Posted by & filed under News.


The “Solstice” is a proposed new luxury resort and major event center in a Community Separator between Santa Rosa and Windsor at 3890 Old Redwood Highway.
This is, essentially, a 24-room hotel and major event center (100 events per year, 10,000 people). Approval of the project would set a dangerous precedent for allowing intense hospitality development, including third-party rentals for weddings, on Resources and Rural Development (RRD) land. Such an expansive interpretation of RRD zoning would be especially egregious in a Community Separator and should be rejected. Please tell the County that you object to this intense, inappropriate development.
DEADLINE July 6 for Public Comment; Public Hearing July 9.
DETAILS are in SCCA’s comment letter, linked here .
Additional comments:
  • The project violates MEASURE K. In 2016, voters passed the measure by 81%, voting to protect community separator greenbelts, the rural lands between our towns and cities, from more sprawl and intensified development. Now unelected county planners are ready to compromise our open space legacy for the benefit of one luxury developer.
  • Project approval would induce more hospitality centers outside urban areas. Thousands of rural RRD parcels are at risk.


  • NOT NOW! We face the COVID crisis, a dangerous wildfire season, economic uncertainly and political unrest when most voters are not able to participate in the public process. Just one Zoom meeting! Don’t move forward now on a totally non-essential luxury resort and event center in the protected greenbelt.


  • The project is the middle of the Tubb’s burn zone and will put more people and property at wildfire risk.


Thursday, July 9 Make your voice heard at the Public Hearing, Board of Zoning Adjustments, 1 pm via Zoom. Agenda will be posted here


Dear Sonoma County Supervisors, BZA Commissioners and Permit Sonoma,
Please vote to deny or delay any action on the proposed luxury resort and event center at “Sonoma Solstice” in a community separator protected with 81 percent of the vote.
Sincerely Yours,
Name, Title, Organization

SEND BY July 6, 2020 TO:

Board of Zoning Adjustments
Todd Tamura, Chair – District 2 –
Richard Fogg, District 1 –
John Lowry, District 5 –
Cameron Mauritson – District 4 (the project is in District 4)-
Paula Cook – District 3 –
Permit Sonoma Deputy Director Scott Orr
Planner Tricia Stevens
Permit Sonoma
CC Supervisor James Gore James Gore
CC:  Matt Callaway

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Sonoma County Conservation Action, its board of directors, staff, and many of our members have been tuned into recent events in our nation and country that have pushed our communities to take action and protest. We mourn for the lives that have been lost at the hands of police violence and brutality, and we offer this statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and all the groups and individuals working for a more just and racism free society.


Racism is wrong, it is short sighted, and it must not be tolerated, not for one more moment, and not for one more exception. We can no longer remain silent, or we shall become the Spring without songbirds.


We cannot allow white dominated power structures to continue to shape our society, our law enforcement response, our public policy, our political discourse, or even our ability to enjoy and protect nature. As an environmental organization, it is incumbent upon us to look at the whole of the ecosystems we seek to steward and protect, including the human beings within those ecosystems, and find the courage and insights to tend the system to enable it to flourish at it’s best possible harmony. Allowing racism, bigotry, and hatred to persist is simply put, totally unacceptable.


Environmental Justice is a call to action as minority and low income communities often bear the brunt of industry outsourcing while white, wealthier businesses spread their pollution on the way to profit.  Dumping of toxic chemicals in the water, noise and air pollution from asphalt or manufacturing plants, and many other examples of dumping our waste on those unable to defend themselves exist in our country, and in Sonoma County, right here in our backyard. Our work on environmental justice issues and our own organizational evolution over the years is significant, but must continue to move forward and expand. We must reach out to our brothers and sisters in the social and environmental justice movements, and meaningfully engage the Latinx, Native American, and Black communities locally to work for a more just and equitable social and environmental condition. If we work together, we are all stronger as a result, and we can accomplish much.


Conservation Action stands in solidarity with people of all colors seeking justice and equity in our democracy. Our organizers and the people we serve have hearts that beat and have the ability to love and heal and nurture and evolve. At this time, and since the founding of this nation, racial privilege has been reserved for white citizens and, as uncomfortable as it may be, we must challenge our norms and power structures to ensure that we eradicate implicit and explicit racism in every institution.


Please join us in protest and action. Educate yourself on how race and privilege affects you and your community. Have difficult conversations with your friends and family to discuss how you can materially support racial justice. Contact your congressperson, state representatives, local county and city leaders,and ask them what they are doing to move the scales of justice into balance. Tell them you are with them in the fight for social equity and a more just society. Tell them that addressing racism goes beyond eradicating profiling and brutality in policing and that it requires examining how our institutions impact racial minorities and their life outcomes. Let them know that we need to value the lives and contributions of each person in our community and that only by working together and addressing racial disparities in every area of our work, can we truly move forward.

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By rolling back EPA Clean Air standards the Trump administration is delivering yet another blow to Americans at a time when the highest priority of the government should be to lessen the health and economic risks that we all face due to the Corona Virus pandemic.


Click here to send a message to lawmakers urge them to take bold action and oppose any reduction in Clean Air regulations.

Clean Air regulations are one of the strongest strategies available to fight the global climate crisis. Don’t stand by and do nothing as the air quality of our county and country worsens. Environmental pollution also damages human health and can exacerbate a crisis like the one we are currently experiencing.

Act now and we can avoid this rollback from taking effect!

Trump administration has aggressively pushed ahead with an inefficient, needless, and dangerous rollback of the environmental and public health agenda.

It is not time to reduce regulations that keep billions of tons of climate-disrupting carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere!

Click here to add your name to an email to your Senators and Representatives Today!

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By Martin J. Bennett

Last year the trade publication Wine Enthusiast recognized Sonoma County as the ‘Wine Region of the Year,’ and the Sonoma County Winegrowers Association announced that 99 percent of the county vineyards achieved their ‘sustainability’ certification. But the county’s farmworkers­­­­­–who produce the wealth of the wine country–are mostly invisible to the public. Winegrowers and the media rarely recognize the actual value of their labor, and their contribution to the local economy is seldom acknowledged.

Most county farmworkers do not earn a living wage or receive employer-provided health insurance, lack access to affordable housing, and confront dangerous health and safety conditions on the job. A just, equitable and, sustainable recovery from the 2017 and 2019 wildfires must include new public policy and grower initiatives to improve the economic security and general health of farmworkers.

Nine out of 10 Sonoma County farmworkers are employed in the wine industry. Farm labor analyst Don Villarejo examined the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2017 Census and calculated the average hourly wage for a county farmworker employed directly by a farm operator for at least 150 days was $15.43 an hour; the weighted annual average income of all farmworkers who were used by growers and farm labor contractors was $21,920–these figures are likely slightly higher today due to recent increases in the minimum wage and new overtime requirements for farmworkers.

The Department of Labor National Agricultural Survey reports that few California farmworkers are employed full-time in agriculture: on average, they work just 36 weeks annually. UC Davis economist Phillip Martin calculated that in 2015 the average California farmworker, employed primarily in agriculture, earned only $20,500 annually. Three out of four California farmworkers had only one employer, and just 15 percent crossed the border or migrated between California agricultural regions.

Farmworkers and their families are working poor, belonging to one-third of the county workforce that cannot make ends meet. According to the California Budget and Policy Project, in 2017, two Sonoma County parents working full-time had to each earn $23.00 an hour or approximately $81,000 a year to support two children and pay for necessities—food, transportation, childcare, rental housing, and medical care. This very conservative estimate came before the dramatic 35 percent spike of median rents in the county following the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

Precarious Farmworker Working and Living Conditions

In 2018, Sonoma County growers and farm labor contractors employed approximately 11,060 vineyard workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An overlooked 2015 Sonoma County Department of Health Services report, ‘Sonoma County Farmworker Health Survey,’ based upon interviews with nearly 300 county farmworkers, provides insights into the working conditions and health of county farmworkers:

  • Nine in ten vineyard workers surveyed were male, under the age of 40, born in Mexico and year-round county residents; 29 percent single; 24 percent married and living with a partner; 43 percent married and living with a partner and children.
  • Just 30 percent of the farmworkers had health insurance provided by their employer, the state, or spouse’s plan; less than 10 percent of farmworkers received employer-provided medical benefits.
  • Ten percent of the county’s farmworkers reported an injury or illness on the job, due to repetitive motion tasks, constant lifting, and bending, pesticide poisoning, or prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight; 13 percent lacked consistent access to shelter and shade from the heat.
  • Most Sonoma County vineyard workers lived in unsubsidized rental housing or apartments; 30 percent received some housing financial assistance from their employer, including 14 percent who lived in grower-provided worksite housing.
  • Housing is unaffordable for the vast majority of farmworkers; they pay 30-60 percent of gross monthly income in rent; and two-thirds of farmworkers lived in overcrowded housing due to the high cost of rental housing. Overcrowding directly impacts the physical and mental health of family members and the educational achievement of farmworker children.

A 2015 study by the Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy found that 60 percent of the 300 Ventura County farmworkers interviewed had experienced one form of wage theft in the previous year, and 23 percent had two or more thefts. Various types of wage theft include: paying for fewer hours than worked; paying less than time and a half pay for overtime; cutting back two legally mandated 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break; assigning work tasks before clocking-in or after clocking out.

The Wine Industry and Farmworker Health and Safety

In addition to low wages, high rates of wage theft, and lack of access to affordable housing, farm labor is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2017 farmworker fatality rate was far higher than police officers and construction workers, and nearly twice the rate of firefighters. Farmworker disability rates were three times greater than in the general population. According to the county Department of Health, 44 percent of local farmworkers self-reported their health as poor or fair – three times that of the whole population.

Of the numerous health and safety risks facing Sonoma County vineyard field workers, the most common are muscle-and-skeletal conditions—such as chronic back and neck strains and biomechanical injuries from bending, repetitive motion, the prolonged holding of awkward postures and heavy lifting. The county Health Department study points out that “cost or lack of health insurance were the main barriers to receiving needed medical care and medications.” If a worker lacks health insurance and cannot seek immediate medical attention, muscular-skeletal injuries may be aggravated and recovery delayed.

Accidents involving heavy equipment and transportation to and from work also are quite common. Exposures to heat, pesticides, and wildfire smoke—all now intensified by the climate crisis—are significant health hazards for vineyard workers.

Farmworkers and Pesticide Exposure

California and Sonoma County farmworkers—and often their families—are routinely exposed to a toxic pesticidal soup. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) estimates that Sonoma County farmers applied 2.5 million pounds of pesticides in 2017 and 93 percent of that total was applied to wine grapes.

In the early 1990s, the EPA estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 U.S. farmworkers were annually injured or became ill from on-the-job exposure to pesticides; the number of unreported cases is likely much higher given misdiagnosed and unreported incidents. Farmworkers suffer more chemical-related illnesses than any other workforce sector. Both the airborne drift from sprayed pesticides and residues on vines and soil directly affect farmworkers. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that many growers often do not post an adequate notice when fields are sprayed, neglect to enforce ‘no entry’ periods after pesticide applications, and fail to provide protective gear and pesticide safety training.

Also, the National Center for Farmworker Health estimates that the lack of bathroom and cleanup facilities at work put entire families at risk because farmworkers bring pesticides into their homes on contaminated clothes, shoes, tools, and skin. Aerial pesticide drift from the fields also can impact adjacent farmworker residential communities.

A 2012 study by the Council on Environmental Health documents high rates of asthma, childhood cancer, and abnormal neural development among rural farmworkers’ children. Sonoma County has the third-highest child cancer rates in California.

The herbicide Roundup, one of the most controversial synthetic pesticides, is a weed killer containing glyphosate—a chemical that the World Health Organization classified as a probable carcinogen in 2015. Scientific research has linked Roundup to such chronic health problems as infertility and birth-defects; attention deficit, autism, and other developmental disorders; neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s); respiratory conditions (asthma, chronic bronchitis); and cancers (non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate, and skin).

The CDPR reported that 62,543 pounds of glyphosate was applied to Sonoma County vineyards in 2017. That same year glyphosate was added to the California Proposition 65 list of known cancer-causing chemicals.

Roundup is also harmful to consumers’ health: in 2015, the nonprofit advocacy organization Moms Across America reported finding low levels of glyphosate in all ten of the well-known Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa wines tested (based upon testing by the commercial laboratory Microbe Inotech).

Sonoma County Conservation Action has initiated a grassroots Toxic-Free Future campaign to ban Roundup. The County of Sonoma and the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Windsor, Healdsburg, and Sonoma now prohibit Roundup application on public property such as parks, roads, schools, open space, and marinas. Dozens of other California counties, cities, school districts, and the UC system have approved full or partial bans of glyphosate. But the governor and legislature have yet to enact a complete ban in agriculture.

Farmworkers and Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire smoke has now become a challenging health hazard for county farmworkers. Seven of the ten most destructive wildfires in California have occurred in the last five years—three in Sonoma County. Wildfire smoke contains high levels of microscopic particulate matter that can affect cardiovascular health, reduce lung function, and increase the risks of respiratory disorders.

The legislature failed to act in 2019 to establish labor and health and safety standards for outdoor workers during wildfires. However, Cal/OSHA did implement a new rule in 2018 that requires employers to continuously monitor air quality during wildfires and take action when smoke reaches an ‘unhealthy’ level (150) on the Air Quality Index. Employers must attempt to reduce worker exposure to smoke by altering work hours or location; relocating employees to buildings with filtered air, if possible; or providing workers with N-95 respirators (that reduce smoke exposure tenfold) and training proper respirator use.

But respirator masks are uncomfortable and can impair breathing when used for hours at a time. Respirators also must be individually fitted and tested for maximum effectiveness, and may not fit over facial hair or broad facial features. Sonoma County health officer, Dr. Celeste Phillips, told Kaiser Health News that the best way for workers to stay safe is to limit time outdoors.

Most farmworkers are paid by the shift and cannot afford time off–particularly during peak harvest, which now extends into the dry, hot, and windy fall conditions most conducive to wildfires. Most farmworkers have no paid sick leave and are ineligible for unemployment benefits. Undocufund was established in 2017 by county labor, faith, and immigrant rights organizations to assist unauthorized immigrants harmed by the fires. According to North Bay Jobs with Justice Executive Director Mara Ventura, “one of the most common hardships for undocumented residents who need assistance is sudden income loss due to evacuation, lost workdays and/or job loss.”

In addition, the Sonoma County Department of Health reports that a majority of county farmworkers lack work authorization and more than 40 percent work for farm labor contractors, who determine their housing, transportation, and cash flow. Many farmworkers fear retaliation, deportation, and job loss; they are unlikely to change work conditions unless directed by the employer or to have N95 masks if not employer-provided.

Towards an Equitable and Sustainable Wine Industry

A sustainable wine industry is impossible in the North Bay without a living wage, comprehensive benefits, and dramatically improved working and living conditions for farmworkers.

To address runaway inequality and working poverty, 33 California cities and one county have implemented local citywide minimum wage laws higher than the state’s of $13/hr. for large employers and $12/hr. for small on January 1, 2020 (phasing-in to $15/hr. for all employers on January 1, 2023). Last year Petaluma approved a $15/hr. citywide minimum wage for large employers and $14/hr. for small employers on January 1, 2020. The Petaluma minimum wage will increase to $15 for all employers (plus a COLA) on January 1, 2021. Subsequently, Santa Rosa approved a citywide $15/hr. minimum wage on July 1, 2020, for large employers and $14/hr. for small. On January 1st, 2021, the Santa Rosa minimum wage will increase to $15/hr. for all employers (plus a COLA).
The Alliance for A Just Recovery—a broad coalition comprised of every major labor, environmental, immigrant rights and faith organizations in Sonoma County—proposes that the Board of Supervisors start by enacting a countywide minimum wage mandating $15/hr. for all employers on January 1, 2021 (plus an annual COLA), that will align a county $15 minimum wage floor with the two largest cities.

To also improve farmworker health and give farmworkers time off from work during hazardous wildfire conditions, the Board of Supervisors should approve a paid sick leave ordinance for unincorporated county areas, similar to 2006 legislation passed by San Francisco supervisors, which enables all workers to accrue up to nine paid sick days a year for preventive health or existing health conditions—or to care for ill family members. Sonoma County’s paid sick leave law should enable all outdoor workers to take paid time off when air quality reaches hazardous levels during wildfires.

In addition, during the region’s next air quality-impacting wildfire, vintners should strictly comply with the new California OSHA rule and prepare now to protect farmworkers from wildfire smoke—including training all workers to use N95 masks.

Lastly, winegrowers should immediately halt Roundup applications and join with local government, environmental organizations, and consumers to eliminate synthetic pesticides throughout Sonoma County. The entire industry should plan for the transition to organic and biodynamic wine production to protect the health of growers, workers, and consumers, and promote regenerative land management. Benzinger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, Preston Winery in Healdsburg, Hopland’s Fetzer Winery–and seventeen small Sonoma County wineries managed by Phil and Sam Coturri and Enterprise Vineyards–have already charted that course for others to follow.

The Sonoma County Winegrowers’ sustainability certification should include the Agricultural Justice Project’s social justice screen, to ensure “adherence to workplace standards that protect worker rights…and address fair wages and benefits for workers, housing, workplace health and safety, as well as children on farms.”

In 2018, the Press Democrat estimated the value of the North Coast grape harvest–including Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake counties–at a record $2 billion–and the farmworkers harvest at 588,864 tons of grapes, nearly one-third more than 2017. Sonoma and Napa counties produce most of California’s premium wines that yield the highest profits. Premium wine production is dominated by three global corporations including Constellation Brands, E and J Gallo, and The Wine Group. These companies have the resources to create an equitable and genuinely sustainable wine industry that can become a model for the entire world.

Martin J. Bennett is Instructor Emeritus of History at Santa Rosa Junior College and a member of North Bay Jobs with Justice. He served on the Sonoma County Conservation Action board from 2005 to 2015. Contact him at

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The field canvass for the Measure I campaign has begun and SCCA’s team of talented organizers have already contacted thousands of Sonoma and Marin County residents to get the word out about this important ballot initiative. SCCA has worked hard for alternative transportation solutions like the SMART train for decades because transportation is the largest sources of green house gas emissions in the county. By making smarter transportation decisions we can make a real contribution to the fight against climate change, locally. The SMART train and its 1.72 Million riders have already kept 8.1 Million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere.


Infrastructure can’t be built in a day. Real infrastructure must be supported and become part of the local culture and that takes time. Time and money. After Sonoma and Marin counties passed the quarter of a percent sales tax to support the SMART train the recession hit. The projected $455 million in revenue fell short and the tax only brought in $298 million over the last 10 years. SMART was able to bring in $328 million in regional, state and federal matching funds to get the project running, however, to keep it running and fulfill the promise of having a long lasting, modern train system we need to pass Measure I. Measure I will support SMART service to additional cities, increase the frequency of SMART trains, fund safety enhancements along the rail line, add additional parking to SMART stations, and build more bicycle and walking paths connecting SMART stations!

Vote Yes on I!

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Show up on THURSDAY to speak in favor of a more environmentally friendly and inclusive Local Coastal Plan (LCP)


The Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan (LCP) is close to our hearts here at SCCA. It was our founder, Bill Kortum, who made Proposition 20 and the Coastal Act possible through tireless work and advocacy that has protected our treasured coastline from environmental degradation and development over the last 40 years.


Our Local Coastal Plan is now in jeopardy and we need your help to speak up in favor of a more environmentally conscientious, culturally inclusive, and user friendly document.


The newly proposed LCP is inadequate in that it contains:

  • No restrictions on the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and lethal rodenticides
  • No prohibition of onshore support for offshore wind projects to support alternative energy while protecting Marine Sanctuaries
  • No climate change element
  • No social or environmental justice initiatives and inadequate consideration of tribal issues
  • No community engagement policy
  • No protection for forested areas, especially the redwoods in the floodplain of the Gualala River that are threatened with logging
  • No language to ban large-scale wineries and event centers on the coast. There is already more traffic on Highway 1 in the summer than it can handle, and tourists events out at the coast cause more greenhouse gas emissions than similar events near 101
  • No mention of the 10 Marine Protected Areas, which appear to be making strides bringing back fish stock
  • No ban ocean aquaculture of salmon, which harbors disease and threatens wild salmon
  • No mention of areas of future potentially sensitive habitat. Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas are listed in the update, but categorization of ESHAs have been eliminated


Regarding pesticide use, Los Angeles County and more recently, the City of Malibu, have successfully used their LCPs to ban synthetic pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and lethal rodenticides). It would be particularly meaningful to stop the use of lethal rodenticides in Sonoma County coastal areas as they are having large negative impacts on our raptors and other wild carnivores.

Please Come to this meeting and make your voice heard to protect Sonoma County Coastal Areas!

January 30th, 2020 @ 1:15 pm

Permit Sonoma

2550 Ventura Avenue

Santa Rosa, CA 95403


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Join Conservation Action Board and Staff for a Holiday Open House


Where: SCCA Office 540 Pacific Ave Santa Rosa

When: 5:30pm – 8pm Monday December 16th

Conservation Action’s Board and Staff are opening up our office on Monday, December 16st for an intimate holiday gathering. Here’s a top ten list of why you should attend the Conservation Action Open House:
10. Lite Finger Foods Prepared by SCCA, or Donated by Friends! (Feel Free to Bring Something to Share, But No Expectations!)
9. Wine and Beer!
8. Eco-Caroling! (A little scary to think some of us may break out in song, but tis the season!)
7. Cider!
6. Merry-Making!
5. Meet and Fellow Local Enviros and Celebrate the Season!
4. Christmas Raffle!
3. Santa might be there!
2. Elbow rubbing (it’s a small office!)
1. And the number 1 reason you should go to the Conservation Action Holiday Open House- It’s a party for YOU!
Come out and have a good time with us and get to know Conservation Action’s team of board volunteers and dedicated staff.

RSVP Here!

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1st District Supervisor

Susan Gorin

SCCA endorses Susan Gorin for First District Supervisor. Susan has long been a long time supporter of progressive ideals in Sonoma County. She is an advocate of city centered, transit-oriented development, and played a pivotal role in preserving more than 800 acres of open space at the now shuttered Sonoma Developmental Center for future generations. After losing her home in the Nuns Fire, Gorin took the lead on planning for the future around issues like redundant emergency alerts and creating a five-year plan to ensure the county is prepared for fires and other disasters. SCCA has long been impressed with her leadership, and is excited to support her bid for re-election. Vote Susan Gorin for 1st District Supervisor

3rd District Supervisor

Chris Coursey

SCCA endorses former Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey for 3rd District Supervisor. The endorsement decision was not an easy one.  SCCA had previously endorsed both Coursey and his opponent, incumbent Supervisor Shirlee Zane, in their prior bids for elected office, and both candidates had strong records of supporting environmental values. But after multiple candidate interviews, and much discussion, Conservation Action decided that Mayor Coursey is the right person to represent Sonoma County on the Board of Supervisors.  His positions on greenbelt protection, urban infill and transit-oriented development, SMART, and sustainable vineyard and winery practices strongly align with our organization’s values. We appreciate his open leadership style, independence, and commitment to transparency and citizen engagement in government decision-making.  While we deeply appreciate Supervisor Zane’s 12 years of dedicated service to our community, Chris Coursey is our choice in the March primary. Vote Chris Coursey for 3rd District Supervisor.

5th District Supervisor

Lynda Hopkins

SCCA endorses Lynda Hopkins for Fifth District Supervisor.  While our organization didn’t support Supervisor Hopkins in her first bid for elected office in 2016, she has more than earned our support for her re-election campaign.  Supervisor Hopkins is aligned with Conservation Action’s values, is focused on critical issues, and is thoroughly knowledgeable and engaged.  She is mindful of the need to protect rural spaces, was the driving force behind the synthetic pesticide ban at the county level, and is establishing herself as a champion of climate protection.  Vote Lynda Hopkins for Fifth District Supervisor.

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By Neal Fishman, SCCA Board President

Life sometimes takes strange twists and turns. For instance, how does a city boy from the Bronx end up as a leading Northern California environmentalist and a critical member of the SCCA board? It’s a good story and we’ll let you in on it. But first, a very big thank you to David Keller, said city boy, for his years of service to SCCA, Sonoma County and much of the rest of Northern California. David left SCCA’s board this year after 18 years. We owe him our respect and gratitude and very much miss his insights at our monthly meetings.

David grew up in the Bronx in the same congressional district now held by Alexandra Ocasio
Cortez. His family lived in a lively area of high rises that were well planned to provide more than just a place to live. There were parks and community centers, public transit, and small retail stores. It was one of the first planned high-rise communities in the country. Its goals were to provide a good quality of life for everyone, not just specific families within their own domiciles. This stuck with David and is one of the keys to how he feels about Sonoma County and its problems and opportunities.

After graduating from City College of New York with a double degree in sociology and social psychology and a minor in art David left the Bronx and headed for advanced study in Ann Arbor, Michigan, eventually getting a job as a social worker in Detroit. As he tells it, this was his last straight job and it didn’t last long. Oregon and then California beckoned.

Carpentry and woodworking were his goals in Oregon but the economy in the early seventies provided few opportunities. Landing in Oakland he decided to seek new skills at the California College of Arts and Crafts and then UC Berkeley. Neither had wood working classes of any note and CCAC cost a mint, and at that time David barely had enough money to buy a package of mints. But he was told of a master woodworker living in Bolinas, Arthur Espenet, who might consider having a student.

He visited Espenet, who it turned out was just about to undertake a major project for the Smithsonian, outfitting the then new Renwick gallery. David had found a master who he then convinced to “hire” him for the princely sum of nothing. But he didn’t have to pay him either. He worked there for three years. But after a few months he was taken on as a paid employee making a living wage at the time, $3 and hour. He became a skilled wood worker and carpenter, his goal, but also made wood working tools. He devised a special jig for creating dove tails in larger thicker furniture pieces. Selling these tools and making furniture became his livelihood.

Bolinas was and is a town of often brilliant but iconoclastic individualists. David fit right in and became involved in local issues. He spearheaded the permanent opening of the beach in town and repair of the infrastructure protecting it. He supported a development moratorium based on water supply. These, and other issues, meant dealing with bureaucrats, permits and even a local election. The social worker turned wood worker was becoming an environmental activist.

After a few years David and his wife Allison moved to Petaluma where his activism blossomed over issues related to a local creek, the local sewage treatment plant, the Petaluma River, the county water agency, and eventually the Eel and Russian rivers. These all remain issues that David cares about and is active in. It didn’t take long for Bill Kortum to ask David to join the SCCA board in the late nineties. He also served a term on the Petaluma City Council. For all of his nearly 20 years on the SCCA board David was a thought leader and a tough activist. He is proud of SCCA’s role during those years promoting the SMART train, urban growth boundaries, the Ag and Open Space District, and a fix for Santa Rosa sewage treatment dilemmas.

In a way, the city boy has come full circle. The differences in his interests and life in the Bronx and eventually in Sonoma County do not loom so large today. David recounts that even in his New York days, water was always an issue and solace to him. His later work in Marin and Sonoma counties has included much thought and effort about water supply and public access to water. His experience living in a well-planned community in the Bronx informs his opinions on what types of development should be promoted in Sonoma County. His New York local hero, Jane Jacobs, got her spurs battling the powerful and legendary Robert Moses who tried but failed to put a freeway through the center of Manhattan, which would have destroyed much of the city. Jacobs powerful rebuke of Moses as well as David’s own social activism flowed easily into environmental activism in later years.

David may have left the SCCA board, but he will always remain a supporter and a firm environmental voice in the entire region. Now, along with his long-standing interest in water, David will be concentrating his concern on making sure that the rush to build new housing for all income levels is done with the same kind of care that was put into those high rises in the Bronx. He recounts a story about a conversation he had with a Berkeley architect about how long buildings last. What we do today will be with us for generations. If we don’t require development to provide space for public amenities, there won’t be any, for generations. He also recounts an encounter with a group of Japanese carpentry masters who came to California during his Bolinas days to rebuild a dismantled temple that was sent as a gift. Each member of the crew from Japan was not only a master carpenter but they each came from generations of such masters. Their skills were unmatched because of this long tradition. David stands for the long view in Sonoma County. He stands with future generations as well as our own time. He stands for an economy, where skill, craft, environmental restoration, and public goods have a key and honored place. To a great degree this is the essence of SCCA’s mission and we will continue to seek David’s guidance in the coming years.

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SCCA was hoping to see Rohnert Park become the 8th city in Sonoma County to stop using synthetic pesticides in publicly accessible areas last month but the meeting was cancelled. At the last minute, three of Rohnert Park City Councilors were unfortunately unable to attend. The Rohnert Park Pesticide Vote has been tentatively postponed until September 10th.

A HUGE thank you to the ~100 dedicated residents and concerned citizens who came out to the meeting! Please make plans to come again on Sept. 24th and speak in support of a Toxic Free Rohnert Park.

In the meantime please reach out to the Rohnert Park City Council urging them to vote in support of the health and safety of Rohnert Park’s public spaces.


City Manager Darrin Jenkins:
Mayor Gina Belforte:
Vice Mayor Joseph Callinan:
Councilmember Susan Hollingsworth Adams:
Councilmember Jake Mackenzie:
Councilmember Pam Stafford:


The Staff report put forward by the RP City Manager projects a significant increase in landscaping cost. We believe that it’s absolutely possible for Rohnert Park to make the transition to non-toxic landscaping with minimal cost increases, especially because all of the work is being done in-house. All of the local entities that do their landscape maintenance in-house and switched to all or mostly organic methods have seen very little or no cost increases.


Examples of cities and city agencies that have gone Toxic Free without significant cost increase include:

The Sonoma County Agencies‘ synthetic pesticide “ban” that passed last June that keeps synthetic pesticides out of most publicly accessible areas came with no associated FTE or cost increases. Regional Parks does all of their landscape maintenance in-house and their workers are under the same union as Rohnert Park’s public works employees.
Sebastopol stopped using synthetic pesticides (except in emergency cases) in 2000 and their landscape budget did not increase as a result. Sebastopol does all of their landscaping in-house.
Santa Rosa City Schools does all of their landscape maintenance in-house. They did not ask for a budget increase when the school board voted unanimously to stop using synthetic weedkillers in January 2018.
Cotati estimated that switching to organic weed killers would cost an extra $1,500-2,000/year. Cotati uses a landscape contractor for all of their maintenance. 
Healdsburg stopped using synthetic pesticides in parks and other publicly accessible areas in 2017 and did not ask for a budget increase. Healdsburg uses a landscape contractor. 
The City of Sonoma stopped using glyphosate (the only synthetic weedkiller they were using) in April 2019 with no associated cost increase.
Santa Rosa Water stopped using synthetic pesticides on their urban facilities in 2015 by doing a simple product swap (stopped using RoundUP, started using an OMRI/organic product). This change came with no budget impact.
City Council in Santa Rosa voted unanimously last fall to instruct their landscape contractor to stop using synthetic weedkillers and use only OMRI/organic chemicals. This change came with no budget increase.
The only local example I have of landscape costs going up by large magnification factors when adopting non-toxic practices is in Windsor. This is partially because the city is asking the new contractor to be responsible for more work than the previous contractor, but there must be other factors. Windsor relies heavily on landscape contractors. 
Switching to nontoxic landscaping for Rohnert Park will likely mean more than just swapping out products. It will require taking a fresh look at current practices, eliminating the tasks that don’t make sense, and trying new things. It’s extremely difficult to estimate how much this all will cost, which is mostly likely why some  initial cost estimates come out so high. As synthetic pesticide-free park maintenance becomes more common locally, we’ll get a much better idea of its true cost. For now, we must implore Rohnert Park leadership to see the value in removing synthetic pesticides from public spaces and believe that the Public Works staff is capable of rising to the challenge.


Past Toxic Free Future Successes!

8/13/19 Cotati City Council votes to ban glyphosate and to prepare a plan to ban all synthetic pesticides on city property.
6/4/19 Sonoma County Supervisors ban synthetic weedkillers on publicly accessible County-owned land
1/5/19 City of Sonoma bans glyphosate on city-owned land
9/5/18 Town of Windsor bans all synthetic pesticides
8/22/18 Santa Rosa bans synthetic pesticides in city landscape contract
1/8/18 Santa Rosa City Schools ban synthetic herbicides
5/1/2000 Sebastopol becomes the first city in Sonoma County to ban synthetic pesticides