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By Eve Kahn, Gary Margadant and Michael Allen 

 

Last December the California Board of Forestry gutted California’s fire safe road regulations, leaving already vulnerable communities at-risk for future destruction. 

Perhaps most problematic is the significant reduction in the minimum width of roads. Existing standards require twenty-foot width, while the newly adopted regulations require only fourteen (and no shoulder). This significant reduction means that new homes will be built on roads that have insufficient room for fire trucks to respond to an emergency – especially while residents are evacuating. Most fire trucks are nine feet wide, while the average car is nearly six. Fourteen-foot roads create logistical challenges and potential bottle necks should two fire vehicles need to maneuver around one another (eighteen feet) and leaves insufficient room for cars to squeeze past a fire truck (fifteen feet). 

Despite objections from California’s fire fighters and environmental advocates, the Board chose unmitigated sprawl over smart growth. This decision will not only put future residents in very high fire severity zones, but would additionally over-burden existing infrastructure, making it more difficult for current homeowners to evacuate in an emergency. 

The elimination of minimum dead-end-road requirements, reduction in bridge weight requirements, and significant weakening of ridgeline protections will likewise have a disastrous impact on vulnerable communities. 

Approving these regulations without common sense fire-safe measures or heeding the wisdom of our subject matter experts will further increase wildfire risk to lives and property, tie the hands of our first responders, strain firefighting budgets, and make it more difficult to obtain property insurance. 

Exacerbating an already bad decision, the Board chose to apply these rules only to newly constructed roads while allowing continued development to occur on substandard infrastructure. The Board failed to understand the cumulative impact that would occur “downstream” as residents move out of harm’s way. As we have seen in numerous conflagrations, the ability of emergency personnel to move evacuees seamlessly and without pinch points is paramount to saving lives. The regulations also allow local jurisdictions to seek exemptions and reduce these requirements further. 

California can build housing where it’s appropriate to build – in city centers with adequate infrastructure, and without increasing the risk to our vulnerable communities. The Board of Forestry must reconsider their regulations and, at a minimum, conduct a CEQA analysis to quantify the dangers of intensifying land use in high fire severity zones. 

Eve Kahn and Gary Margadant are co-presidents of Napa Vision 2050. Michael Allen is the Chairman of the Board for Sonoma County Conservation Action.

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SCCA is pleased to honor the outstanding record of recent SCCA Board member Dr. Jane Nielson

Ph.D geologist, Jane impressively served on the SCCA Board for seven years. She still loves Sonoma County, but is relocating to Portland to be near family

Rigorous Scientist

Jane brings scientific integrity and logical consistency to all her projects. She has three degrees in geology, including MS in Geochemistry from The University of Michigan and Ph.D. in Geology from Stanford University, and is a California Licensed Professional Geologist (PG). She worked 18 years for the U.S. Geological Survey as a field and research geologist, and taught undergraduate geology courses at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff AZ; California State University, Hayward; and Pomona College, Claremont CA. After retiring from USGS, she moved to Sonoma County in 1999. Here, Jane applied her skills to launch multiple projects involving public policy, environment, and – most especially – water use and resources. At SCCA, she excelled at rigorous policy discussions and evaluating candidates for elective office.

Jane Nielson at Point Arena area of geologic interest.

Geologist and Water Activist

Jane has given her time selflessly to environmental causes. With a PhD in geology and experience from her United States Geological Survey (USGS) career, Jane provided pro bono geological reviews. Her advice has resulted in the re-writing or withdrawal of nine flawed draft EIRs. She was a co-founder of the Sebastopol Water Information Group (SWIG), helping develop a program for quantifying and managing water conservation and energy issues related to water. She participated in the Sonoma County Water Coalition (SCWC) and served on the board of O.W.L. (Open-Space, Water, and Land Conservation) Foundation, focusing on realistic management of water resources. She is co-author of The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery, published by Oxford University Press in 2008.  In 2010, Jane was voted environmentalist of the year by the Sonoma County Conservation Council

Jane Nielson on the San Andreas Fault at Fort Ross.

Engaging Educator

Jane lectures on geology and environment because activism begins with education. Her popular lectures include “Sonoma County Has Its Faults: A Rock and Roll History.” She speaks and writes with beauty and passion:

“[P]reserving lands has a central role for protecting air and water quality, and water supplies – and all support a healthy living environment. The idea that all life on earth is connected in a great chain of being, and that all life is connected to the physical earth in many obvious and subtle ways.”

Family and Friends

Jane highly values her identity as wife, mother, grandmother. She and fellow geologist Howard have a close blended family. And many friends and admirers. Jane proves Women CAN have it all! 

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SCCA is pleased to award Marylee Guinon the Leadership & Sustainability Award for her tireless work on fire safe roads.

The Threat

The State Board of Forestry’s Fire Safe Regulations have long required safe concurrent firefighter access and civilian evacuation for all new development in the fire-prone Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). These Regulations require minimum 20-ft. road widths and dead-end road limits, including for existing roads, according to the State Attorney General. But at the local level, full compliance is lacking. In the November 2018 Camp Fire, Paradise suffered community burnover. Many residents had insufficient time to evacuate and were evacuating through the fire, often on roads too narrow to allow safe concurrent access for emergency wildfire equipment and civilian evacuation. Fatalities occurred.
CNPA Award Winner Sacramento Bee Nov 10, 2018

A Local Victory! 

In 2019 and 2020, Sonoma County asked the BOF to certify that its fire ordinance complies with the State Fire Safe Regulations. County leadership dismissed objections of local citizens, organizations such as SCCA and – prominently – Marylee Guinon. Marylee and a core Sonoma County group, including Craig Harrison and Deborah Eppstein, worked tirelessly with the BOF to reveal the ordinance’s deficiencies. Victory was won in October 2020, when the BOF explicitly refused to certify Sonoma County’s fire ordinance, citing the Attorney General, Public Resources Code and the State Fire Safe Regulations.

Standing Up for Fire Safe Roads

Fully grasping that hope is not a strategy when it comes to wildfire, Marylee, recipient of SCCA’s Leadership and Sustainability Award, sprang into action. Working with several wildfire professionals, environmental groups, and other champions of wildfire safety across California, they have pivoted to the BOF’s current update of the Fire Safe Regulations. Unfortunately, 2021 drafts show evidence of anti-regulation political influence and impermissible false narratives. 

What’s Next? 

Wildfire experts express an urgency to seriously address community evacuation and firefighter access, referred to as “fire safe roads” or “fire safe development.”  Notwithstanding expert opinions, public officials at the local level have not, over decades of ill-advised land-use planning and permitting of development in the WUI, reckoned fully with the accumulated evacuation and safety risks associated with new development. Hence, we need the BOF to preserve the Fire Safe Regulations and resist delegating all discretion and authority to local jurisdictions to continue to sacrifice community safety to more WUI development.   
Marylee Guinon, recipient of SCCA’s Leadership and Sustainability Award, conducting research of Giant Sequoia in Europe in the 1980’s

Can We Afford to Sacrifice Community Safety to More WUI Development? Please help SCCA advocate for fire safe roads and fire safe development.

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Please join us at the November 4th Planning Commission Meeting to demand stronger protection against Oak and Forest Land conversion in the county.

 

Scientists agree, protecting existing forests is the best low-cost approach for immediately sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, ultimately reducing our adverse impacts on the climate.

In Sonoma County, thousands of acres of woodlands and forests – broadly speaking trees – lack legal protections to prevent them from being cut down in large numbers.

Given the severity of the climate crisis and the power of trees to soften its impact on our community, it is critical that the County take immediate steps to protect our working woodlands from being cut down.

Planning Commission Agenda and Details

RSVP for More Details and a Reminder on Facebook

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Dear Commissioners,
Thank you for your continued dedication to California and for the hours of testimony and input you have collated and guided over the past year. As you continue to look beyond visualizations and begin to craft, tweak, and adopt final boundaries for California’s state representatives, Sonoma County Conservation Action strongly urges you to consider the North Coast as an important community of interest.
The existing Congressional and State Senate lines run from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. This configuration has allowed our local communities to have particularly strong voices on coastal needs: the impact of coastal development on California’s wildlife, the impacts of offshore oil drilling, toxic algae blooms and acidic Dungeness crab, plastics and marine debris, access to healthcare and education, to name a few. Coastal issues are unique and important to California’s success, and dividing coastal communities will dilute their voices.
The North Coast includes Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin counties. These counties combine for a population of just under 1 million residents. While that is sufficient for a California State Senate district, it is too large for any one Congressional district (750,000 population). Of those counties, the population density for Sonoma County (500,000) makes the most sense for a clean division between a coastal Congressional district and a second Congressional district.
In a poll by the PPIC, 77% of respondents listed the condition of California’s iconic ocean and beaches as an important issue. Our residents already see the coast as a significant community of interest and we urge the commission to follow their lead.
Warmest regards,
Chris Rogers
Executive Director
Sonoma County Conservation Action

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SCCA joins the Sonoma County Democratic Party, Wine Country Young Democrats, North Bay Labor Council, President Joe Biden and many, many others in endorsing a ‘No’ on the upcoming Gavin Newsom recall.

The recall is powered by a partisan, Republican coalition of national Republicans, anti-vaxxers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant activists and Trump supporters. They want to overturn Governor Newsom’s election, and their victory could threaten California’s efforts to fight COVID-19.

National Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Devin Nunes have all backed the recall effort. The Republican National Committee has even cut the recall a $250,000 check.

Instead of fighting COVID-19, Republicans are pulling a page from the Trump playbook and attacking Californians. In fact, a Republican recall will cost the state $100 million – money that could be used to help vaccinate our communities.

How to vote

  • Vote “NO” on the recall and leave the second question blank
  • Send back your mail-in ballot by 9/14

You can find a dropbox to deposit your ballot on the Secretary of State’s website after mid-August: https://caearlyvoting.sos.ca.gov/ or by contacting your local county elections office: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/polling-place

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Fight back against big money in local politics and help STOP a BULLY

 

District Attorney Jill Ravitch is under attack and nothing short of the independence of the Sonoma County’s DA’s office is at stake. Recall Ravitch, the “organization” behind this petition has just one funding source: millionaire developer William Gallaher.  On September 3rd 2020, Gallaher-controlled corporations agreed to 3rd party oversight and fines of $500,000 related to the abandonment of dozens of seniors at the Villa Capri senior care facility during the 2017 Tubbs Fire.  Who led the investigation?  Jill Ravitch.  Gallaher launched “Recall Ravitch” just 7 weeks later.

In an era when our democracy is under assault and calls for equal justice for all reverberate throughout the nation, the petition to recall District Attorney Ravitch demonstrates a new level of galling anti-democratic political revenge of the privileged. The petition was initiated by developer Bill Gallagher, who has flouted county campaign finance ordinances to personally pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to exact political retribution for being held accountable for the failure of his businesses to protect elderly Sonoma County residents during the tragic fires that began October 8, 2017.
Recall that in the early morning hours as the Tubbs fire roared into Santa Rosa, elderly and frail residents of Varenna and Villa Capri, two senior care homes owned by Oakmont Senior Living, were abandoned by ill-prepared staff as the flames bore down on them. Family members and good Samaritans risked their lives to drive into the firestorm to rescue approximately 100 elderly residents of the homes. Those rescuers provided harrowing tales of near-death experiences escaping through flames. An iconic photograph printed in the Press Democrat shows a wheelchair left amid the ashes and ruins of one of the buildings—a chilling reminder of the horrors of the event.
The businesses at issue are owned by Bill Gallagher.
SCCA Opposes Recalling District Attorney Jill Ravitch to fight back against this misguided revenge recall. A lone millionnaire may be allowed to single-handedly fund a recall attempt, but no one should be left to die in a wildfire to accommodate corporate greed. 

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FIRST-EVER HYBRID GALA AND AUCTION JULY 31st – 4 to 6 pm

 

Traditionally, SCCA has hosted our Grassroots Gala in person every summer. Last year, we moved to an online event.

This year’s Grassroots Gala is a Hybrid Gala. The Online portion will present our program via Zoom, where we highlight this year’s environmental Award Winners, speak of Gratitude and live chat with In Person House Parties. In Person guests can watch the Gala from deck or patio, safely socially distanced.

Our fabulous On Line Auction is open 24/7 from July 22 through August 7th

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Your support today will help us protect our oak and forest lands, keep our waterways, open spaces, and parks healthy, eliminate toxics from schools, provide access to more affordable housing into our urban cores, and help us elect community leaders who are ready to fight for a more sustainable and more equitable future for everyone.

This year our Grass Roots Gala will be held both in-person and online and includes Awards, Live Chats, and a Silent Auction! Ticket holders will receive a link to a Zoom that can be viewed on a device at home.

Click Here to Visit Our Online Auction!

 

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Over the last sixteen months, we have had to work hard to create community – through technology or behind masks. And as the world opens back up slowly, we want to celebrate the good things in life – the things that we’ve missed the most through the pandemic.

Sonoma County Conservation Action has played a critical role in keeping our waterways, open spaces, and parks healthy, eliminating toxics from schools, providing access to more affordable housing in our urban cores, and helping us elect community leaders who are ready to fight for a more sustainable and more equitable future for everyone. With your help, we can continue these fights through 2021 and into 2022.

Sponsorship Ticket Levels

 

Sustainer $5,000 | Supporter $2,500 | Advocate $1,000 | Contributor $500 | Friend $300

 

Regular Ticket Levels

 

Individual $25 | $50 with Gift Basket  | $100 Join an In-Person House Party

 

Click Here to Visit Our Online Auction!

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Recently SCCA’s Aja Henry was featured on KCBS radio with Megan Goldsby!

 

Listen to SCCA make a case for stronger tree and forest land protects for our county

 

“A group of conservationists in Sonoma County are looking to put a halt on developers cutting down oak trees.  As KCBS’ Megan Goldsby reports… this has long been an issue… but activists believe this time around it may be different.​”

“Sonoma County’s oldest environmental group is asking for a moratorium on cutting down oak trees.  And as KCBS’ Megan Goldsby reports…after decades of work on the issue… organizers think THIS may be the time to make it happen.”