide shift toward more reliance on public transit affirms that the SMART Train and Pathway project is in the mainstream of national policy development, and for good reason. Every $1 invested in public transit generates about $6 in new local economic activity. Prospering cities view public transit as a necessary economic development tool.
Places with major public transit systems that include trains receive a larger share of federal funds. Passengers spend more time at work and less time stuck in traffic and trains reduce wear and tear on roads and bridges. Rail systems have produced substantial returns in cities including Dallas, Minneapolis, Charlotte, N.C., St. Louis and Portland, Ore. Here is some of the evidence:
Like other public agencies, SMART also is being impacted by the recession. Sales tax revenues are down, and the municipal bond market is still difficult. We should not let funding difficulties divert our attention from the fact that train service can be a vital part of our economic recovery, and it will provide a framework for long-term economic sustainability. Restoring train service to the largest American city to lose its railroad is still a key to our future mobility and sustainability.
Jack C. Swearengen, a Santa Rosa resident, is chairman of the group Friends of SMART.
Places with major public transit systems that include trains receive a larger share of federal funds. Passengers spend more time at work and less time stuck in traffic and trains reduce wear and tear on roads and bridges. Rail systems have produced substantial returns in cities including Dallas, Minneapolis, Charlotte, N.C., St. Louis and Portland, Ore.
Here is some of the evidence:
Dallas: Within five years of its 1996 beginning, the original 45-mile DART light rail line generated $3.3 billion in private investment, 32,000 jobs, and 39 percent to 53 percent greater growth in property value than elsewhere in the city. Between 1999 and 2007, the total added value of taxable projects around DART stations was nearly $3 billion. Median property values for existing residential and office developments were nearly fifteen percent greater than non-transit developments. DART will double in size by 2013 and generate more than $4 billion in new economic activity.
Minneapolis: The 12-mile Hiawatha light rail line connects downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America. The line sparked the development of 11,931 housing units and 1.1 million square feet of commercial space within a half-mile of the track even before it opened in 2004.
Charlotte: More than $291 million in new development has been built near stations on the new 10-mile LYNX light rail line that opened in 2009. An additional 50 new development projects totaling $1.6 billion in value have been announced for the rail corridor.
St. Louis: Since the original Metrolink light rail opened in 1993, the metro area has been revitalized, with $4.3 billion in new development around the line.
Portland:Like other public agencies, SMART also is being impacted by the recession. Sales tax revenues are down, and the municipal bond market is still difficult. We should not let funding difficulties divert our attention from the fact that train service can be a vital part of our economic recovery, and it will provide a framework for long-term economic sustainability.
Restoring train service to the largest American city to lose its railroad is still a key to our future mobility and sustainability.
Jack C. Swearengen, a Santa Rosa resident, is chairman of the group Friends of SMART.
Portland: More than $6 billion in development has occurred along MAX light rail lines since construction began in 1978, and Portland's streetcar line has generated another $2.8 billion in investments. Between 1997 and 2005, 7,200 new housing units and 4.6 million square feet of commercial development occurred in the Pearl District, once a blighted industrial area near the line.
Like other public agencies, SMART also is being impacted by the recession. Sales tax revenues are down, and the municipal bond market is still difficult. We should not let funding difficulties divert our attention from the fact that train service can be a vital part of our economic recovery, and it will provide a framework for long-term economic sustainability. Restoring train service to the largest American city to lose its railroad is still a key to our future mobility and sustainability.
Jack C. Swearengen, a Santa Rosa resident, is chairman of the group Friends of SMART. He is also a member of Sonoma County Conservation Action.
GUEST OPINION: Supervisors need to hold firm
in opposing asphalt plant
Printed Saturday, November 21, 2009, ThePress Democrat
Photo Credit: Jeff Kan Lee / The Press Democrat, January 2009
Bill Kortum explains why having an asphalt plant across the Petaluma River from Shollenberger Park in Petaluma is a bad idea.
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo cast the key vote to stop the Mecham Road landfill divestiture.
He, along with Supervisor Shirlee Zane, should be congratulated for reflecting the voters’ green mandate and the values of their constituencies. We can now pursue a recycling goal to reduce the significant greenhouse gas output that would not have been addressed by the lone bidder, Republic Services Corp., with an environmental reputation worse than that of Exxon.
These values will again be challenged at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 8 when Dutra, a company with a damaging environmental record equal to that of Republic, seeks permission to build an asphalt plant at Haystack Landing, located in the voter-mandated scenic corridor at the entrance to Petaluma and the county.
Expressing the voters’ green mandate, the Sonoma County electorate has used the ballot box to protect its coast, take control of land use in our community separators, establish voter control over urban growth boundaries around most of the cities, fund SMART rail, express concern for agriculture and our beautiful scenery by creating and twice financing the Open Space District and establish the scenic corridor and its rules below Petaluma. Sonoma County is receiving growing statewide recognition for what the voters’ green mandate has accomplished.
The visual, noise, smell, toxic air and other asphalt plant impacts on Shollenberger Park are very real to residents of Petaluma. The proposed Dutra assault on voter-mandated protections and community values would cause consternation by any city of our county. Even London now requires asphalt plants to be located 20 miles from city limit lines.
The EIR finds regional asphalt plant capacity more than adequate, so why should the county accommodate a company with such a history of violations in our voter-mandated scenic corridor?
The disregard of voter mandates protecting the Petaluma site has drawn little supervisorial attention. Petalumans voted by a super-majority for their urban growth boundary, with the promise that the county would not change zoning within the boundary. The asphalt plant would require five zoning changes.
For this and other reasons, a unanimous Petaluma City Council has asked the county to deny the Dutra location.
Thanks to the leadership of Sebastopol Mayor Sarah Gurney, who saw the significance of Petaluma’s unanimous vote of protest, the Sebastopol City Council took issue with the Board of Supervisors’ initial straw vote endorsing the plant.
Sebastopol was followed by four other cities that made similar criticisms. Supervisorial disregard for the Petaluma City Council and the general plan of Petaluma would erode the necessary working relationship between city and county elected officials.
The Board of Supervisors, through staff and public hearings, periodically updates our county general plan. Supervisors retain the power to alter the plan to accommodate changing circumstances. However, in the Dutra case, the scenic corridor, with 20 years of voter control, precludes the supervisors from altering the land use to accommodate an asphalt plant. Changing this voter-mandated designation to allow an asphalt plant requires countywide voter approval.
County supervisors have inherited the 1998 voter mandate to protect the scenic Highway 101 corridor from Petaluma to the Marin County line. Out of respect for the will of their voters, supervisors should not challenge this mandate of their constituents.
Carrillo’s swing vote on landfill divestiture was difficult but was appreciated by many. His swing vote to prevent Dutra from violating the legal restrictions of a voter-controlled scenic corridor would not be a political decision. It would be the correct decision.
Bill Kortum, a former Sonoma County Supervisor and former chairman of the California Coastal Alliance, is chairman emeritus of Sonoma County Conservation Action. He lives in Petaluma.
GUEST OPINION: Don't sell our landfill future to an Arizona company
Saturday, September 19, 2009
By KEN WELLS and TIM SMITH
On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider approving a deal with Republic Services, a giant garbage company based in Arizona, to sell our county solid waste system — the central landfill and the waste disposal sites in Annapolis, Healdsburg, Guerneville and Sonoma. In exchange, Republic promises to provide landfill capacity as well as disposal rates that go up every year for 20 years and then pay to cap the central landfill afterward.
Since the county has not been able to successfully manage the system itself, this may seem like an acceptable deal, until we look a little closer at the situation.
There has not been a public appraisal of the value of our system, therefore we do not really know how much it is worth. We have been told that the central landfill closure reserve is underfunded by about $11 million.
So it will cost the county or another landfill owner $11 million in funds not currently available to cap the central landfill.
However, based on data provided by the county, it is possible to estimate the value of the deal to Republic. One asset we would provide Republic is the guarantee to deliver all our garbage, the waste that we put in our gray curbside cans, to them for 20 years. This adds up to about $30 million per year in 2009 dollars.
Republic is also guaranteed that this volume will never drop below 70 percent of what we dispose of now. If it does, we will continue paying the company as if that 70 percent is still being thrown away.
Called “put or pay” in the solid waste business, this means that as we find better ways to reduce, reuse or recycle what we now consider to be waste. We, nonetheless, still pay Republic for our “phantom trash.”
Of course, Republic makes its guaranteed profits even faster if we throw away things as wastefully as we do now. Either way, incentives to reduce, reuse and recycle are clearly lacking.
Another asset being sold is the future capacity remaining at the central landfill. With an approval from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, this landfill capacity is estimated to be worth at least $600 million at current tipping fee rates.
An additional asset that this proposed sale does not seem to properly evaluate is the existing 20 million cubic yards of rock at the central landfill site. Much of this rock could be excavated and sold, providing a local source of aggregate, with the space created being useful for future landfill capacity.
With conservative assumptions regarding the cost of expanding the landfill and operating the system, we are apparently guaranteeing Republic a profit of at least $100 million to assume a liability of about $11 million.
Is there any alternative?
Another approach, used in other parts of California, is to put all the solid waste programs, assets and liabilities under the control of a single public agency with representation from all the cities and the county, called a Joint Powers Authority or JPA. This public agency could use the annual flow of revenue from solid waste as collateral to borrow the money necessary to reopen and expand the landfill.
The advantage of this approach in Sonoma County is that we already have such a JPA, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. The agency is well-regarded throughout California and nationwide for its innovative programs and leadership in areas such as “extended producer responsibility,” recycling education and our very successful composting program.
With an amendment approved by all the SCWMA members (the nine cities and the county), this public agency would have the capability to ensure operation of the solid waste system with stable rates while supporting our recycling and greenhouse gas reduction goals without sending $100 million in profits to Arizona.
So there is an alternative, and we urge the Board of Supervisors to carefully examine this public option before selling out our future to Republic Services.
Ken Wells served as executive director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency from 1992 until he retired in 2008. Tim Smith is the past chair of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency and former Rohnert Park mayor.
Ken Wells is currently the Chairman of the Board of Sonoma County Conservation Action
Dutra to the Dump
By Bill Kortum
Reprinted from the Summer SCCA News and Views (Newsletter)
The Dutra asphalt plant's proposed location in the voter mandated scenic corridor below Petaluma will have a degrading influence on Shollenberger Park immediately across the Petaluma River. SCCA canvassers have spent almost a year educating the public to express their concern to the Board of Supervisors.
Often at the door the question arises about an alternate site.
An alternative site proposal has been formally submitted to the County planning department. Supervisor Kerns has the prerogative to offer Dutra a location on the secluded back end of the 400 acre county refuse site on Meacham Road.
The county site contains 20 million cubic yards of rock that could be mined by Dutra to save the complicated, energy intensive barging of rock from Marin County to Haystack. Highway 101 is a short distance away for transport of the hot asphalt. Methane gas produced by the county dump can be used to heat the asphalt. Used asphalt shingles and tar paper, having no recycling market, could be used as feedstock for asphalt.
Every yard of rock removal represents a potential of half a ton of garbage capacity.
Along with increasing emphasis on recycling, the life of the dump could be extended fifty years. Fifty year disposal capacity can lead to the reassembly of the nine-city consortium to use in-county management of our waste and avoid hauling garbage to destinations outside the county. The generation of jobs by this reconfiguration far outnumbers the jobs generated by the Haystack Landing proposal. The County, having no new refuse site after a twenty year search, should retain the 400 acre site if for no other reason than to have a location for those unknown needs in the future for activities that are shunned by the public. At the same time, abandoning the Haystack Landing asphalt plant site would remove the plant’s impact on Shollenberger Park's wildlife and its 150,000 visitors.
Supervisors’ straw vote endorsing the Haystack site disregards the Petaluma voter mandated Urban Growth Boundary and the countywide voter mandated Scenic Corridor between Petaluma and Marin County. The unanimous vote against the Haystack location by the Petaluma City Council should in itself require a move to a new location.
And a statement from the North Bay Labor Council, while endorsing Dutra, urges opponents to offer an alternative solution.
The offer has been made. ◊
Bill Kortum is former South Sonoma County Supervisor and is the Founder and President Emeritus of SCCA.
Commencement Speech by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009, University of Portland
Paul Hawken speech
When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." Boy, no pressure there.
But let's begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.
Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.
Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, and don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken.
Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food, but all that is changing.
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING.
The earth couldn't afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse.
What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description.
Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums. You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.
Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisher folk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way. There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true.
Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world. Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots.
Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. ntil that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity.
Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty.
But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals.
The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history. The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy.
We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets.
Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't print life to bail out a planet.
At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering.
Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich. The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable.
We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells.
In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it.
In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."
So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body?
Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end.
Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever be quested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side.
You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
GUEST OPINION: What size garage does downtown
Santa Rosa really need?
By Willard Richards
Friday, April 24, 2009, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Should the city of Santa Rosa build a new parking garage so large that many spaces are likely to remain unused for years? Building a smaller garage could free up many millions of dollars for more beneficial parking projects.
Willard Richards, Photo by Press Democrat
The Santa Rosa City Council will address this question on Tuesday when it considers extending the time period for negotiations with MetroPacific to build an upscale hotel and a 545-space public parking garage on the city-owned “White House site” at Third and E streets.
The best way to determine the appropriate size of the garage is for developers and the city to work together to jointly plan developments and the parking needed for them. Toward that end, I have been working with city staff to conduct a parcel-by-parcel analysis of projected development and parking needs near the proposed garage.
There has been an excess of parking in the neighborhood for many years. The 116-space surface parking lot on the White House site, between the central library and the post office, is typically less than half full. Unmetered, two-hour parking is always available on nearby streets. The garage is needed only for future development.
MetroPacific has indicated to the city they would like 183 public parking spaces for their hotel and commercial development. The Rises is a development planned by Monahan Pacific on the west end of the same block. Monahan Pacific has filed a preliminary application for a six-story, retail and commercial office building that would need 205 public spaces. It is widely believed that Monahan Pacific will decrease its project to four stories, which could decrease the need to roughly 140 spaces.
The staff recommendation to build a 545-space garage was partly based on a 2001 Wilbur Smith Associates report, which projected that a 10-story development would be constructed on the surface parking lot behind Barnes and Noble in three to five years. Now, eight years later, a 10-story development there seems even farther in the future. As of this writing, the owner of this site has not responded to requests from city staff for information regarding his plans. So I ask: If developers will not invest without assured parking, why should the city invest in parking without assured development?
Providing all of the public parking needs of the hotel and Rises developments and replacing half of the surface parking spaces now on the White House site justifies building a 381-space garage. Additional information could revise these numbers. The existing garage at Second and D Streets can absorb additional parking needs generated in the neighborhood when the economy recovers.
Is additional parking needed for the long term? Urban planners say no. In 2008, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design emphasized that downtown is now overparked and that another garage should not be built.
Triad Communities was selected to bid on the White House development but withdrew saying, “Santa Rosa’s downtown condition, in our view, is seriously overparked and in need of a rethinking of its entire pedestrian/transit and jobs/housing balance approach.”
Respected planners say even the proposed garage on the White House site should not be built. Furthermore, the startup of SMART passenger rail and the need to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the mandates of AB 32 should slow the growth of automobile use.
The size of the garage to be built on the White House site should be approached as a business decision, not as a political football. A smaller garage would benefit MetroPacific officials by allowing them to use more of the site for their project. Decreasing the garage to 381 spaces would save approximately $4 million in construction costs or $8 million in bond payments, which the city could use for more beneficial parking projects.
Every council member supports the hotel and commercial development project being negotiated with MetroPacific. Accusations to the contrary are not correct. Decreasing the size of the garage is good business, not anti-business.
Willard Richards is chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition.
CLOSE TO HOME: Employee Free Choice Act:
Rebuilding the middle class
By STEPHEN GALE and PAMELA GRIFFITH POND
Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Friday April 17, 2009
Even before the economic crisis hit, the American middle class was in trouble. Declining wages, skyrocketing health care costs and increased debt were already burdening working families. And lately, things have gotten even worse. Over the last eight years, while overall productivity increased, wages shrunk and real median household income declined by more than $1,000.
At the same time, today’s average CEO continues to make 344 times more than the average worker. President Obama and Congress have already shown their commitment to helping American workers by making the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act law. Now it is time to build on that momentum and take the next step by passing the Employee Free Choice Act as an essential component to rebuilding the American middle class.
Under the terms of the Employee Free Choice Act, when a majority of workers decide to form a union, they are able to choose how to do so, either by majority sign-up or by an election. The decision is in the workers’ hands, not their employers’, as is currently the case.
Conservative pundits such as columnist George F. Will misleadingly frame the Free Choice Act as “abolishing workers’ right to a secret ballot in unionization votes.” But under the current National Labor Relations Board, these elections are more like elections in Russia under Vladimir Putin, a charade so rigged in the employers’ favor that they are invoked primarily as a union-avoidance tactic. The bill would provide workers with a path to form unions free from employer interference by toughening penalties against companies that violate their workers’ rights.
Right here in Sonoma County, workers’ attempts to organize at hospitals, nursing homes and social service agencies have been stymied by intimidation, coercion, threats of job loss and widespread use of anti-union consultancy firms to demoralize the workers seeking to affiliate and to prevent them from bargaining a first contract should they manage to run the gantlet.
Removing these barriers is important because we need to lift up as many American families as possible into the middle class. Historically, unions have been the best way for working people to get there. Enabling more workers to freely choose to form a union would also provide a much needed boost to our economy — both nationally and in California.
National research by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that if 5 million service workers were to join unions, they would receive an average 22 percent pay raise, $34 billion in total new wages would flow into the economy and 900,000 jobs would be lifted above the poverty wage for a family of four. The Employee Free Choice Act is part of an economic stimulus package that will help restore the middle class.
In California, a study by the Center for American Progress shows that if union membership rates rose by 5 percentage points statewide, newly unionized workers would earn approximately $3.7 billion more in wages per year. Non-union workers would also benefit as their employers would boost wages to match the union standard.
In addition, new union workers would be able to build to a secure retirement. Union members are 54 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions than non-union workers in similar jobs.
A broadly shared economic recovery and affordable health care go hand-in-hand. We cannot achieve one without the other. Passing the Employee Free Choice Act would be a step toward fixing our nation’s broken health care system — a critical part of rebuilding the middle class. Nationwide, union workers are 28 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance than non-union workers and typically have better plans with lower costs for the worker.
We need to rebalance our economy to support working Americans. The era of spending the benefits of the American workers’ increased productivity on lavish bonuses and opulent golden parachutes for corporate executives, rather than investing in a widely shared prosperity, is over.
Unions can play a central role in rebuilding a strong middle class that can drive the next era of American economic strength. To that end, the Employee Free Choice Act is a critical piece of our nation’s long-term economic recovery.
Stephen Gale is chairman of the Sonoma County Democratic Party. Pamela Griffith Pond is executive director of the Marin Interfaith Worker Justice.
Letters to the Editor
December 3, 2008
EDITOR: I work for Zap and have been promoting electric cars in Sonoma County for more than 17 years -- I drive one to work each day.
At Zap we love President-elect Barack Obama's plans to endorse plug-in transportation. The problem is this comes in the middle of economic turmoil and the financial collapse of the Big Three automakers.
Financial stimulus often goes to large corporations. Billions of taxpayer dollars have gone to Detroit to improve fuel-economy and make electric cars, and to date almost nothing has been delivered while they have fought regulation at every turn.
Meanwhile, smaller companies that deliver receive nothing. Zap has sold more than 100,000 electric vehicles since 1994 -- without federal support. By helping these smaller companies, maybe taxpayers could get more with less.
Please write Obama and Congress and tell them to:
Ensure a small percentage of the auto bailout and Department of Energy grants go to entrepreneurs such as Zap.
Assure taxpayers that small electric vehicle makers qualify for the federal tax credit and not just major automakers.
Purchase independently built electric vehicles for federal and White House fleets in 2009.
Directly contract people to build electric vehicles to create jobs.
Letters to the Editor
December 3, 2008
EDITOR: An open letter to 5th District Supervisor-elect Efren Carrillo:
They say you are a nice guy. But some of us in the west county wonder why you let your campaign be soiled with dirty money and dishonest ads.
If you know your 5th district history, you will see a graveyard of politicians who ignored the conservation ethic that we require of our representatives.
We wish you well, but we will be watching to see how you pay off your debt to your developer benefactors. They may have put you there, but they can't keep you there.
PIETER S. MYERS
CARRILLO AND FURCH
Letters to the Editor
December 2, 2008
EDITOR: If Sonoma County Supervisor-elect Efren Carrillo wants to gain the trust of those constituents who opposed him -- nearly the same number that elected him -- he would do well by taking a page from President-elect Barack Obama's playbook.
If Obama can appoint his rival Hillary Clinton to the office of secretary of state, surely Carrillo can do the right thing for the 5th district and keep Rue Furch on the Planning Commission.
As The Press Democrat, which endorsed Carrillo, recognized, Furch's knowledge of the district is extensive. She understands the issues and challenges better, perhaps, than anyone. With 16 years on the commission, she contributes a long view and depth of understanding.
Carrillo has not experienced the impact of an extended drought. He was a boy when the west county endured the last one. Furch had direct experience of the seven-year droughts that devastated our district in the 1970s and the mid-1980s to 1993.
Carrillo promised that he will be an independent supervisor who works for the district and not for special interests. He could go a long way toward showing his independence by reappointing Furch to the Sonoma County Planning Commission.
Letters to the Editor
December 2, 2008
EDITOR: We need green building policies to address the growing issue of climate change as covered in your Nov. 24 article ("Group to unveil SR green building proposal"). And, there's a nice side effect. When I make my house energy efficient, my energy bill goes down. If I do it right, with a little financing, my monthly payment on a loan would be about the same as the savings on my energy bill. Given the steady increase in energy costs, this would appear to be a big win. We'll pay a little more on our mortgage but save more than the difference in energy costs.
I'd like to note that the plan in the article includes a proposal to offer this type of loan. I applaud the Santa Rosa advisory committee for proposing these bold changes, which will continue to keep Sonoma County in the forefront of climate action leadership.
TOMORROW'S LEADER'S TODAY ON RAILROAD SQUARE
Letters to the Editor, online extra:
December 1, 2008
Editor’s note: Teenagers participating in Tomorrow’s Leaders Today developed proposals for revitalizing the area around Railroad Square in Santa Rosa and wrote letters to the editor advocating their ideas. We included excerpts of their plans in an editorial that ran Sunday. Here are the letters submitted by the teenagers.
Creating a Metreon North
EDITOR: The blank plot of dirt in Railroad Square needs immediate attention. Such a centrally located place has the opportunity to be invaluable to the community. Residents, tourists and retail owners have potential to thrive in the square with this unique initiative.
Our plan would include all the basic ingredients for a model self-sustaining city. After being linked to downtown Santa Rosa by means of a bridge over the tracks, the main focus at the square would point towards the Metreon North — a multiple-floor building catering to the entertainment needs of people of all ages. This combined with signature restaurants and lounges would be a sight for sore eyes of weary travelers disembarking from the SMART train.
The surrounding area would be modeled after the successful Windsor Town Green, with retail stores lining walkable streets and sustainable planned housing above them. The outermost portions of Railroad Square, including the existing Sixth Street Playhouse, would be converted into small-scale residential area, complemented by a community garden.
From the futuristic and green design of the Metreon North to the simplicity of new housing and all the retail in between, this is a proposal worthy of review by the city.
GUS GREENSTEIN, Maria Carrillo High School
A smart community
EDITOR: The Scene: A barren, seven-acre plot of contaminated soil, adorned with dilapidated brick facades that no one will tear down.
The Vision: A “SMART” place to get off the train. We propose that the lot adjacent to the potential SMART train depot be a monument to community cohesion.
It shall have a sparkling, eco-friendly pond, surrounded by walking paths and apple trees. Local merchants, weekly farmers market, showcase of youth artistic talent, and assortment of stores and restaurants will be featured.
In addition, the promenade will be powered efficiently with solar panels. Free wi-fi, convenient parking and accessible bus transportation would be available. And, or course, the SMART train will be just a block away.
JULIE SANCHEZ and MADELYNE TRIONE, Ursuline High School
A chance to unify downtown
EDITOR: As participating members of Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, we have seen and discussed the planning and development of Santa Rosa and strongly believe that SMART is a good investment for our future.
It will make it easier for commuters to travel in an environmentally friendly way and provide people with more options for transportation.
It will also bring more people into Santa Rosa, revitalizing our downtown area. SMART has the potential to begin the effort to unify Santa Rosa’s downtown, making it a safe and enjoyable place for people from all walks of life.
KJELLEN BELCHER, Santa Rosa High School
Creating a green village
EDITOR: The green village is the development that this city needs. It would bring many people to the less-popular railroad area.
The village is a clean, safe area that promotes community and involvement of young adults. In this plan, the historical value would be preserved by converting the old rail cars into restaurant space and the older buildings would be accented by similar brick and stone architecture.
This area would attract families and young people to this part of town with a variety of shops and activities and a pedestrian-friendly setting with parks, fountains and a stage. The outdoor stage in the plaza would be a venue for performances from the nearby playhouse and dance center as well as other local performers.
This plan was generated by teenagers with social appeal and accessibility in mind. With its plentiful shops, restaurants, green spaces and recreational facilities, Green Village is designed to be a magnet for social gatherings and community interaction.
Santa Rosa High School
A transit and commerce hub
EDITOR: There is a large open space adjacent to the railroad tracks and Railroad Square that is currently a detriment to Santa Rosa. It is barren with a few dilapidated buildings, abandoned railroad cars and homeless people.
I believe this area should be renovated into a mixed-use community that would provide housing for a variety of people and improve Santa Rosa’s atmosphere. This space could become a hub of transportation and commerce.
I propose that the two abandoned railroad cars be moved to the cannery building and a museum that focuses on the history of the railroad in Santa Rosa could be built there. I also strongly believe that a park should be created with residences nearby that overlook it.
Restaurants and businesses would be given the chance to choose this new hub to sell their products. Commuters and other who use the SMART train would take advantage of these restaurants and retail stores, which would bring profit to Santa Rosa.
This transit-oriented, mixed-use development would provide an excellent location for recreational activities for locals and commuters alike. I advocate this plan for the good of Santa Rosans now and is the future.
SUZI ROZGA, Santa Rosa High School
and ANDY FERRARA, Analy High School
A Santa Rosa town green
EDITOR: Since the Windsor Town Green has been completed, Santa Rosa residents have found entertainment by driving to neighboring cities rather than staying in Santa Rosa.
By constructing a SMART train running from Cloverdale to Larkspur through Santa Rosa, residents can both embrace and share their prosperous wine industry with neighboring towns. I think that this is necessary for bringing people to Santa Rosa, rather than taking people from Santa Rosa.
Furthermore, the proposed development of a train platform attached to a market/town green would strengthen local industry. Without this sense of unity, Santa Rosa will lose its identity.
In this town green, I propose a central plaza with a stage for musical performances or theater productions with chairs, tables and a wonderful tile mosaic compass rose in the center.
Alongside the mosaic I think a food and wine center is necessary for enriching our community. Inside the building would be cooking classes, wine tasting and history of Santa Rosa’s agriculture.
My plans include using solar panels on all of the buildings and gray water to water the green.
ANNIE OLSON, Sonoma Academy
Variety for downtown
EDITOR: The design I propose will greatly improve the look and feel of the undeveloped Railroad Square area.
The emphasis of my design is to bring variety and attraction to the extended downtown area, appealing to both native Santa Rosans and commuters. With street level shops and restaurants lining the pathways, the area will become lively and pedestrian friendly. It will serve as an area of interest for the entire community, from adults to children, locals to tourists.
Housing above the stores, each building with four stories of apartments, will use the space efficiently, and all will use eco-friendly “green” designs.
Locally-owned small businesses will support the local economy and attractions such as a bowling alley and a small outdoor amphitheater present a wide range of activities for anyone in the area.
I believe this design will be appealing to many different kinds of people and will convert this space into a useful, enjoyable area. It is my hope that this design will improve Santa Rosa now and for posterity’s sake.
CAITLIN KIRKPATRICK, Santa Rosa High School
A smart plan for SMART site
EDITOR: The “smart site” where a SMART rail station might be built in the near future is in disarray. The plan I propose will feature an eco-friendly theme to go along with the SMART train.
The plan would include a sky walkway connecting the station on the east side of the rails to a brand new plaza surrounded with shops (ala downtown Windsor) on the west side of the tracks.
I propose converting the abandoned boxcars that are currently there into an upscale coffee shop or other tourist attraction like a museum. Along the side of the plaza are small pedestrian friendly roads with more shops that run along the west side of the tacks.
Behind the plaza, a small road leads to a park with tennis courts and a pair of pedestrian bridges that span the creek. On the other side of the creek, I propose a small San Francisco-style mixed-use complex with condominiums and a first-story garage.
This plan would drastically improve the Railroad Square area and provide an eco-friendly theme to the public transportation station.
KYLE FIERRO, Santa Rosa High School
Letters to the Editor
July 21, 2008
Editor: It's wonderful to see The Press Democrat editorial get it right on an important Russian River issue ("Flashback").
Gravel mining below Healdsburg has removed millions of tons of gravel from the riparian corridor. Much of the middle reach of the river beyong a thin veil of vegetation has been reduced to virtually a moonscape. If you have the pleasure of seeing this wonderful streetch of river, walk beyond the 10-foot fringe of trees and take a look at the mess gravel mining has left us.
The gravel remaining filters our drinking water, which is pumped from the river not far downstream. The destruction of our aquifer, woodland and riparian habitat was a bad idea decades ago and a worse one today, considering the increasing scarcity of quality water, not to mention habitat. Should our Board of Supervisors ahve a problem ending gravel mining on the river at the August 19th hearing, one must question the integrity of the decision-making proces..
The passage of the Aggregate Management Plan gave Syar Industries more than 10 years notice. The board should be having hearings to determine how Syar is going to restore the moonscape it has left us in the middle reach of the russian River.
THIS TIME, THE TRAIN RUNS ON WEEKENDS
By CHRIS COURSEY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
April 20, 2007
If a tax measure for the SMART train comes 'round the bend next year asking the same voters to approve the same project, it will get the same result.
That was the warning issued the other day by the Sonoma-Marin commuter train's chief critic, Mike Arnold of Marin Citizens for Effective Transportation. And members of the bicounty SMART board of directors didn't disagree.
But they still want to ask voters to support the train next year, so they'll "tweak" things a bit.
Directors on Wednesday indicated that a tax measure for the SMART train will appear on the ballot in one of three elections in 2008, and -- with a couple of key revisions -- it will look a lot like the one that narrowly lost at the polls in November.
The biggest difference in the project likely will be the addition of weekend train service along the tracks that run from Cloverdale to Larkspur. That was "the most common and consistent recommend- ation" made by both proponents and opponents of last year's measure interviewed by a board subcom- mittee over the past four months.
"We heard that over and over," said SMART General Manager Lillian Hames.
It shouldn't have been any big surprise. With ridership estimates in the 5,000-a-day range, the vast major- ity of Sonoma and Marin county voters clearly won't be using the train for a weekday commute. But they'd still like to think they could hop onboard for an excursion on their day off every once in a while.
The board directed its staff to explore the feasibility of adding weekend trains -- along with expanded midday and evening service -- without asking voters for more than a quarter-cent increase to the sales tax. The extra money might become available by extending the tax from the previously proposed 20 years to as long as 30 years, directors indicated.
They also ordered a review of the placement of a controversial Novato train station, telling Novato council member and SMART Director Carole Dillon-Knutson they want Novato to "tell us where you want it."
Even more important than any changes to the plan will be the SMART district's ability to explain its project to the voters. On Wednesday, the politicians who sit on the board called that "education"; the rest of us will recognize it as a political campaign.
No matter what name it goes by, though, it's pretty clear that it didn't come off very well in 2006.
"I consider the outcome of the 2006 election pretty frightening," said Director Charles McGlashan, a Marin County supervisor. "We need to communicate a whole lot better."
He and other directors this week met with officials of the city of Larkspur, who last year opposed SMART's plans to develop the rail line's southern terminus near the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.
"Today's meeting was almost painful," McGlashan said, noting the startling number "of important people in Marin who still don't even know" the basic details of SMART's proposal.
Among those who do know, there still exist a lot of doubts that SMART is, well, smart. In meetings with community leaders, SMART officials heard a lot of lingering questions about why it wouldn't be better to bring BART into the North Bay, or to build a monorail system, or to run SMART all the way to San Francisco or simply to pave the tracks and run buses along the railroad's right of way.
There are plenty of reasons those options are either unworkable or unavailable, but SMART did a lousy job of explaining them last year. As McGlashan said Wednesday, "90 percent of our challenge is explaining to people the logic of what we are proposing."
That, and getting 66.7 percent of the voters to agree with it.
Contact Chris Coursey at 521-5223 or email@example.com.
NO SUCH THING AS WASTEWATER ANY MORE
By Chris Coursey, The Press Democrat
March 23, 2007
Nice timing by the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The day after it was sued by groups claiming it is ignoring signs of impending water shortages, the agency on Tuesday released an environmental report on a $385 million project to use recycled wastewater for irrigation of more than 21,000 acres of crops in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.
I'm guessing that the timing of the lawsuit and the environmental report is coincidental. Even so, the two events serve to highlight the growing concern about how Sonoma County will meet the water needs of a population that is expected to balloon from less than 500,000 today to almost 800,000 by the year 2050.
Sonoma County coped with growth in the 1950s with the construction of Coyote Dam, creating Lake Mendo- cino on the Russian River north of Ukiah. It coped with growth in the 1980s with the construction of Warm Springs Dam, creating Lake Sonoma on Dry Creek west of Healdsburg.
But, because of politics and fish, there won't be any more projects like that to increase the water supply.
Warm Springs Dam was blocked repeatedly by opposition based on its environmental impacts. It's hard to imagine the political climate shifting enough to clear the way for another dam in the Russian River Basin.
Even if that shift did occur, however, the listing of coho and chinook salmon as threatened species in the late 1990s changed the rules for how water can be used in the basin. Whether the question is how much water can be sucked out, or how much water must be allowed to flow through, the answer gives as much consideration to the effect on fish as it does to the effect on people.
So, Sonoma County needs to figure out a way to live with the water it has - or maybe even a little less.
The North Sonoma County Agricultural Reuse Project, if it ever becomes reality, is a good start toward that goal. It would create 19 reservoirs on agricultural lands in the north county to store recycled water from sewage treatment plants serving Santa Rosa, Windsor and the Larkfield area. In summer months, that water would be piped to vineyards, dairies and orchards for irrigation.
It's a plan that not only provides a reliable water supply to agriculture in the north county but also solves a couple of growth-related problems.
First, it provides infrastructure to store and dispose of more than 3.5 billion gallons of wastewater a year that otherwise might be piped into the river or pumped to The Geysers (where about 4 billion gallons of wastewater already is reinjected into the ground each year).
And second, it increases the amount of fresh water available for the Water Agency to send to its customers, because upstream agricultural users no longer will need to pull water from the Russian River or its tributaries.
As promising as it seems, though, this project is not "the answer'' to future water shortages, or to the lawsuit that was filed this week.
If Sonoma County is going to be home to 800,000 people within some of our lifetimes - as projected by the state Department of Finance - agricultural re-use is only a start. There shouldn't be another house built or another street paved without including two sets of pipes - a regular set for drinking water and a purple set to carry recycled wastewater for outdoor uses.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit aimed at the Water Agency's new Urban Water Management Plan raises an interesting point. The plan is used by Sonoma County cities to project the amount of growth they can sustain through the year 2030 (when the state projects the county population at 715,000). The plan says the Water Agency can provide enough water to handle that growth - if it secures state approval to increase the amount of water it now takes from reservoirs by 35 percent.
That is a very big "if.''
Contact Chris Coursey at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the Sweet Darkness of Winter
By Shepherd Bliss
Press Democrat Close to Home, December 1, 2006
The steamy compost piles on my farm are full of spent plants, chicken manure, kitchen scraps and a wide variety of once-alive but now-decaying organic matter. They will feed my berries, apples and other plants, giving them life. Everything that lives perishes – individuals, relationships, nations, empires, species, even planets. Other living things combine from what remains of the departed to replace them. It’s a natural cycle.
An essential often-maligned aspect of that cycle is darkness, which frightens some. What goes into my compost piles have many colors, including green, yellow, red and even purple. What comes out is brown or black.
For more than a dozen years living and working on my farm I have regularly brought in manure as fertilizer. I know that this “brown gold” will bring forth tasty fruit. Darkness can be fruitful, in various forms, which some people shy away from. The dark earth provides our eternal grounding.
I write in praise of certain kinds of darkness, which the Welsh-American David Whyte describes in his poem “Sweet Darkness.” Whyte’s poem enabled me to see more deeply into the possibilities of sweetness in a time of darkness – literal, seasonal, political and figurative. “The night will give you a horizon/ further than you can see,” Whyte’s poem assured me.
A full moon was scheduled for the night that Whyte’s poem arrived by email, so I checked it out. I felt a larger context within which we humans dwell. In addition to the guidance of our daylight logic, we could benefit from the insight of nighttime’s more diffuse lunar light within its ample darkness.
In Semitic languages and early Christianity “black” and “wise” were associated. St. John of the Cross spoke of the “dark night of the soul,” a journey which was difficult but ultimately restorative. But darkness has a bad reputation in the United States today. “Dark” is even used to label that which is allegedly inferior. Malevolent forms of darkness do indeed exist. But my concern here is with benevolent, or sweet, darkness.
Whyte’s poem stimulated me to seek more poems about darkness. “Night cancels the business of day,” the Persian poet Rumi declared. “Be refreshed in the darkness,” he added. “Midway along the journey of life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood.” Dante begins “The Divine Comedy.”
“You darkness, that I come from and love so much,” Rilke wrote. Scientists describe it as dark matter and dark energy. “If I reached my hands down, near the earth,/ I could take handfuls of darkness!" A darkness was always there, which we never noticed,” Minnesota poet Robert Bly writes.
Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry encourages us to “know that the dark, too,/ Blooms and sings,/ And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.” Maybe this darkness is not as bad as I was thinking that cold, wet morning when Whyte’s poem arrived and led me into myself and to other poems.
“Things are different at night,” writes Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” “Night is when we are closer to ourselves, closer to essential ideas and feelings that do not register so much during the day.” There is less to distract us when the night cloak falls on everything except that which is closest.
In darkness we can dream, revealing hidden parts of ourselves. “We need to…create the dark in a new image…the dark creates us,” Cazadero resident Starhawk writes in her book “Dreaming the Dark.” Starhawk later adds, “How do we find the dark within and transform it, own it as our own power?”
Weaving the multiple benefits of darkness into my life (and avoiding its pitfalls) seems to be my main winter task at the end of 2006, as 2007 approaches. In the darkness one can rest and be renewed. Spring may come again, with a different set of gifts.
Shepherd Bliss is a Sebastopol resident. E-mail him at email@example.com
Published in the Press Democrat, December 1, 2006
Yes, it would be nice to have a store located in that shopping center. Yes, Wal-Mart is in both Windsor and Rohnert Park without significant traffic issues, but both of those locations have updated intersections and high-traffic capability.
The intersection at Stony Point and Sebastopol roads gets terribly backed up much of the day since Stony Point goes down to only one lane in each direction. This is with a dead-store location. Add a Wal-Mart with all its associated activity and that end of town will be so deadlocked no one will be able to get to the store, much less choose to shop there.
I did not see the details of what traffic changes were planned if this store goes in, but the city should not allow the store to go ahead without a revision to the traffic movement and intersection design. The southwest continues to grow, and if this store is allowed to open without corresponding traffic/city street changes, we will have a worse mess than Santa Rosa Avenue on a Saturday afternoon.
FREE FROM SPRAWL
Published in Press Democrat, August 18, 2006
EDITOR: I agree with columnist Chris Coursey (July 21) that the SMART train is good for our environment. Passage of the SMART measure will encourage city-centered development and reduce auto-supported sprawl. What could have been added is the rail’s influence to sustain our urban growth boundaries (UGBs).
Rail provides an urban framework for cities to help accommodate the 120,000 new residents predicted in the next two decades. Functioning rail stations encourage complementary housing opportunities for those seeking to lessen dependency on the automobile. Case in point, the emerging Sonoma Mountain Village, near the Cotati rail station, will generate 40 percent less auto use than a standard subdivision. Cities developing such land use efficiencies assure the future integrity of our UGBs.
SMART is not BART. BART was fed by San Francisco’s employment opportunities. BART invaded the rural East Bay, which didn’t have the protections of our voter-controlled UGBs and Community Separators, nor our nationally recognized open space purchase program. SMART rail will serve to strengthen Sonoma County’s pioneering programs to protect our heritage of agriculture and open space. Jump started by our ownership of the rail corridor, SMART will free us from complete reliance on auto-dependent development, i.e. sprawl.
SCCA Founder and Current Board President
Published in the Press Democrat, August 11, 2006
EDITOR: In an Aug. 5 letter "Common sense test," the writer espouses ideas about getting from Sonoma County to San Francisco Airport. Ideas can be tested in several ways, one of which is to know some plans for the future of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District. Specifically, I refer to the southern terminus in Larkspur.
That location will be within a few hundred yards of the Marin Airporter, whose bus system goes directly to SFO on an almost full day and night schedule. It seems logical that between the city of Larkspur, the SMART board and others in the area, convenient connections easily made would provide for transfers from the train to the Airporter bus as well as to the nearby ferry terminal. Surely, the regional transportation agency can provide support for planning such a connection.
Printed as an editiorial in the Press Democrat, June 18, 2006
SMART project would fulfill promise of Railroad Square
When Sonoma County residents think of large public plazas where people are able to buy fresh produce and flowers, meet someone for espresso or catch a train, they think of Europe. But, believe it or not, they may soon be thinking of home.
This week, the board of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency will be picking a design for the long-discussed Railroad Square development, targeted for a 5½-acre site between Third and Sixth streets in Santa Rosa.
We're pleased to report that the plan that has been recommended by the board promises not just to meet the city's many expectations of this development. It sets out to exceed them.
The preferred project - one by Creative Housing Associates - calls for 250 units of housing, a 46,650 square-foot food and wine center, an area for a farmer's market, a health club and a key spot fronting Third Street for a white-tablecloth restaurant.
Inspired by the recently refurbished Ferry Building in San Francisco, the "New Railroad Square" development would create a place where the public could gather out of sight and smell of the ubiquitous automobile to enjoy the moment.
Adding to the project's appeal is that 15 percent of the housing would be for-sale units affordable to low and moderate-income residents. Equally attractive is the "green" design of the complex. The developers say the buildings would be designed to use 40 percent less water than comparable buildings and would require 30 percent less energy consumption through a combination of elements including the use of photovoltaic panels on the building roofs.
We also commend the principals for how they worked with neighbors, housing advocates and others before drawing up their plans.
Still, we have concerns. The layout of the New Railroad Square development, for example, depends on the creation of two levels of underground parking, something that has yet to be proven can be done without prohibitive expensive. Furthermore, the project depends on a city contribution of $7 million. Although this is down from the previous request for $16 million, it remains a considerable subsidy. The city needs to continue pressing to have this number reduced and protect itself against surprise increases.
Yet, if these issues are addressed, the city appears on the verge of achieving something that for a time we weren't sure was possible - a community-supported, people-centered project where the many expectations and hopes of Railroad Square may actually converge.
THE CAMPAIGNS BEHIND THE CAMPAIGNS
Published on May 17, 2006
By Chris Coursey, The Press Democrat
Sonoma County's campaign watchdog group Tell the Truth put out an unusual political flier last weekend.
For the first time since it was created in 1998, the group took issue with statements made by a candidate backed by business and development interests -- the very same interests that many political insiders believe provide the financial backing for Tell the Truth.
Jo Timmsen, the group's executive director, has always denied Tell the Truth has a partisan tilt as a monitor of campaign rhetoric. But she also acknowledged it almost exclusively "corrects'' claims from the "other side'' of the political divide.
"I always knew that someday we'd have to correct the business community's side,'' she said about a new flier that takes county Supervisor Paul Kelley to task for a mailer in which he claims to have "built the Boys and Girls Club in Windsor.''
"He didn't physically build it," says the single-page flier, which also repeats the group's earlier complaints about statements made by Kelley's challenger, Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge.
The new flier is not likely to silence Tell the Truth's critics. While the group purports to keep politics honest in Sonoma County, it refuses to disclose the sources of its $40,000 annual budget, or where it got the $15,000 Timmsen says it will spend on this year's Fourth District "campaign watch.''
It doesn't have to - as long as it doesn't back a particular candidate.
Questions about the group's neutrality come up because it most often has found fault with candidates and causes supported by the environmental group Sonoma County Conservation Action. The questions resurfaced this spring when Santa Rosa real estate agent Ross Liscum sent an e-mail soliciting donations to Tell the Truth, which he said would help Kelley retain his supervisor's seat.
Tell the Truth, Liscum wrote, "has been the only group of reasonableness in fighting and making accountable the groups like the Conservation Action and the other left leaning, no growth, stop it all groups in this county.''
Timmsen denied her group is in Kelley's camp, but said it's true Tell the Truth has served as a "
counterweight'' to Conservation Action.
"We started in 1998 because some of us were so (angry) with the way Conservation Action played loose with the facts,'' she said. "They're still the most egregious group.''
Conservation Action, with a budget of about $300,000, uses door- to-door canvassers to recruit dues paying members. It operates year round, and in campaign seasons the canvassers tout specific candidates.
This year, they support Fudge.
"We support environmentally progressive candidates,'' said Denny Rosatti, the group's co-director. "We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes.''
His canvassers have knocked on about 8,000 doors in the Fourth District, recruiting and handing out Fudge fliers. Fudge said she will report about $1,000 of "in-kind'' help on her campaign finance statements.
Kelley, though, won't have to report any help from Tell the Truth. Even though that group has sent mailers and canvassers questioning Fudge's truthfulness to thousands of Fourth District homes, it was not working directly for Kelley, and thus is not required by campaign laws to file as one of his contributors.
Besides, Tell the Truth now has added Kelley to its list of fibbers.
Meanwhile, a third group is working the Fourth District campaign. "Citizens for Fair, Open and Decisive Leadership'' has taken out ads and mailed fliers supporting Kelley.
Lee Gunnerson, the group's treasurer, said it is comprised of "private landowners'' who back Kelley, but are not connected to his campaign.
"I don't know anything about it,'' Kelley said in a phone message. "But I appreciate the outside, independent group acknowledging my work.''
Contact Coursey at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006- The Press Democrat
Will 'big-box' store be good or bad for southwest Santa Rosa?
By Patricia Lynn Henley
Henry Ford sought to pay his workers enough so they could buy the cars they produced. Sam Walton sought to pay his workers so little that they could afford to shop nowhere else.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, with more than 5,700 stores and upwards of 1.7 million employees, is casting its hungry corporate eye on Stony Point Plaza in southwest Santa Rosa's Roseland neighborhood. Always in the mood for expansion, the megachain wants to replace two long-vacant storefronts with a 106,000-square-foot superstore that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Avid supporters of the proposal paint a rosy picture of more than 250 new jobs, low-price shopping and general economic renewal for a struggling section of Santa Rosa. Opponents foresee a more grim future of low wages and few benefits for employees who will need public assistance to survive, as well as cut-throat competition creating bust rather than boom times for nearby small businesses.
Uncertainty breeds questions, the foremost being: When is welcoming a new Wal-Mart to town a good thing?
Perhaps even just a decade ago, there might have been a choice of local or regional retailers waiting to fill empty shopping center spaces like Stony Point, says Stephanie Dyer, an assistant professor at Sonoma State University who specializes in consumer, business and economic history. But over the past 30 years, the high-volume, so-called big-box discount stores such as Wal-Mart have squeezed out less massive players who had traditionally relied on customer service and community support rather than extremely cheap wholesale prices for products sold in immense quantities.
"Smaller firms can't compete, and firms that pay living wages can't compete when everything is about price and volume," Dyer says. "It's a vicious cycle. I don't fault working-class people for shopping at Wal-Mart. But the more we have a service economy that pays low wages, the more people are going to have to rely on volume discounters like Wal-Mart, because that's all they can afford."
The City of Santa Rosa recently completed a draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the Wal-Mart proposal; a revised EIR is expected to be presented to the city's planning commission sometime this summer, with a final decision on the project possibly coming this fall.
"Ideally, you would hope that the community would have some kind of leverage to demand things like a living wage," Dyer says. "But a corporation the size of Wal-Mart doesn't have to meet the demand of one local community; they can just bypass the community and go on to another. In that sense, it is a very difficult situation facing the people of Santa Rosa."
Certainly, no one thinks things should stay as they are at the Stony Point Plaza, located at the corner of Stony Point and Sebastopol roads, just south of Highway 12. There's a general air of abandonment within the large cement-block walls that once housed Home Base, which closed in 2001, and the adjoining Rite Aid, which shut its doors in 2003. The huge Food Maxx in one corner of the L-shaped center still attracts consumer traffic, especially on the weekends.
There are also a number of smaller shops, including Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants, a cafe featuring Greek gyros, a clothing store where most of the clientele speaks Spanish, a travel agency with signs in Spanish, a video store, a Rent-a-Center, a Payless Shoe Source, a check-cashing shop, an insurance agency with bilingual English-Spanish posters, a laundromat, a dry cleaner and a beauty salon, as well as a few empty storefronts. But the largest sites, considered the "anchors" of the shopping center, are filled with a whole lot of nothing. No merchandise. No jobs. No customers.
Although the buildings appear to be connected to the Food Maxx, they are structurally separate. If its proposal is approved, Wal-Mart wants to demolish the empty stores and construct a 101,048-square-foot building on that same footprint. There would be a 4,900-square-foot retail garden center between the new building and the Food Maxx. The resulting Wal-Mart would sell dry goods but not groceries, so it would not be in direct competition with Food Maxx.
As founder and coordinator of the South and West Business Association, Terry Hilton thinks Wal-Mart will bring a rising economic tide that will float all boats. "The biggest reason that I support them is that Wal-Mart is going to be a magnet for southwest Santa Rosa, and we need more magnets," he says. "There are businesses that are moving into southwest Santa Rosa now because Wal-Mart will bring so many more people into the area."
Hilton doesn't believe assertions that Wal-Mart hurts small businesses. "People make it sound like they come into an area and rape and pillage the economy. They don't do that. Look at the Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park, and look at all the thriving businesses around there."
Among other benefits, Hilton notes, Wal-Mart buys from small suppliers, including two local firms that are members of the South and West Business Association.
And the taxes generated by Wal-Mart won't hurt the area, either, Hilton says. "Here comes a player who is going to pay half a million dollars or more in sales taxes to the city. The dollar value of Santa Rosa's sales taxes is just going to pump up the southwest part of the city like you won't believe. They will have the wherewithal that we need to get things done: community centers, libraries, swimming pools, trails, parks."
Hilton also has personal reasons for his passionate support of Wal-Mart. Several years ago, his late fiancée, Gloria Machado, was battling cancer. She wanted to work but, emaciated and having lost her hair, she had trouble finding a job. "Wal-Mart hired her and let her work around her chemotherapy schedule," Hilton recalls. "Talk about enhancing someone's self-esteem. It made her feel like somebody. They didn't bat an eye if she couldn't make it because her chemo session ran overtime." Machado lost her battle against cancer, but her six months working at the Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park let her "die with a little dignity," Hilton says.
Wal-Mart always supports its community, Hilton adds, with everything from cash donations to putting flyers for local events into customers' bags. The Windsor store did that for the chamber of commerce's nonprofit trade show, with amazingly positive results. "We got so many people to attend, it was fantastic," Hilton says. "Other places wouldn't do that."
Opponents of Wal-Mart, Hilton contends, are just being snobs. Low income does not mean low class, and people need a place to find bargains. "Socioeconomic prejudice is hard to define, but it is there," he says. "You're going to deny low-income people an opportunity to save money? That's not acceptable."
Ben Boyce of the Sonoma County Living Wage Coalition and the Accountable Development Coalition laughs when he's asked if opposition to the current Wal-Mart proposal is rooted in class or social prejudice. "That's an attempt to play on liberal guilt," he responds, adding that it simply isn't true; even low-income people think a job should pay enough to support the worker.
"The issue we have with Wal-Mart is that it represents probably the largest [purveyor] of the new economy—those low-wage, low-benefit employers that are helping to drive down living standards in the United States. Wal-Mart is consistently at the bottom of the pay and benefit scale, even within a low-wage industry. Its mantra is 'always lower prices,' but that means always lower wages and benefits."
Support from the local business community would diminish rapidly, Boyce adds, if small store owners had a more accurate picture of the impact of a Wal-Mart. "Studies in the past have shown that Wal-Mart has been the neutron bomb of businesses. When they come into an area, in five years numerous small businesses around them have disappeared."
The problem is not with Wal-Mart itself, Boyce says, but with its business model, which drives down both prices and wages while deflecting a lot of the company's costs onto the public sector. A study by the University of California Center for Labor Research and Education found that 75 percent of the 44,000 Wal-Mart workers in California in 2004 earned less than $10 an hour, and less than half received health benefits.
"The average Wal-Mart costs the community at least $420,000 a year in subsidized medical and housing," Boyce says. "Our objection to Wal-Mart is that it represents a pernicious business model. It is a relentless engine that drives down living standards. They get goods produced at near slave wages in Southeast Asia, sold by workers earning peasant wages in the United States."
A better business model, Boyce said, is that of Costco, which pays its employees an average of $17 an hour and provides health insurance and other benefits to a majority of its workforce. Costco also has a significantly lower employee turnover than Wal-Mart.
"Wal-Mart is sort of the poster child for this low-road business model that is downgrading the living standard in the United States. I would point out, in all fairness, that Wal-Mart is not the only bad apple. They are just the largest and most visible."
While it is obvious that Wal-Mart will bring Santa Rosa a huge chunk of sales tax revenue, Boyce says other costs need to be taken into consideration. "Will these be living-wage jobs that will sustain a family, or are these going to be McJobs, junk jobs that basically condemn people to being part of the working poor and having to use welfare and other subsidies to supplement their income?" he asks.
Jayanthi Ramen has worked at the Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park for almost nine years. "I like the people I work with, and I've never had a problem with it. I like my job, that's all I can say. I do have ups and down, any job does, but I like it." Ramen works three or four hours a day, about two to three days a week. She lives with her husband, their 15-year-old son, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law, so her main focus is on caring for her family. "Especially for women like me who have families, they definitely help me out with my hours," she says. "They work with me and help me out."
Wal-Mart was Ramen's first job outside her home. She started as a cashier and is now a support manager. She says she does have medical insurance. Ramen's supervisors are encouraging her to consider becoming an assistant manager, but that would mean more hours and more responsibility. She's thinking about it but she's not sure she's ready to make that commitment. Her family still comes first.
Ramen works a second job a couple hours a week at the Taco Bell in Stony Point Plaza, which is near her home. She's thought about asking for a transfer if the Wal-Mart gets built in Stony Point, but she likes her co-workers at the Rohnert Park store and feels she is treated well there. "I don't know how other people feel [about Wal-Mart]. For my opinion, they give a lot of people jobs. A lot of people get an opportunity to work."
But is having a job, just any job, enough? And is that the best possible use for the property in Stony Point Plaza? Michael Allen of the North Bay Labor Council points out that when Safeway built a new store at Steele Lane and Mendocino Avenue, the city of Santa Rosa required the company to set aside land for a 28-unit apartment complex catering to mid- and low-income households. The city's general plan doesn't have the same mixed-use requirement for Stony Point Plaza, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be added. However, it's important to tone down the rhetoric and study the situation carefully, Allen says.
"I think that Wal-Mart believes in its business model while a lot of us believe it's a race to the bottom. If people put on their thinking caps, it's hard to believe that Wal-Mart could be the highest and best use for this property. It's possible that putting in affordable housing and mixed-use retail could act as an incubator for small businesses in the area. And maybe Wal-Mart could be part of that. Maybe it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. Maybe they're not exclusive uses."
Wal-Mart has become shorthand for bad business practices, and some people oppose it just on principle, Allen says.
"I don't want to demonize Wal-Mart. I don't want to stop Wal-Mart. I want them to change their business practices so they would be acceptable in any community. Any time you start demonizing the other side, it makes it easier for them to demonize you. Everything goes up in heat."
Allen says he's aware that Wal-Mart is ramping up its efforts to improve its public image. "I'm really interested in how much they are changing their business practices versus giving the appearance of changing their business practices. Some of it is separating the myth from fact, which is hard."
Kevin Loscotoff, Wal-Mart's director of public affairs for Northern California, has a number of facts at his fingertips. There is the fact that the Rohnert Park Wal-Mart contributed $50,000 to local organizations in 2005, while the Windsor store raised and gave away more than $48,000. There is also the fact that the average hourly wage for Bay Area Wal-Mart stores is now $11.08. (Loscotoff admits that he doesn't know exactly what the starting wage would be for the proposed new store.) It is a fact that when a new Wal-Mart opened last year in Oakland, there were 11,000 applicants for its 400 jobs; a new store in Fremont received 8,000 applications. And, according to Loscotoff, it's a fact that the new Stony Point Wal-Mart will bring quality jobs complete with heath benefits.
Furthermore, he avers, if the project is approved, Wal-Mart will be investing between $10 million to $15 million in Santa Rosa, and bringing between 250 and 350 jobs with competitive pay as well as benefits—health, medical, 401K for retirement—to the area.
Loscotoff adds that 76 percent of Wal-Mart store managers started out in hourly positions. "These aren't only hourly positions. There are opportunities to grow into careers. That's something we're very proud of."
Asked about the charge that Wal-Mart employees have to depend on the community for medical services and other supplemental support, Loscotoff says that the company "absolutely" offers its employees health insurance and other benefits. He adds that a survey showed that "7 percent of associates joining Wal-Mart are on Medicaid and only 3 percent remain on Medicaid after working at Wal-Mart for two years. It certainly shows the positive influence that our healthcare offerings provide."
And, Loscotoff says, the Stony Point Plaza Wal-Mart will bring more consumers to the area, helping business of all sizes, including the local companies who are Wal-Mart's suppliers.
"Not only can you drive by the Rohnert Park store or anywhere and see a number of local businesses thriving with a Wal-Mart in town, but you must also recognize that small and medium businesses are suppliers to Wal-Mart," he reminds. "In California alone, we spend more than $19 billion on merchandise and services from more than 3,800 suppliers."
But the discount giant continues to draw heat throughout the nation. In January, the state of Maryland approved what is commonly referred to as the "Wal-Mart bill," requiring any corporation with 10,000 or more employees to set aside at least 8 percent of its payroll to provide healthcare or pay an equivalent amount to the state for those services. Only four Maryland employers have that many employees, and all but Wal-Mart already meet the requirement. With other states considering similar legislation, Wal-Mart quickly unveiled a plan to expand the health insurance coverage it provides its workers.
In Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina destroyed several Wal-Mart superstores, smart-growth advocates are suggesting replacing them with "Wal-Mart Villages" where apartments, condominiums and town houses would surround the stores. Streets and sidewalks would allow easy pedestrian access and parking would be hidden behind the buildings. Wal-Mart has announced it will rebuild, but hasn't approved a specific plan.
Robert Greenwald's 2005 documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices attacked the retail giant for paying poor wages, offering inadequate health benefits, overworking its employees through unpaid overtime and fighting workers' efforts to unionize; filmmaker Ron Gallaway countered with a pro-company film, Why Wal-Mart Works and Why That Drives Some People Crazy. There's a long list of books and articles that are both for and against Wal-Mart and its business model. And there are a number of websites chronicling the megaretailer's missteps, as well as a company-sponsored website covering the same information from Wal-Mart's perspective.
In Santa Rosa, owners of the small businesses already located in Stony Point Plaza are concerned about parking and traffic if a large Wal-Mart is built. The draft EIR says that repainting the parking lot will double the number of spaces to 828 spaces, but that is incorrect, says Neil Soskin, vice president of leasing for Weingarten Realty Investors, which owns the shopping center. In reality, the Wal-Mart changes will only add about a dozen new parking spots. And traffic was a strong concern of those commenting on the draft EIR. A detailed solution for both these issues will be included in the final report.
Some store rents have already gone up in anticipation of Wal-Mart's arrival. "Rents for space are driven by supply and demand for the market," explains Soskin. "There will be more tenants interested in the shopping center with Wal-Mart coming. If you're a small retailer, it's nice to be near someone who spends as much money as they do on advertising and who brings in a lot of people."
The nonprofit Southwest Community Health Center is literally just a block from the proposed Wal-Mart site. Naomi Fuchs, the health center's CEO, is neither for nor against the project; she simply would like more specifics about Wal-Mart's benefits for its employees, especially the availability and affordability of health insurance. "Sonoma County has a serious problem with uninsured people and a lack of resources for uninsured people. I want to encourage [Wal-Mart] to provide adequate health benefits, but I don't know what they are so far." If Wal-Mart employees do not have reasonable access to health insurance, it seems likely they might seek free treatment at the nearby medical center. "We are already at capacity. They need to help people get insurance, not add to the problem."
That's why controlled-growth advocates Ben Boyce and Michael Allen want the city to require more in-depth reports on the impact on small business and community services, such as the health center.
"I hear Wal-Mart saying they are getting people off welfare, but that's not what past studies have shown," Allen says. "I do know that Wal-Mart is trying to answer some of the criticism, and I know that they recently changed their health policies."
He adds that before a final decision is made, the review process should cover much more than just physical or environmental impacts. "Many municipalities say if you want to do business in our community, pay for these studies so we understand all the impacts.
It doesn't make much sense to say we're only going to study traffic and noise but not look at how it's going to affect the infrastructure and local government. If they want to do business here, we want to understand all the costs. We owe it not only to that area of the city but to any area where a major project might be going in."
On a recent weekday afternoon, southwest Santa Rosa resident Anita Ireland hauled a basket of her clean clothes out of the Stony Point Plaza laundromat and loaded them into her aging automobile.
Looking around the half-empty parking lot, where small pieces of unidentifiable debris skittered in the wind, Ireland says that it doesn't matter to her whether the Wal-Mart project is approved or not. While this prototypical Wal-Mart consumer thinks it might be nice to have one closer to her home, she really doesn't care whether the Stony Point store gets approved or not. "I kinda sorta want Wal-Mart here, and I kinda sorta don't," she shrugs. "If it comes, it comes."
New College of California sponsors an evening discussion on the Wal-Mart-ization of Sonoma County on Thursday, March 16, at 7pm. 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $5 donation.707.568.2605.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.
Proposal to Limit Rail to Sonoma County is Rejected
Published in The Marin Independent Journal
By Mark Prado
SANTA ROSA - An attempt by a member of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Board to discuss removing Marin from the train project was shot down Wednesday.
Board member and Novato Councilwoman Pat Eklund wanted to discuss the idea of having a planned rail line only serve Sonoma County instead of linking with Marin as proposed. Eklund reasoned preliminary numbers show most of the ridership would be in Sonoma County.
Eklund asked SMART staffers to place that item, as well as issues about noise, a bus instead of rail alternative and other topics on Wednesday's SMART agenda.
But those items were not on the agenda, even though Eklund said she notified SMART staff weeks before the meeting.
"I'm very disappointed," Eklund said. "My concern is time is slipping by."
SMART is trying to get its environmental impact report on the project certified, then asking voters in Marin and Sonoma to OK a quarter-cent sales tax in November to help pay for the $340 million project that aims to link Cloverdale and Larkspur.
Eklund said key policy issues need to be discussed before the environmental report is certified.
But an attorney for SMART advised that it is too early to delve into specific issues of the plan because rail staffers are still going through the responses received during two public hearings in January.
Board member and San Rafael Mayor Al Boro agreed.
"It's not appropriate to discuss the EIR (environmental impact report) until the EIR is worked through," he said.
Next month, the SMART board will find out the report's status.
Also Wednesday, the board hired a consultant for $96,000 to, among other things, look at ridership numbers outlined in the environmental impact report. It showed 191 riders coming from Sonoma into Marin during the peak morning commute and 4,800 daily passengers using the system overall by the year 2025. A new computer model on ridership will be conducted that could show more riders, officials said.
"Those numbers do not look good and that could be used against us," said Hal Brown, Marin supervisor and board member.
Board member and Marin Supervisor Charles McGlashan said a good ridership model is needed "to rebuild credibility with voters."
SCCA SUPPORTS SMART RAIL
Published in The North Bay Progressive
By Dennis Rosatti
Sonoma County Conservation Action has advocated for a passenger rail along Highway 101 for over a decade. Our grassroots organizers have made personal visits to hundreds of thousands of homes over that decade, and have been pivotal in establishing the public mindset that currently exists today. It is a mindset of city-centered, smart growth that advocates mixed use buildings and housing density to avoid the sprawl that was the norm until recent years. Our Urban Growth Boundary campaigns framed the public dialogue in a way that was reasonable and sensible, for the public and the local environment. No one wants to see our beautiful open spaces and rich, agricultural tradition lost to mini mansions, pavement, and smog.
SCCA is working for the SMART rail on several fronts. We continually educate the public of Sonoma County with our door to door team of organizers, who walk neighborhoods 5-6 days per week, in the rain and cold of winter, and the sweltering heat of summer. We also have piloted a Marin County canvass, called Trains and Pathways in Marin (TAPIM). In several weeks of Marin County canvassing, we found that of the people we were able to poll at their doors, more than 86 percent were in favor of rail! The sample population came from a variety of Marin County areas. These numbers are very encouraging, and show that the general public of Marin does indeed want rail, and the bicycle/pedestrian pathway that comes alongside.
Conservation Action supports SMART and its vision of a rail line connecting Cloverdale in North Sonoma County and Larkspur in Marin. SCCA believes and received the affirmation of the public that Sonoma County residents, as well as Marin County residents, are ready and willing to enact a modest sales tax to help pay for start-up costs for this rail service. We recognize that there is no single solution to our transportation woes in the North Bay, but SMART offers a multi-modal transit opportunity that is far too enticing to pass up. Conservation Action is reaching out and looks to forge alliances with like minded organizations and individuals who also share the vision that is SMART.
Dennis Rosatti is SCCA Co-Director and can be reached at email@example.com
Election Results November 6, 2012
SCCA Endorsement Success!
City Council: 9/13= 69%
Local Candidates: 16/21= 76%
Overall Success: 21/30= 70%
*These results are very encouraging overall for the local environment! A big thank you to all of our members, donors, and volunteers who made this success possible!
Letters to our Editors
Filling Council Vacancy
Published November 14, 2012, Press Democrat
EDITOR: With regard to replacing Supervisor-elect Susan Gorin on the Santa Rosa City Council, I wish to advocate for the appointment of Caroline Bañuelos, who essentially finished in a tie for fifth place in the election.
As former County Supervisor Bill Kortum has noted, “Caroline's years on the Planning Commission, making decisions on Santa Rosa's future, have prepared her to be a strong leader on the City Council the day she takes office.” In addition, she has abundant community involvement experience and would provide increased representation for a sizable Latino population that has historically been grossly underrepresented on the City Council. In this latter regard, increased minority representation would lessen the likelihood that Santa Rosa could face a costly civil rights lawsuit following the defeat of Measure Q, which would have instituted district elections within the city.
Aside from such potential legal ramifications, the recently concluded presidential election has once again affirmed that inclusion is a better way forward politically.
SCCA Comments to Board of Supervisors, 12/7/2010
Madam Chair and Members of the Board,
My comments today pertain to frustration that I and many others are feeling in the environmental community about this current Board’s pushing through of a resource extraction agenda, prior to losing two members to retirement. In the next 8 days, this board is poised to approve Dutra Asphalt Plant in Petaluma, Syar Gravel mining project in the Russian River, the Berrella rock quarry on Roblar Road, and the wine industry’s self-regulated Frost Protection Ordinance. It is a slap in the face of the Sonoma County voter to rush these major, decades long impacts through the process just to capture votes that may or may not be on the Board come January.
I would like to voice Conservation Action’s disproval of these actions, and say that you can do better. I’ve heard from many of my own members and colleagues over the past few weeks/months, and there is a general feeling of discontent with the way the County is being run. The message the citizen or advocate is getting, is that the Supervisor’s are going to do what they want, extract the resources, and if the public has an issue with that, sue us. What kind of government is that? It’s certainly not the one that the voters thought they were electing when casting votes on Election Day. And by casting these votes in lame duck session, there is no accountability going forward for the two who are retiring, yet the projects and their decades-long impacts remain, and the public must deal with them.
I would offer a challenge the three Supervisors who will remain on the Board to change course; at a minimum slow down the process. Do not allow the public of Sonoma County, who have time and time again expressed their preference for the environment, at the polls and through various programs and initiatives, to be marginalized by industry and big money interests that seek to profit off the natural resources we enjoy here in Sonoma County. You all project an image of being a friend of the environment during campaign time- now is an excellent time to prove it. You were not elected to serve resource extraction industries, even if they gave you contributions in your campaigns. The voter elected you to do the people’s business, and to steward the local environment in a way that promotes and protects what are the commons- the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the landscape we enjoy. Please alter the course you are on away from this resource extraction agenda. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Appropriate Use of Recycled Wastewater
Letter to SCCA Editor
Recycled waste water should not be used for agriculture!!!!!! (vineyards, pastures, food production). Organic standards can't be maintained for
products raised with recycled wastewater.
The water contains heavy metals, pharmaceutical wastes, nitrogen/phosphorous (and other nutrients that caused the conditions in the Laguna to foster Ludwidgia, and algae blooms in the Russian River). And those same substances will contaminate the groundwater beneath those proposed
These substances can be removed with very expensive technology however the
BPU won't spend the money needed. (RO-reverse osmosis, solar distillation, etc).
Recycled wastewater is fine for toilets, landscaping/lawns and non-agricultural uses.
Water conservation and grey water reuse is the answer and of course slowing growth.
Linda Kelley, RN FNP
Sebastopol City Council
Minority defeated Measure R
Marin Independent Journal
Saturday Readers' Forum
The self-congratulatory letters from Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit's opponents in the IJ (Saturday Soapbox) and the Nov. 9th editorial ("SMART's defeat needs to trigger more train debate"), all miss one salient detail: SMART wasn't defeated. While Measure R did not succeed, 65 percent is an extremely strong showing.
Even in Marin, where the opposition turned some voters off to SMART, Measure R still received 57 percent (unofficial results). That is substantially stronger support than Supervisor-elect Judy Arnold received in her race.
Let's not forget: the opponents of the train represent a minority of voters. It is only because of a legal quirk (Proposition 13) foisted on us by anti-tax Republicans that this minority was able to prevent the majority from voting to tax itself a tiny amount to build for a better future.
This minority has no mandate, moral high ground or claim to truth. All it did was confuse and scare enough people to delay the inevitable and make it more expensive.
We'll look back at this election as a low-point in environmental activism, where the politics of hope were mugged by the politics of fear.
President of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, San Rafael
Why is two-thirds needed?
Marin Independent Journal
Saturday Readers' Forum
A little-noticed fact from the election: Measure R, the sales tax measure to bring commuter rail to Sonoma and Marin, actually got a bigger endorsement from residents of those counties (65 percent) than state measure 1B, the highway infrastructure bond act, did from California voters (61 percent).
Regardless of what you think of the merits of highways vs. mass transit, there's something backwards about a system in which a proposal that owns up to its expenses and levies a new tax to cover them, needs a two-thirds vote to win, but one that runs up debt for the next generation to pay off can pass with a simple majority.
Published in the Press Democrat August 3, 2006
EDITOR: I applaud The Press Democrat's lead story by Guy Kovner on July 27, "It's hot but can we blame global warming?" The media's role in helping the public understand the critical and complex issue of global warming cannot be overstated. While journalists must present both sides of a story, I was concerned that some of your readers might conclude from Kovner's article that the science behind global warming is somehow still under debate. It's not. Recently, a review of 928 peer-reviewed articles on climate change could not find a single one that challenged the scientific consensus that global warming is happening, or that it is primarily caused by humans.
In Washington, I have been a leading voice on increasing our investment in renewable energy sources, and I have recently co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act, legislation that not only studies climate change, but establishes a market driven system of tradable allowances that will limit greenhouse gas emissions. I truly believe that what we need is an "Apollo Project" for the 21st century, a recommitment of American technology, know-how and creativity, which will foster a new era of renewable energy sources. This will not only fight global warming but create thousands of high-tech jobs and allow for independence from Mideast oil.
This month I will be holding a "town hall" meeting to discuss how we can all work together to find a solution.
Congresswoman, District 6, Petaluma
Published by Press Democrat
August 21, 2006
EDITOR: The Sonoma County Water Coalition is advertising for people to show support for a county comprehensive water plan during the updating of the General Plan by the Board of Supervisors. Do we need to run out of water before we act to preserve it? It is still being squandered by many households and businesses without reign or penalty. If what we read is true, we will likely also run out of oil, forests, waste disposal sites, fish, clean air, cool air and ice caps, very possibly when it’s too late. I would like to see our supervisors start being proactive and tough about these things before it is indeed too late.
Published on July 20, 2006
© 2006-The Press Democrat
EDITOR: I am writing in response to the article, "SR may ship wastewater to river." Instead of Santa Rosa's proposal to dump billion of gallons of wastewater loaded with nutrients, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals into the river, which will cause great harm to downstream drinking water sources, fish, the environment and the tourist industry, the city should recycle it and use it to flush their toilets and to water their lawns. This will also help their water conservation efforts.
IGNORANCE AND FEAR
Published on July 20, 2006
© 2006-The Press Democrat
EDITOR: The Tuesday night meeting of the Sonoma County Planning Commission to hear testimony on the general plan update of the riparian element was, to put it nicely, lively. The Merlo Theatre at Wells Fargo Center was packed, with the overflow seated outside in the lobby. The majority of attendees were farmers, Realtors, wine growers and third-generation land owners. They are afraid of losing control of their land, afraid of losing profits and afraid of government regulations.
Some of this fear is understandable after hearing their ignorance of the changes taking place in our county.
Some landowners think that they have the right to do what they want with "their" land. This has never been the case. We have always had regulations, zoning and the permit process which helps guide land-use decisions. Ownership of land is a temporary condition. "We have not inherited the land from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children." What we do with our land affects the entire community and future generations.
Many farmers who spoke last night claimed to "own" their creeks. These are the very creeks which supply the rivers with our community's drinking water. This "ownership" mentality is arrogant and dangerous.
I spoke to the commissioners declaring Sierra Club's support for staff's recommendations. I was booed and jeered.
After the meeting, I went to the lobby to pack up the Sierra Club display table and found the table had been trashed. It was illustrative of the level of intelligence and childishness which prevailed during the meeting. Yes, there was fear. Ignorance is a scary thing.
Chair, Sierra Club Sonoma Group, Santa Rosa
Published on June 29, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: I was dismayed to read that North Bay Corp. has not met its commitment to get rid of its dirty diesel garbage trucks. As a member of the Solid Waste Evaluation Committee when I served on the Santa Rosa City Council in 2002, reducing diesel emissions was a top priority for our committee when we accepted North Bay's bid. Waste Management Inc. had already committed to alternative-fuel trucks, and the members of our committee understood that North Bay would do the same.
North Bay Corp.'s failure to switch to alternative-fuel trucks demonstrates a lack of good faith and ability to be a good business partner in our environment. The City Council should immediately impose penalties on North Bay Corp. for being out of compliance and may have to consider another garbage vendor that can better serve our community.
The public health of our community needs to come first.
MARSHA VAS DUPRE
Former Santa Rosa
Published on June 26, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: It stretches the imagination to believe that closing a three-quarter-mile gap in the Highway 101 car-pool lane in Marin County will essentially eliminate gridlock on one of the Bay Area's most congested sections of freeway. If only it were that easy.
There's perhaps little question that car-pool lanes can help ease congestion by encouraging solo motorists to travel in groups and getting cars off the road. But carpool lanes are not the panacea that the officials from the state Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission who were quoted in your story would have us believe. And closing the gap in San Rafael still doesn't address the much larger and rapidly growing problem of overall traffic congestion north of the Golden Gate Bridge. With population growth in Marin and Sonoma counties expected to climb by more than 20 percent over the next 20 years, handling the resulting traffic will require more than a single solution.
That's why the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District is planning to put a measure on the November ballot that would give our two counties an affordable, environmentally friendly alternative to the automobile and Highway 101. The SMART train will remove 1 million motorists annually from Highway 101, about 5,000 per weekday. And the $5 million a mile it will cost to get the SMART train up and running is significantly cheaper than the $25 million a mile it is costing to close the car-pool gap in San Rafael.
Co-chair, Transportation Alliance
of Sonoma and Marin
Published on June 22, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: In response to your "note to politicians'' within your Monday editorial, this local politician has long cared about global warming. Global warming threatens our air quality, water supply, public health and some of our largest industries. While the Bush administration and Congress have failed to enact much needed reforms, I am proud to say that the state Assembly took charge of California's future when we passed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it will reduce global warming emissions in California to 1990 levels by 2020.
With California being the 12th largest emitter of pollutants that cause global warming, we owe it to ourselves, our children and our world to see that this bill becomes law.
Assemblywoman, 7th District
AT RISK OF SPRAWL
Published on June 1, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: I was surprised at your editorial about Greenbelt Alliance's report, "At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt.'' Greenbelt's report got it right. Most of Sonoma County's cities have done well at protecting our county's rural landscapes. But the county's policies are weaker than they should be, and that puts lands at risk of sprawl development. The current county general plan update should include stronger protections for community separators and better zoning to keep our county's rural lands undeveloped. That's something that your editorial, "Pave paradise?'' and I agree on.
The report also says that lands inside urban growth boundaries are at risk of sprawl development. That's true. Those areas are appropriate places for development, but it's an open question how they'll be developed: with sprawling car-dependent subdivisions or with compact neighborhoods near transit. We need to be vigilant about making sure this development is done well.
Sonoma County, like the entire Bay Area, is going to grow. We're doing a good job at guiding that growth into our cities, but our work is far from over. That's why our county has lands at risk, and that's why it's important to pay attention to Greenbelt's report.
Sebastopol City Councilman
Published on May 15, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: So far my house has gotten four calls from phone banks in Texas urging us to vote for Paul Kelley. The misinformation and false polling from the land of George Bush and Tom DeLay says, among other things, that only the incumbent can stop gangs. This is pure, biased, election eve malarkey.
Professional phone banks may be a good way to spend developers' contributions, but they don't answer the questions Sonoma County must ask. Why has gang violence flourished over the last 12 years? Why do we have new development at the airport that will clog the expanded highway? And why does the county spend our tax money on lobbying against the Endangered Species Act?
We need a supervisor who will work for everyone in Sonoma County; one who works with the community, who is supported by local volunteers, and who has an honest, fresh approach. We don't need slick phone campaigns, nor the people behind them. In this election, my vote goes to Debora Fudge for supervisor.
Published on March 31, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: The Press Democrat devotes much column space to hand-wringing over what must be done for those Roseland residents. If not solutions being given for the violence of Cinco de Mayo, then new plans for economic recovery. In a recent Forum section, urban designer Laura Hall shares her experience designing a Wal-Mart for the devastated Gulf region and speculates that Roseland could benefit from such a design. A walkable Wal-Mart village is what Hall thinks would be a great thing for Roseland.
Does Hall truly believe that the majority of those using the Wal-Mart will be walking there? This will not be Roseland's Wal-Mart; it will be most of Sonoma County's Wal-Mart. The author states there are many walkable blocks and neighborhoods in Roseland, whatever that means. It doesn't mean less than a several-minute wait to cross the street on the corner of Stony Point and Sebastopol roads. To enter Stony Point Road with a car from a side street takes a laughing disregard for life or loud crashing sounds.
So a traffic-cramped neighborhood should get a Wal-Mart because it would be a benefit to an underdeveloped economy? Marvelous, and what an original argument. Can't wait for every tax penny to be put back into our neighborhood. Wonder what we could use most? Best wait and ask Wal-Mart.
Published on April 7, 2006
© 2006- The Press Democrat
EDITOR: I have walked door to door in Sonoma County for 14 years, and it heartens me that the Sonoma-Marin Are Rail Transit train is on the ballot this November. Of all the different community issues and social agenda that the citizens of our county face, a passenger rail from Cloverdale to the Larkspur ferry is about as popular a solution as apple pie.
It seems silly that we do not yet have a passenger rail running north and south along Highway 101. The freeway often looks more like a parking lot after a 49ers game, rather than a speedy destination between cities. Thank heavens the SMART train will eliminate 25 minutes from the morning commute (Santa Rosa to San Rafael) for those with sense enough to leave road rage for the folks stuck in traffic.
I used to think, along with many others, that Marin was the hold-up. So I went to Marin County and knocked on doors in Novato, San Rafael, Mill Valley and Fairfax. Boy, was I wrong. People there can't wait for a train. They really understand that it takes more than widening freeways to effectively move people from one location to the next. I can't wait to help get out the vote this November for the SMART rail.
Sonoma County Conservation Action canvasser, Healdsburg
Campaign Spending Reality
February 23, 2006 • 3:20pm
Conservation Action Editor,
Wednesday’s Press Democrat reported that the Yes on M campaign (GE-Free Sonoma) spent $492,000, but that’s misleading. This figure includes over $140,000 spent before the campaign even began on drafting the initiative language and gathering signatures to place Measure M on the ballot. It’s more accurate to compare what was spent during the actual campaign, when the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) and the Yes on M campaign spent about $350,000. The Sonoma County Farm Bureau and No on M campaign reportedly spent $545,000 during the campaign, 55% more than proponents.
More important is that the Farm Bureau did not report all of its expenses. A review of their financial disclosures shows they never reported any employee staff time. By contrast, OAEC reported the actual cost of several OAEC staff who worked on the campaign. Had the Farm Bureau complied with campaign laws and reported the extensive time their staff put into the “No” campaign, the reported $545,000 would have been much higher.
Lastly, the article reported that the Farm Bureau borrowed $150,000 from itself to spend on the “No” campaign. If the Farm Bureau recoups any of this $150,000, they must legally report who has paid it as a campaign contribution to “No on M”.
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
15290 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, CA 95465
874-1557 ext. 214
GROWTH LIMIT: CLOVERDALE NEEDS TO DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND -- AND ON A MAP
Published on January 26, 2006
© 2006 The Press Democrat- Editorial
Cloverdale may be about to shed its distinction as the only city in Sonoma County without an urban growth boundary. We hope it's true, but we recognize that there's work ahead.
At this point, a citizens' advisory panel is recommending a growth limit, which could come before voters by 2007. The issue emerges at an important moment because Cloverdale's population is expected to grow by some 50 percent over the next 15 years.
The city has avoided sprawl primarily because of its natural boundaries, including the hills to the north and west and the Russian River on the east. But, as advisory panel member Carolyn Marcinkowski said, the growth pressures that are coming will challenge assumptions about where people can and should build housing.
It's true that Cloverdale is one of the county's smallest cities with a population of about 8,200. But it's also one of the fastest-growing. It's population increased by 67 percent from 1990 to 2005.
The City Council, in the past, has not been particularly supportive of an urban boundary, but given that this idea comes from a citizens' committee, council members shouldn't let their own opinions interfere with the ability of voters to make their own decision. The council should put this on the ballot.
SMART part of 20-year question for North Bay
Published January 22, 2006
Marin Independent Journal
By Dick Spotswood
The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District has finally submitted its Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for review. There's a lot to like in the 700-page analysis.
At the same time, the voluminous report provides plenty of fodder for those devoted to derailing the concept.
The temptation is to nitpick the EIR to death. Yet the better alternative is to look at the big picture by asking the following questions: Will Marin and Sonoma benefit by an alternative to the U.S. 101 freeway? Does public transit have a future in the North Bay? Is it time that the North Bay did its share to provide environmentally sensitive mobility alternatives that can guide future land-use decisions in a sustainable manner?
The fundamental issue is what we want the North Bay to look like 20 years from now. It's the public policy question of the decade. It's safe to say that if we do nothing, our future is guaranteed to be more suburban sprawl driven by automobile-centered planning.
Thanks to farsighted leadership by the Golden Gate Bridge District and the two counties, the entire Northwestern Pacific Railroad, stretching from Cloverdale in the north down to the Larkspur Ferry, is in public ownership. Now the topic is whether we want to take advantage of this incredible asset and tax ourselves to build and operate a commuter rail line.
My conclusion comes down on the side of getting on with the task of creating the rail line and proposed parallel bike route.
In the Nov. 7 election, voters in Marin and Sonoma will be asked if they support the rail concept and are willing to pay for it with a quarter-cent sales tax increase. There are only two options: Either go forward and create an alternative to the freeway or land bank the rail line until a future generation has the determination to actually get something done.
The best scenario calls for long-range vision and the courage to make big decisions. The worst alternative is to again allow a handful of Marin-based anti-rail activists to manipulate voters by sowing seeds of doubts. The latter is the tried and true Marin method to doom a proposal for physical improvements.
The reality is that all projects result in change. The Golden Gate Bridge would never have been built if a guarantee was required of zero damage. Yet, change in the North Bay is inevitable, even under the "do nothing" option. The task is to determine if providing funds to build an alternative to the automobile will lead to more positive changes than will occur by maintaining the status quo.
While focusing on broader issues, the details of the draft EIR are significant and portions of the plan likely will be modified based on public comments.
SMART's EIR's ridership figures are overly conservative to the point of absurdity.They were based on faulty data that incredibly managed to overstate the number of lanes on Highway 101. Those projections must be clarified to give voters a true view of the long-range benefits of SMART.
While details, such as the poorly conceived Larkspur rail-ferry connection, frequency of service and even the alternative of starting the system with a Sonoma-only shuttle, should be addressed before the EIR is certified as complete, the public is wise to focus on fundamental questions and not be drowned in minutiae.