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A Look Back

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) system has seen significant progress in its bid to provide efficient and eco-friendly transportation solutions for the region’s inhabitants. Since its inception, the rail system has achieved remarkable milestones, including extending its reach and enhancing connectivity.

The significant accomplishment of extending the rail service to Larkspur marked a pinnacle in SMART’s ongoing efforts to improve and expand. This milestone highlighted the potential of SMART to seamlessly integrate towns and cities within the region.

Bridging Communities: SMART’s prior commitments, like the separated bike lane on Rowland Boulevard completed by Novato and the path segments between Rice Drive and Second Street finished in 2019 and 2020 by San Rafael and SMART, have continually worked towards making the region more connected and accessible.

Current Endeavors

This year, there’s a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm for what the future holds:

Pathway Projects: The train system isn’t just about carriages and tracks. SMART’s vision extends to the bicycle and pedestrian paths that run alongside it. This summer will witness the inception of a $4.5 million project to close a gap in the bicycle and pedestrian path in northern San Rafael. Not only will this connect neighborhoods to the parks and the Civic Center train station, but the introduction of a new pedestrian bridge over Las Gallinas Creek is also a testament to SMART’s commitment to holistic urban mobility.

Financial Planning: SMART’s proposed budget reflects its commitment to pushing forward with growth. The $110 million earmarked for the 2023-2024 fiscal year is a notable jump from this fiscal year’s projected $77 million. A majority of this increase ($41.6 million) is allocated for imminent rail and path construction projects.

The Future Vision

While celebrating its past and being keenly engaged in the present, SMART has an eye on the future:

Extensions on the Horizon: The train line’s vision of a 70-mile rail line from Larkspur to Cloverdale is getting closer to realization. With the Windsor extension about 30% complete, SMART is actively sourcing funds to ensure its completion by 2025. Beyond Windsor, the goal to stretch to Healdsburg is also well underway with $78 million already secured.

Boosting Ridership: A reflection of its success, SMART’s general manager, Eddy Cumins, has set ambitious targets to not just match but surpass pre-COVID ridership numbers. The aspiration is to elevate the annual ridership to 717,000, a goal rooted in optimism backed by recent performance.

Expanding Scope: Beyond passengers, SMART also recognizes the importance of freight, even though there are financial challenges in this segment. The agency’s efforts to seek flexibility in using state grant funds and exploring ways to secure new freight customers underscore its commitment to ensuring the freight line’s viability.

In conclusion, the SMART system, in its drive to connect communities and offer sustainable transport solutions, continues to evolve. The past achievements set a solid foundation, the present projects showcase its commitment, and the future promises innovations that will further reshape the transportation landscape of the Sonoma-Marin area.

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On December 12, the Board of Supervisors revisited the Oak & Tree protection ordinances that will give broad legal protections to our county’s trees and oak woodlands. We are so thankful for the community sending in letters, emails, and coming out to show their support for these critical ordinances at the meeting.

Despite our work towards the passage of these landmark ordinances, the Board of Supervisors has decided to delay their final vote until next year to allow for further deliberation. While this postponement is certainly a setback in our ongoing efforts to secure vital protections for our county’s forest resources, it’s important to recognize a significant achievement that emerged from this meeting.

In a notable move, the Board passed a moratorium on the cutting of trees and oaks across Sonoma County. This interim measure is a critical step in safeguarding our natural environment, albeit temporarily, until the ordinances are revisited. The moratorium allows for certain exemptions, primarily focusing on fire preparedness and the removal of hazardous trees.

We acknowledge and appreciate the support of the majority of the Supervisors in passing this moratorium. It is worth noting that all Supervisors, with the exception of Supervisor Rabbitt, voted in favor of this interim protection. This decision, though not the complete fulfillment of our advocacy goals, is a testament to the power of community action and the importance of persistent advocacy.

As we look forward to the next year, we remain committed to our mission of ensuring the enactment of the Tree and Oak Protection Ordinances. We believe these ordinances are essential for ecological integrity, fighting climate change locally, and preserving the natural beauty of Sonoma County for current and future generations.

We encourage our members and supporters to stay engaged, continue voicing their support, and prepare for the next phase of the fight as we work towards securing a sustainable future for our county’s precious natural resources.

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California’s storied history of environmental leadership is punctuated by its constant battle with prolonged droughts and the challenges they bring. Historically, in a bid to combat these water shortages, synthetic turf emerged as a stop-gap solution, offering a green facade with seemingly minimal water requirements. Its low-maintenance and water-saving benefits made it an attractive option for school districts and municipalities alike. This perspective was coodified during the tenure of then Governor Jerry Brown, who supported a law prohibiting cities and counties from banning synthetic grass.

However, as more information surfaced about the potential environmental and health risks of synthetic turf, especially the harmful presence of “forever chemicals” or PFAS, California’s priorities began to shift. These chemicals, linked to severe health risks and environmental contamination, became a cause for concern among health experts, environmentalists, and the community. Addressing this rising concern, Assembly Bill 1423 was introduced, aiming to ban PFAS in artificial turf. Many anticipated that Gov. Gavin Newsom would provide a decisive response against these harmful chemicals. However, in a twist, Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, citing concerns over regulatory compliance and enforcement.

Yet, in a strategic move echoing the state’s dedication to genuine sustainability, Governor Newsom approved Senate Bill No. 676, introduced by state Sen. Ben Allen. This pivotal legislation undoes the earlier Brown-era prohibition, allowing local governments to discourage synthetic grass and instead promote drought-tolerant landscaping using water-wise plant species. In the bill’s text, it is clear that California recognizes the pressing need to address long-term water conservation and the impacts of climate change. While drought-tolerant landscaping is emphasized, it distinctly excludes synthetic turf from its definition. By doing so, the bill allows cities to prioritize natural, living solutions that don’t come with the baggage of potential chemical contamination.

Sonoma County Conservation Action and various environmental groups now have a clear path to promote sustainable alternatives to synthetic turf. These initiatives symbolize California’s ongoing commitment to informed decision-making and the importance of adapting policies in response to new, vital information. As California continues prioritizing natural, sustainable solutions for its landscapes, it offers lessons to other regions. The state’s journey underscores the significance of balancing immediate benefits with long-term implications and the value of continuous evolution in environmental policymaking.

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As we barrel towards the end of 2023, we also run headlong into a jam-packed election year in 2024. Because the Presidential Primary (save us all) come to California early, Sonoma County’s Supervisorial primaries are also held this coming March. There are three districts on the ballot – District 1 (Susan Gorin), District 3 (Chris Coursey), and District 5 (Lynda Hopkins). All three candidates have been previously endorsed by Sonoma County Conservation Action. While Coursey and Hopkins are running for re-election, Gorin has announced her retirement and endorsed Rebecca Hermosillo to replace her. Coursey has drawn an opponent in his first re-election, and has Sonoma County Conservation Action’s strong support in that race. Retaining Chris Coursey will be one of our focuses in the coming March election.

In contested Supervisorial races, if no candidate receives a majority of voters, a runoff election will be held in November. 

City Council elections in November will be far more extensive, with a majority of Sonoma County’s Mayors and Councilmembers up for re-election or election. The above chart shows the seats up for election in each jurisdiction. Currently, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Sebastopol and Sonoma all have a majority of councilmembers who were previously endorsed by SCCA. There are 19 seats that SCCA needs to defend in this coming election to maintain these majorities, while picking up key seats in other jurisdictions. As always, our Board of Directors and Advisory Board members will be helping to recruit, train, and support environmental candidates – and while it feels like it’s a year away, the reality is that planning has already begun. 

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Donate to SCCA so that our dedicated staff can fight for candidates and issues important to the environmental movement
  2. Volunteer to walk, phone, and text for candidates
  3. Volunteer to join our advisory committee and help us to evaluate votes and issues
  4. Run for office! We always need a group of dedicated public servants willing and able to serve.

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In January 2023, two community groups filed a lawsuit against an environment impact report (EIR) that allows large scale redevelopment at the former Sonoma Developmental Center. The lawsuit seeks to protect wildlife from out-of-scale development and humans from a flawed report on wildfire evacuation.

Here is a summary of some key issues.Adjacent to extensive wildland and parks, SDC is a pinch-point in a critical wildlife corridor that supports the movement of mountain lions, bears, bobcats and many other animals within the Sonoma Valley and as far as Marin and Lake Counties. Lions regularly use the area in and around the SDC. Because lions select tree cover and dense vegetation, Sonoma Creek running through the SDC is of utmost importance for movement of lions as well as other mammal species. Sonoma and Mill Creeks both have salmonid and other special species.The SDC plan proposes 420,000 sq. ft. of commercial including hotel, and 1,000 residential units. This means about 2,400 people will overlap with wildlife on the site.

Unfortunately, the EIR failed to do baseline studies on the wildlife and failed to provide long term protections for the wildlife corridor or ecology of the area. The wildfire evacuation report is also flawed. Evacuation to congested Highway 12 is the plan. The report declared that adding 2,400 residents and about 1,000 jobs to the site would have virtually no impact on travel time. That defies logic as well as the real-life experience of thousands of Sonoma Valley residents     desperately attempting to evacuate during the 2017 Fires and the 2020 Glass Fire. While efforts have been made to improve the evacuation process, minimizing the possibility of lengthy evacuation times is not safe or acceptable.Find more information about the  SCALE lawsuit at SCALE (scaledownsdc.org), and please consider making a tax deductible donation to the lawsuit.

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This November, Sonoma County Conservation Action supports Damon Connolly for the 12th Assembly District
The 12th district is currently represented by Assemblymember Marc Levine, who chose to not run for re-election and instead threw his hat in the ring for Insurance Commissioner. He lost. But meanwhile, the newly formed 12th Assembly District had moved on to a very competitive race between four Democrats in the June election. In the primary, two candidates emerged for the November runoff: Supervisor Damon Connolly and Coastal Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh.
Sonoma County Conservation Action is, at its core, a grassroots organization that believes that local voices should be centered in all our efforts. Both candidates have placed the environment as the foundations of their campaigns for the Assembly, and in that regard, voters in the 12th Assembly District are guaranteed to have a representative who understands the urgency of addressing climate change. We are grateful for this, and we applaud grassroots environmental advocates for helping to shape this debate and push forward those critical issues. With both candidates being strong champions of the environment, this endorsement process was a deep and thoughtful discussion.
In this head-to-head matchup in November, after examining voting records, campaign donations, policy positions, and interviews, Sonoma County Conservation Action supports Damon Connolly. Damon has been a thoughtful, accessible representative who has a proven track record and voting history of working on our behalf to advance environmental issues. We will be well-served with him as our Assembly member.
Assembly District 12
Assembly District 12
Damon Connolly 
Damon Connolly has spent his entire political career advocating for the environment and has repeatedly highlighted the urgency of addressing climate change – as a school board member, City Councilmember and Supervisor. As Vice Mayor in San Rafael, he helped author and advocate for Marin County’s first Climate Change Action Plan and was a co-founder of Marin Clean Energy, a Community Choice Aggregator that has not only allowed Marin jurisdictions to make a noticeable dent in their carbon emissions, but has helped fuel the movement in other jurisdictions (such as Sonoma County with Sonoma Clean Power). He has a record of fighting to preserve and restore open space, ban single-use plastic bags and takeout food containers (before it was in vogue), and every year does a “Ride with Damon” program where he spends a month using only public transportation and his bike to highlight the deficiencies in our public infrastructure and to encourage people to get out of their single occupancy vehicles.
Damon has a history of taking on big-monied interests. As a Supervisor, he has pushed back on offshore oil drilling, and as a Deputy Attorney General, Damon was part of the team that took on the out of state power companies that gouged ratepayers during California’s energy crisis including Enron.
Sara Aminzadeh 
Sara Aminzadeh was appointed to the Coastal Commission in 2017. She is an attorney and prior to running for office was the vice president of partnerships at the US Water Alliance and the Executive Director at California Coastkeeper Alliance. Sara has an impressive body of work as an advocate for the environment and has built a campaign largely around climate change. Sara provided thoughtful answers to our questions and it is clear she has studied deeply on some critical environmental issues. However, being new to the district, she has less experience working on our local issues than her opponent and her voting record on the coastal commission has been decidedly mixed.
As an example, Sara was the swing vote to advance a controversial proposal to manage the mice population on the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary by using helicopters to seed the area with 3,000 pounds of rodenticides. Sonoma County Conservation Action has worked hard to partner with local elected officials and organizations – such as our good friends at Sonoma Safe Ag, Safe Schools – to reduce the use of poisons in our critical public areas and ecologically sensitive open spaces. Damon opposed the plan and has helped lead the charge to ban roundup/glyphosate throughout the County of Marin.
Follow the money 
By virtue of their professional backgrounds, an interesting dynamic has emerged in this race. While their total dollars raised and spent thus far is strikingly similar (with nearly $600,000 raised by both candidates as of their last campaign filing), Damon has been the candidate with support from within the district. 59.1% of his total dollars raised come from people who live in the 12th Assembly District. His average donation is $910.38 per donor. Sara, on the other hand, has received 25.52% of her campaign dollars from the people she seeks to represent. Her average donation per donor is $1,049.59.
Likewise, with some notable exceptions, Damon’s endorsements largely come from local elected officials and organizations. He has the support of three of his four colleagues on the Board of Supervisors and four of the five Supervisors in Sonoma County. Sara’s endorsements are more broadly based, with endorsements from the Lieutenant Governor, the State Controller, and numerous state Senators and Assemblymembers. She also has support from Congressman Jared Huffman.

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SCCA Endorsements 2022

State Legislature

US Congress

County Supervisor

District Attorney

Sherriff

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The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report tells us what we already know: our climate is changing, and local communities like ours are already feeling the sting. We must continue to elect leaders who won’t just play lip service to environmental concerns, but can push past tired excuses to support the types of substantial change we need. This coming June, voters will be asked to cast their ballots, and we’re urging you to use your vote to elect environmental champions. Today, we will focus on one of the few competitive races in the County.

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors – District 2
Sonoma County Conservation Action is proud to support Blake Hooper for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, district 2 seat. Blake is the challenger – but with significant experience. Blake currently serves as a Petaluma Planning Commissioner and is a legislative aide for the California State Senate. Blake has previously worked in a community role for Congressman Jared Huffman as well. For full disclosure, Blake Hooper is a member of the Sonoma County Conservation Action Board of Directors, though he obviously did not participate in the endorsement process. It did, however, underscore for our membership that his commitment to environmental issues isn’t a campaign talking point, but rather work that he actively engages in. 
Anyone following his campaign on social media will quickly recognize two things: first is what an aggressive campaign he’s running – working day in and day out to really hear from constituents and talk about their issues. The second is how he’s centered equity in every aspect of his campaign.

 

Running against an incumbent is always an uphill battle. And yet, Blake boasts a very impressive list of local endorsements – including the last three Mayors of Petaluma, the last two Mayors of Rohnert Park, and the current Mayors of Cotati, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, and Sebastopol. In fact, Blake is supported by a majority of City Councilmembers in every city that the 2nd Supervisorial district encompasses. The people who most rely on strong relationships with their County counterparts….support the challenger over the known commodity. He is also supported by the Sonoma County Democratic Party, the Sonoma County Green Party, California Young Democrats, North Bay Labor Council, and Sierra Club.

 

The incumbent, David Rabbitt, has a long track record for voters to consider, particularly when it comes to transportation. He is the current Chair of SMART, serves on the Golden Gate Transit Board, and is the former Chair of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and Regional Climate Protection Authority. And in fairness to the incumbent, after nearly twelve years on the Board of Supervisors, David can rightfully tout some of the progressive accomplishments that have been realized by county government. We question, however, whether he was a leader on important environmental and social equity issues or a passenger along for the ride. David is largely regarded as the most conservative member of the Board, and as such, his voice has been absent from some key conversations, such as 2020’s Measure P, which sought greater transparency and accountability from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office. Our membership has also found him inaccessible. 

County leadership matters, and whether you live in District 2 or not, the decisions made by the Board of Supervisors will have significant impacts on the future of our region. We strongly urge you to support Blake Hooper for Supervisorial District 2 by walking, donating, and voting.

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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!