Category Archives: News

Protecting ag land in Sonoma County

by Marc Bommersbach

Jackson Family Wines is proposing to convert a parcel of farmland at the corner of River and Slusser roads to a 50-room “eco” resort with restaurant, spa, pool and event center. The resort is part of a larger project that includes a winery at the same location as the resort and a residential subdivision in Wickiup.Because the proposed resort does not comply with the zoning code or the county’s general plan policies designed to protect farmland, the Board of Supervisors will have to vote to revise the general plan and zoning code to allow the resort to go forward, in effect overriding these policies and regulations.

Due to the unprecedented effort to convert a parcel of farmland in the middle of an agricultural area, a coalition of environmental and community groups including the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, Sonoma County Conservation Action, and Preserve Rural Sonoma County among others sent a letter to county officials requesting they signal that such a request by a developer is not likely to receive a favorable ruling.

The letter states: “Sonoma County has overwhelmingly voted for multiple initiatives to protect our precious open space and ag lands – urban growth boundaries, community separators, and tax increases to purchase land and development rights. Rezoning this parcel of prime farmland to commercial zoning flies in the face of the will of the people and the carefully-designed protections in our zoning code and General Plan to prevent such conversions.”

This proposal represents a frontal assault on the protections Sonoma County voters have put in place to prevent sprawl and protect open space and ag land and would set a dangerous precedent and encourage more conversions of farmland to commercial development.

The county recently began work on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, however, the county’s own planning staff in a letter last year indicated that they could not support the project because “the development of a 50-guest room inn and related facilities is in conflict with a number of policies and inconsistent with the Plan’s principal goals to preserve agricultural land.”

It is important to promote Sonoma County’s agriculture and sustainable practices, and its ag land can accommodate wineries, wine tasting, organic gardens, educational events, farm retail and more to support ag tourism. But hotels belong elsewhere. With nearly 500 wineries, mostly located in agricultural areas, there are more than ample existing venues to showcase Sonoma County’s agricultural bounty and heritage.

There is a concern that if this project gets approved, it will open the door for any other developers and winery owners to pursue rezoning their property for resorts, further commercializing our rural and ag lands.

Please let our county officials know that rezoning our ag and rural land for commercial development that belongs in urban areas should not be allowed. Below are the e-mail addresses of the supervisors.

1st district supervisor Susan Gorin –
2nd district supervisor David Rabbitt –
3rd district supervisor Chris Coursey –
4th district supervisor James Gore –
5th supervisor district Lynda Hopkins –

You can view the full letter sent to the Board of Supervisors here.

Activists protest plans for gas pumps at new Rincon Valley 7-Eleven


The Santa Rosa Planning Commission will need to approve the company’s plans before any work on the project can occur and has not put 7-Eleven’s proposal on an agenda, said city planner Adam Ross.

7-Eleven’s plan to demolish one of its east Santa Rosa stores and several surrounding buildings to build a sleek new convenience store and add gas pumps has sparked opposition from activists who oppose new fossil fuel outlets in Sonoma County.

Texas-based 7-Eleven aims to replace the existing shop at Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road with a new 24-hour convenience store and at least six gas pumps, according to an application filed with Santa Rosa planning officials.

Designs call for demolishing the store, a martial arts studio and at least one adjacent home, forcing longtime tenants to find another place to live.

To local climate activist Woody Hastings it doesn’t make sense to displace a family to make way for fuel pumps, noting that the Santa Rosa City Council weeks ago formally declared a climate crisis.

“If we’re going to extricate ourselves from the fossil world, we’ve got to start now,” said Hastings, who was leading about two dozen protesters outside the 7-Eleven on Monday. They held signs and chanted their opposition to the proposal.

7-Eleven in 2017 bought a chunk of land surrounding its store including an adjacent house occupied by a family. Company officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the redevelopment plans. 7-Eleven has more than 70,000 stores worldwide and 11 in the Santa Rosa area.

The company plans to hold another neighborhood meeting to “address concerns,” said Kim Barnett, director of national programs for Tait & Associates, a Rancho Cordova-based firm working with 7-Eleven on the development of the new store and gas station, in an email. She did not provide a date for the meeting.

Barnett described the Rincon Valley project as “a state of the art 7-Eleven” with “fresh foods,” featuring charging stations for electric vehicles and solar power. Though plans call for a car wash, Barnett said “there will be not be a car wash.”


To love the coast we had to save it

Richard Retecki and Carol Benfell, Sonoma County Gazette

Public involvement is also essential in tracking coastal plan permits and approvals, plan development and implementation and its local and cumulative impacts throughout the county coastal zone. The 1980 Local Coastal Plan had 95 people serving on nine citizen advisory committees and hundreds more were involved.

It’s taken the efforts of hundreds of people, organizations and government agencies, working together for more than sixty years, to preserve our magnificent, dynamic, and unique Sonoma County coast.

Now the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan, an integral part of that decades-long preservation effort, is being revisited by county officials, and changes will be made. It will be important to be watchful and mindful that we do not lose what so many have fought to save.

Some of our coastal parks date back 90 years, to the very first days of the State Parks system — the 19-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Beach, one of the most visited state parks in California; Fort Ross Historic State Park, Kruse Rhododendron Reserve and Salt Point State Park.

In 1962, Doran Beach in Bodega Bay became the first county park to be created for public use. Gualala Point, Westside Park and Stillwater Cove followed Doran Beach as county coastal parks.

One of the biggest threats to the coast – and county residents — came when Pacific Gas & Electric in 1958 proposed a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head, right on top of the San Andreas Fault.

Bodega Bay residents fought back, led by Rose Gaffney and Hazel Mitchell, joined quickly by brothers Karl and Bill Kortum, and forestry student David Pesonen.

Their efforts launched a four-year-long public and legal battle, joined by The Sierra Club, The UC Marine Lab at Bodega Bay, and others. In 1962, PG&E reluctantly abandoned its plan. Watch Bill Kortum talk about the battle to save Bodega Head

At about the same time, plans were underway for massive housing developments along the coast. In the mid-1960s, the Jenner Bay Corporation proposed a 1,100 acre, 2,000-home project, with condominiums at Goat Rock, a golf course at Shell Beach, and a shopping center and Safeway at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 116. A 3,600-acre large lot subdivision was slated for Willow Creek.

Read the rest at

Favorable ruling for No Gas Here

The Petaluma Safeway gas station proposal is still in the courts. On Oct. 21 there was a final ruling in Sonoma County Superior Court that:
• Safeway must wait on all demolition and construction until the matter is fully settled by the court.
• Save Petaluma has a case and can move forward to hopefully get an Environmental Impact Report.

This is a favorable ruling and good news. The full ruling is available here.

After this ruling, Safeway filed a writ of petition, claiming the judge’s decision was wrong. Long story short, the judge gave Save Petaluma another month and set a date for Jan. 23 to go over the administrative items and set to a date for another hearing. Safeway continues to try and get the case thrown out.

For the latest check:

Coalition persists against new gas station proposals in Sonoma County

Woody Hastings and Jenny Blaker, Sonoma Group

There are now at least three active new gas station proposals in Sonoma County. The Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations is asking Sierra Club Sonoma Group members to help flag newly emerging proposals as the mission is to oppose any new gas stations in the face of the climate crisis. Here is the rundown:

PETALUMA: Corner of Maria Drive & South McDowell Boulevard
The Petaluma Safeway gas station proposal is still in the courts. On Oct. 21 there was a final ruling in Sonoma County Superior Court that:
• Safeway must wait on all demolition and construction until the matter is fully settled by the court.
• Save Petaluma has a case and can move forward to hopefully get an Environmental Impact Report.

This is a favorable ruling and good news. The full ruling is available here.

After this ruling, Safeway filed a writ of petition, claiming the judge’s decision was wrong. Long story short, the judge gave Save Petaluma another month and set a date for Jan. 23 to go over the administrative items and set to a date for another hearing. Safeway continues to try and get the case thrown out.

For the latest check:

UNINCORPORATED SONOMA COUNTY: 5300 Sebastopol Road (Highway 12 & Llano Road)
This proposal for a 12-pump gas station, car wash, mini mart, RV storage yard, with three large, above-ground fuel storage tanks is still slated to be on the agenda at a future Board of Zoning Adjustments meeting. Regularly scheduled meetings are on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays at 1 p.m. every month. Special meetings may also be calendared, but we have been assured of receiving 30 days’ prior notice regardless of the date, as there will be a CEQA hearing (which requires 30 days’ notice) concurrent with the BZA meeting.

The main thing needed right now are letters to the Press Democrat and other local papers. For the PD, email letters of no more than 200 words to Include your full name and home city for publication.

For other local papers—Bohemian, Gazette, Sonoma West Times & News, etc.—please visit their websites for instructions. Important note: we are purposely not providing a template letter. We have reason to believe that planning commissioners and others are discounting letters that appear to be from the same template. All you need to do is write a brief letter in your own words that says you are opposed to the gas station.

SANTA ROSA: Elm Tree Station874 N. Wright Rd.
The Coalition only recently learned of this proposal, thanks to Terri Moon. By the time this edition of the Needles hits the street, a public hearing on the proposal will have taken place on Dec. 12. The notice for that meeting describes the project as a “minor subdivision to create a park site and retail parcel for gasoline, electric charging station, and a neighborhood market.” The application was filed by Dhillon Mangal (File # – CC18-004).

Once again, we have a proposal for a new gas station in the Laguna, adjacent to the Joe Rodota Trail, in this case with a whopping 14 operational gas stations within five miles. This is due to the fact that the site is near the downtown core of Santa Rosa. Also of note in this case, the facility would be constructed on undisturbed land, increasing the urban footprint of the city for a purpose that runs counter to Santa Rosa’s climate action commitments.

The contact person at the city of Santa Rosa is Adam Ross, city planner, 707-543-4705 or Additional information can also be obtained at the Planning & Economic Development Department at Santa Rosa City Hall, 100 Santa Rosa Ave., Room 3 during the following times:
• Mon, Tues, Thur: 8-4:30pm
• Weds: 10:30-4:30pm• Fri: 8-12pm
The staff report and attachments related to this project are available as of Dec. 12 at

Please send comments and questions to woodyhastings [at] The coalition will next meet on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the Sebastopol Grange from 6 to 8 p.m.

Hope for our climate begins with you and me

Randal MacDonald, Redwood Chapter Chapter Climate & Energy Committee Chair

Here in the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, we are developing the Climate Protectors program, and we invite you to get involved. Please join the climate conversation by signing up for our discussion group at:

It can be rather daunting to realize the historic significance of the times we are living in. You and I were born into an era in which the future of humankind — indeed the future of life on Earth itself — is being put at greater and greater risk by humanity’s increasingly harmful impacts upon our precious planet.

As the United Nations reported in November, civilization is failing to meet the goals for reducing our fossil fuel pollution that we set in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. The consequences of our global warming can already be seen all around us, and things will only get worse, especially if we fail to act now by dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate clock is ticking.
Continue reading Hope for our climate begins with you and me

The endless battle to save our Sonoma Coast: Keeping an eye on the Local Coastal Plan update

Tom Roth, Redwood Chapter Conservation Chair

Link to Permit Sonoma’s Local Coastal Plan Update page.

Very few people are familiar with Rancho Del Mar, a place no longer found on Sonoma County maps. It was a sprawling sheep ranch — 5,200 acres — running 10 miles along the northern Sonoma County coast. But when a development company purchased the land in 1963, and renamed it Sea Ranch, it sparked a battle not resolved until 1981 and resulted in the nation’s strongest coastal protection law.

Sea Ranch was envisioned as residential development that blended in with the crashing waves, tall grasses and redwood-studded hills. Yet it engendered legal battles with consequences far beyond its vast ocean horizons. Thanks to the efforts of former County Supervisor Bill Kortum and a merry band of environmentalists calling themselves COAAST, court victories locally increased public participation in planning processes, cut the size of the development in half and eventually secured public access to six Sea Ranch beaches. Statewide, COAAST and an alliance of environmental groups scored even bigger, passing Proposition 20 in 1972, which created the first Coastal Commission.

Four years later, the state legislature passed the Coastal Act, making the Coastal Commission permanent and providing a framework for counties to create their own Local Coastal Programs to ensure permanent protection of the coast’s historic and biotic resources.

The Coastal Commission certified Sonoma County’s first Local Coastal Plan (LCP) in 1980. Three times in the 90s and in 2001, the LCP was updated to reflect changes in the county’s General Plan. The current LCP update process actually began in 2001 and may be completed this summer. Now the public is invited to comment on a Public Review Draft prior to it going to the supervisors (see meeting dates above).
Continue reading The endless battle to save our Sonoma Coast: Keeping an eye on the Local Coastal Plan update

Local jurisdictions must protect Urban Growth Boundaries

Teri Shore, Sonoma Group

The best way to ensure climate-healthy, wild-fire-safe, diverse and affordable communities is with voter-approved Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB). A UGB is simply a line around a city beyond which urban development is not allowed without approval of the voters.

As we decide how to face climate change, extreme weather and a housing crunch, we need to double down on climate-smart growth near jobs and transit and protection of natural land and water. The Urban Growth Boundary is a proven and critical tool for doing so.

Yet, pressure to sprawl is mounting from developers, some housing advocates and a few elected officials who say that we must choose between protecting natural lands and building housing. It is an outdated and false choice. We can and must do both in climate-smart ways.

The State of California is certainly on our side. The governor and legislature are pushing for climate-smart growth across the state with more funding for affordable homes and mandates to develop neighborhoods close to transit, jobs and schools. Sprawl into the greenbelts is nowhere in the policy mix, yet it many places it continues to spread. That’s why local activists are gearing up to defend UGBs city-by-city and county-by-county and gathering signatures to put new UGBs before the voters.
Continue reading Local jurisdictions must protect Urban Growth Boundaries

Letter from Sacramento – New Year’s Resolutions

Kathryn Phillips, Director, Sierra Club California

We’re less than three weeks from the end of this year and this decade. The approaching year end makes me start thinking about resolutions.

I love resolutions. Especially if I’m not the one forced to keep them.

So to indulge my resolution-making delight, without bearing the burden of resolution-breaking guilt, I decided to make a few resolutions for others.

For Governor Gavin Newsom: Resolve to end your unhealthy bromance with the Westlands Water District and the State Water Contractors. Those dudes keep trying to lead you down a dark tunnel where only bad things happen.

For the biomass incineration industry: Resolve to stop pretending you are a clean renewable energy source. You’re not. You simply smoke too much. There are better ways to deal with brush and dead trees (read our report here for ideas).

For Sierra Pacific Industries, the biggest private logging company in California: Resolve to be a little less greedy. You don’t need to cut all the trees in the forest, and especially not all at once. Clearcutting is unbecoming.

For PG&E: Resolve to do better. At everything. Fast.

For the solar energy industry: Resolve to get along with organized labor. We hate being stuck in the middle while our friends argue with each other.

For truck manufacturers
: Resolve to follow the leaders, like BYD and Volvo. Go electric.

For the California Air Resources Board: Resolve to resist intimidation and keep pushing technology to improve and polluters to clean up. Lots of slings and arrows are flying your way, especially from DC and from one particularly grumpy state legislator. California’s breathers are depending on you to stay strong.

For road improvement planners
at city, county and state transportation agencies: Resolve to completely embrace complete streets. That cyclist who needs a safe lane could be your kid.

For the methane gas industry: Resolve to get real. You aren’t a bridge, you are a problem. The sooner you realize that, you’ll be happier and find other work.

For environmental advocates everywhere: Resolve to have shorter conference calls, less often.

For Sierra Club members
: Resolve to volunteer in a political campaign. The outcome of the 2020 election will profoundly affect the planet. Walk precincts. Work phone banks. Write postcards. Any and all of these activities will affect what we are as a state and country and whether we can move forward and do better for everyone.

For everyone: Resolve to get outdoors more. Including during the holidays. Reach out to your local chapter for outing opportunities.

Peace to all of you. See you in the next decade.

Warning: County rushing to approve Local Coastal Plan with insufficient time for public input

By Preserve Rural Sonoma County

“Know the coast as the geographic soul of California. You can’t take our relationship with the [California] coast for granted because it took a lot of sweat, blood and tears to preserve it so we have what we have today. These things didn’t just happen. The coast is what it is because a lot of people worked really hard and sacrificed to protect it. And if we want it to be there for our children, we have to keep fighting to protect it. In that way, the coast is never saved, it’s always being saved.” Peter Douglas, past Executive Director, California Coastal Commission.

Four years ago, a citizens group provided input on the Local Coastal Plan (LCP) draft and met with planners in Timber Cove to express concerns and were told their input would be included in the next iteration of the LCP. This input was completely ignored and left out of the current draft.

The County is trying to push this through for a final vote before giving adequate time for the public to digest this document and provide meaningful input that can be incorporated into the final version. It’s a long and very important document that will have effects for years to come.

Please take action. The public needs time to review.

Local Coastal Plan Update
On September 26, 2019 Permit Department posted the current 2019 Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Update. It is substantially revised and merits rounds of public workshops that have been proposed for October and November.

The timeline proposed for public comment prior to the revised draft being heard before the Planning Commission has not been clearly defined. This is now a complex 400 page document with critical policy issues. The suggested timeline is insufficient. The first LCP, drafted over 20 years ago, had 95 people working on it, including 5 technical scientific committees, 4 citizen committees, and a few other categories. It took them 4 years to create protections for this unique region.

It is important that adequate time be provided to ensure “meaningful public participation” and provide citizen input that can be incorporated into the final version, which is mandated in the Coastal Act.

The LCP is a large document and a critical one for the Sonoma Coast as it is THE document that controls all future development for 55 miles of the Sonoma Coastal Zone and ensures equitable public access to the coast and protection of critical coastal resources (including environmentally sensitive habitat areas). It is the controlling document for the Coast going forward and we will have to live with/by this document for the foreseeable future.

We deserve to be allotted the time and the public participation process
commensurate with the document’s critical importance to the future of the

Get Involved – Please Take the Following 2 Initial Steps:
1. Take the PRMD LCP Survey to request that workshops and written comment period is provided for and ask for at least 4 months to allow for comment. Get on the mailing list for LCP updates such as schedule of workshops or hearings by going to and in the right column there is a “Follow Us” link where you can submit your email address.
2. Email cc Lynda
Hopkins: and Coastal Commission
Stephanie Rexing: . Begin by stating why protection of the Sonoma Coast matters to you and then request that there be meaningful public participation in the LCP update process as required by the Coastal Act. Ask that the following provisions be made for the comment period:
a) Adequate time is provided to the public to review the Updated Local Coastal Plan prior to public workshops that are scheduled (minimum of 4 months from date of release – September 26th, 2019)
b) That the County schedule a minimum of 5 public workshops – 3 on Coast in Bodega Bay, Timber Cove, & Sea Ranch and 2 inland and that these be held after the 4 month period to allow the public to digest and research the issues. Staff has had 5 years to do this and now it is our turn to get into the details.
c) Ask that the County form an Advisory Committee to the Coastal MAC (Municipal Advisory Committee) made up of a variety of citizens from throughout the County who have expertise in land use, ocean policy, conservation, affordable housing, fire safety, Agriculture issues and water quality. (For the original draft of our Local Coastal Plan there were at least 5 Technical Advisory Committees formed, each made up of 8-12 citizens with expertise in the above listed areas. No such committees have been formed for this current updated LCP.)

Thank you for taking action and sharing.