Do Gasoline and Meaningful Climate Policy Mix?

By Woody Hastings

As regular readers of the Gazette may recall,an article about a huge gas station proposed for Highway 116 and Stony Point Road was featured in the April edition. That article by Jenny Blaker helped spark a community uprising that culminated on July 8 with the developer withdrawing the application. Many people and organizations were instrumental in this success both before and after the April Gazette article, and we thank them all.

While we are celebrating the termination of that proposal, we remain concerned about two other gas station proposals. One of them, in Petaluma, has been permitted by that city, and is now being fought in court. It is a David v. Goliath struggle being waged by the “No Gas Here” coalition against the huge corporate developer, Safeway. The other, at Highway 12 and Llano Road, is wending its way through the Sonoma County permitting process. In this case there is still an opportunity for the community to weigh in.

The proposed station at Highway 12 and Llano Road is in unincorporated Sonoma County, just east of Sebastopol, smack dab in the middle of the Laguna de Santa Rosa with gasoline fueling, carwash, and minimart, all on a well. In no way does the applicant make a case that this project is necessary. That is because it is not necessary. There are 7 stations within a 5-mile radius of the project address, 5300 Sebastopol Road.

The City Council of Sebastopol, to their credit, wrote a letter unequivocally opposing the project on the grounds that it is in a rural area that functions as a community separator with historically agricultural and rural residential uses and that the project is in conflict with countywide commitment to city-centered growth. They also cited concerns about traffic congestion and adjacency to the Joe Rodota trail. The city requested to be kept apprised of the development and that request has not been honored.

Add to that the fact that the proposal is in a priority groundwater basin and underground fuel storage tanks are always at risk of leaking. The location is in the Laguna de Santa Rosa within California tiger salamander Critical Habitat. There are plenty of other reasons to have concerns.

But the real zinger is this, Sonoma County has a well-established record of commitments in response to the climate crisis stretching back nearly two decades to 2002 with a resolution committing the County to reduce greenhouse gases from internal operations. This was followed with further actions in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Then in 2009 the County and all nine cities formed the Regional Climate Protection Authority to coordinate countywide climate protection efforts. Most recently, in 2018, the County adopted the “Climate Change Action Resolution” to pursue local actions that support goals including “encourage a shift toward low-carbon fuels in vehicles and equipment” and to “switch equipment from fossil fuel to electricity” -https://rcpa.ca.gov/ . Our County leaders appear to be committed, and rightly so, to meaningfully and effectively responding to the climate crisis.

Now it is 2019 and in Sonoma County we are facing new gasoline station proposals. How is this possible in a County with such a commitment to responding to the climate crisis? Permitting new gasoline stations makes a mockery of these past efforts.

The main problem we have here is an outdated 20th century county permitting process in a rapidly changing 21st century where we are facing ever more obvious consequences of two centuries of fossil fuel burning. The rules need to be changed. All of these applicants are jumping through the permitting hoops they have been asked to jump through and in doing so, according to the rules, once permitted, should arguably be able to build their soon-to-be obsolete fueling stations. But in order to be consistent with existing County climate and clean energy policy, these proposals must be denied. In fact, the effective result of the policies that have been adopted by Sonoma County since 2002 should, if taken seriously, result in a prohibition of the construction of any new fossil energy-based facilities or infrastructure in Sonoma County unless some kind of clear community need is demonstrated.

In the wake of Petaluma City Council’s reluctant vote to permit the station in their city, they instituted a temporary moratorium on any new gas stations that “would allow for a period of consideration and discussion regarding options for potential new legislation regarding new gas station uses.”

This is a call that a similar moratorium be instituted by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for any proposals not already filed. Further, until the permitting process as it relates to fossil energy infrastructure is overhauled, all new gasoline station proposals in Sonoma County, that in the normal process might be approved at a sub-Supervisorial level, be brought before the full Board of Supervisors.

The time to speak up is now. Submit comments to the appropriate parties:

The Highway 12/Llano Road proposal will next be considered at the Board of Zoning Adjustments. It could come up as soon as August 8. Send Comments to: Daniel Hoffman dhoffman@migcom.com and arielle.kohn@sonoma-county.org and copy your County Supervisor and Supervisor Lynda Hopkins of District 5, where the project is located: lynda.hopkins@sonoma-county.org For more info visit: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Board-of-Zoning-Adjustments/

For more info and to find out how to help stop the construction of new gas stations in Sonoma County, contact woodyhastings@gmail.com 707-829-3460

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