Nov 21, 2017
by Teri Shore, Greenbelt Alliance
As I write this, the ground is wet and the clouds dispersing after the first rains. Not long ago, the landscape was on fire and smoke was everywhere. Now Sonoma County is recovering, rebuilding and restoring our communities and landscape. Our world has shifted again.
Treasured open space lands such as Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Hood Mountain Regional Park, and Trione-Annadel State Park were burned by the fires. They remain closed for now, but Jack London State Park is unscathed and open free until year’s end. Time for a hike!
In the Mayacamas above Sonoma Valley, the golden light of late fall revealed a mosaic of charcoal, yellow and deep green. While the burned areas were extensive, from the Valley floor it was hard to tell. To be honest, the landscape was gorgeous.
Our landscapes will survive and thrive in most places. After all, California’s flora and fauna evolved with wildfires over centuries, though not necessarily at this level of intensity. Some naturalists are predicting an unprecedented wildflower display in the Spring.
The immediate challenge comes from the rains and coming storms. Sonoma County land protection agencies and organizations are already at work preventing soil erosion and reducing stormwater runoff. They are also looking toward the next fire season and building resiliency for long-term climate change and more extreme weather.
The Tubb’s fire blasted through the wooded hillsides of Fountaingrove, down through the community separator at Larkfield-Wikiup, and into the Coffey Park neighborhood inside the Urban Growth Boundary.
Tragically, the Cloverleaf Ranch in the community separator burned and lost several structures. The long-time Sonoma County family who own it is already planning to rebuild and raising funds with a GoFundMe site. The land next door where a luxury resort is proposed also burned, but who knows what will happen there now. Maybe there is a chance to reconnect it to the summer camp?
While community separators and the UGB didn’t stop the fires, without them the losses may have been worse if sprawl had overtaken the green buffers. We need them more than ever.
Of course, the first step in rebuilding is to ensure that homeowners can rebuild as soon as they are ready. We need to support homeowner and neighborhood options to rebuild their houses to contemporary codes or innovate together. At the same time, it makes sense to rebuild in a more fire and climate resilient way wherever possible.
Local experts in renewable energy and green building are already investigating ways to leverage existing and new incentive programs to assist homeowners in rebuilding greener, energy efficient, more fire resistant homes and structures.
The risk of fire in the wildlands-urban interface (WUI) areas such as Fountaingrove is well known. The eerily overlapping maps of the Tubbs Fire and the 1964 Handley Fire are eye-opening. One approach for reducing the number of people living in harm’s way is voluntary alternatives to rebuilding in fire-prone areas such as buy outs or transfer of development rights.
The housing crisis that we had before the firestorm is now exacerbated by the loss of nearly 3,000 homes or about 5 percent of the housing stock in Santa Rosa alone. The City and the County have passed urgency ordinances to provide temporary housing such as RVs and trailers to get people back into their homes. Vacation rentals and farmworker housing are being opened up temporarily for displaced fire survivors. Granny units and junior units are getting streamlined permits and fees waived.
The City of Santa Rosa has already passed an urgency housing ordinance that allows for quick permitting for rebuilding the same or larger home or structure with simply a sign off by the planning department without the usual public review. The new homes generally must be built to current fire and building code.
Over the next few weeks and months, the County of Sonoma and all of the cities will be proposing new urgency ordinances for replacement and new housing and construction.
To be resilient, if there is a new wave of construction, to be resilient, it must be contained within Urban Growth Boundaries and unincorporated areas with existing water and sewer and not sprawl into community separators, greenbelts or agricultural lands.
Initiatives to accelerate new housing and development must be in city centers and along the SMART line near jobs, schools and shopping. Affordable housing must be prioritized and existing thresholds maintained or increased, not reduced. Bike paths and walkways and connections need always be included.
We don’t need to sacrifice sensitive habitats or endangered species such as the precious California tiger salamander for development if we do it right!
Urgency ordinances passed by cities and counties must maintain environmental, public health and safety, affordable housing and growth policies and include public review and input.
Please joinGreenbelt Alliance to learn how to utilize the new online tool Bay Area Greenprint, that makes it easy for us to view and quantify the natural resource values that are so important to protecting open space, agricultural lands and planning good development! Read more here: https://www.greenbelt.org/bay-area-greenprint/
Bring your laptop, we’ll provide coffee and light breakfast! FREE
SANTA ROSA: Thursday, December 14 9:00am-12:00pm
Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District
747 Mendocino Ave # 100, Santa Rosa RSVP is kindly requested
You are encouraged to engage with the tool at bayareagreenprint.org before the event, and provide comments or questions.
The Bay Area Greenprint is a collaboration of The Nature Conservancy, Bay Area Open Space Council, American Farmland Trust, Greenbelt Alliance, and GreenInfo Network.
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