Jun 042014
 
Your Sonoma Valley Sonoma Mountain Preservation

Photo by Megan Clouse Photography

The Sonoma Valley is truly amazing for a variety of reasons, and in my opinion one the most significant reasons is the balance of small town modern life with the beauty of nature found throughout the valley.

I have been fortunate to call the Sonoma Valley home for the majority of my life. My grandparents moved to Sonoma in the 1940’s. My mom was born in the Sonoma Valley Hospital. My two boys were born and raised here as well and both graduated from Sonoma Valley High. The point of all that, I have seen some changes in the valley during my life. But no matter what those changes may have been, good or not so good, I could always look west and rely on the consistent strength and beauty of the mountain…Sonoma Mountain.

I grew up spending large chunks of my childhood with my aunt and uncle who lived on Sonoma Mountain, just behind the Sonoma golf course. My cousin Erik and I would go for endless hikes imagining all that the mountain had to offer. We were pretty young and would always set out alone with our packed lunches, usually filled with chips, sodas and candy bars to keep us fueled for the miles and hours we would spend as we explored. We were pretty sure we would come across a dinosaur at some point, to our disappointment, after many years of hiking, that never happened.

Megan Clouse Photography

Photo by Megan Clouse Photography

Now that I’m slightly older I can see what makes this valley work so well, it’s called balance. On one hand you have the busy hustle and bustle of downtown Sonoma and the Hwy 12 corridor. Tourists from around the world making their way in droves up and down the valley sipping and exploring all of the world class wineries that the valley has to offer. To counter balance this activity we have the quite beauty of Sonoma Mountain watching it all, offering comfort and stability to the sometimes craziness of the valley floor. It’s a wonderful and integral piece of the Sonoma Valley and our home just wouldn’t be the same without the simplicity and natural beauty of the mountain.

I love the Sonoma Valley and all of the things that make this place so special. From epic July 4th parades around the Sonoma Plaza to the magical smell of crush as summer ends and fall begins.

But if I had to pick a favorite way to spend my mornings and evenings, it would without a doubt be with friends looking up at the mountain as the sun rises and sets on this beautiful place we call home.

Mike Clouse is the founder and managing editor at Your Sonoma Valley, a blog and media site dedicated to helping people live and enjoy the Sonoma Valley Lifestyle.


Photography by Megan Clouse Photography

This post is the first installment of the “Why I Love The Mountain” series of guest posts from local Sonoma residents on SonomaMountain.org –  Thank you Mike for your contribution and we encourage readers to like Your Sonoma Valley on Facebook and follow Mike on twitter at @mikeclouse

Apr 072014
 

For over 100 years the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) near Glen Ellen has provided a safe and secure place for the developmentally disabled. Now SDC faces certain closure by the State. The only question is how long the institution will remain open.

An impressive coalition of stakeholders is working proactively to preserve the 800 acres of undeveloped land and find creative ways to serve the remaining population. The coalition grew out of ongoing efforts by environmental groups to save the only remaining wildlife corridor left in the Valley, and by the parent group to ensure care for their family members.

What Is the Status of SDC?

A moratorium on admissions has reduced the population served at SDC approximately 500 people who are the most fragile or have multiple impairments. SDC is the largest employer in the Valley, including many workers with skills found nowhere else in the state.

SDC wildlands

SDC wildlands

SDC’s lands connect Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the eastern   slopes. SDC is the linchpin. Its valley floor lands are largely undeveloped. SDC covers 1000 acres, including the 200-acre footprint of buildings and 800-acre wildlands.

Some of the several hundred buildings in the footprint of SDC are architectural gems. Some are medical clinics and labs, Some are the resident’s homes. Some serve as schools, sheltered workshops, and recreational centers. SDC also includes a farm run for the clients, and two community-used fields for soccer and baseball. The area is laced with trails that have been used for a century by generations of Valley residents. Two lakes store water for irrigation and client use.

Future use of these buildings is a concern of the coalition. Numerous options for an expanded health facility for people with special needs are being discussed, and will be proposed to the State.

Who Is the Coalition?

Coalition members include the Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma Mountain Preservation, the Parent Hospital Association, the County Economic Development Board, the Sonoma County Water Agency, Labor Representatives from the Center, a former Director at the Center, Medical personnel, Jack London Park representatives, Sonoma County Health Services, and District Representatives from the Offices of Senator Noreen Evans, Assembly member Yamada, and Representative Mike Thompson. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin leads the effort. The group meets monthly.

Coalition members have been working closely with Department Directors in Sacramento, attending meetings, and keeping a close watch on developments. Senator Evans has introduced SB 1428, a bill to protect the wild lands. More bills are in the hopper.  Sonoma County Supervisors will soon receive a briefing on the ongoing developments.

Past Citizen Efforts Saved Open Space

In 2000, State plans to surplus some acres of old SDC orchard for a vineyard lease or certain sale to developers prompted a general meeting of citizens in Sonoma Valley. Led by SMP and other local groups, several hundred people with strong commitment to preserving SDC upper lands convinced then State Senator Mike Thompson to introduce a bill to ensure that the upper lands would be saved for open space. Over 600 acres of undeveloped lands at SDC were deeded between 2000 and 2002 to State Department of Parks and Recreation, which then added these acres to Jack London State Historic Park.

In the coming months there will be a community meeting to engage support for the efforts of the coalition. We invite you to join in the effort we know is to come!

By Diane (Mickey) Cooke  

Dec 282013
 

On Saturday, November 2, 2013 the Sonoma Trails Council with a volunteer work party of 40 sponsored by REI  spent time readying the East Slope trail for final work in March 2014 when the trail will be constructed. After a morning clearing brush the volunteers were rewarded for their hard work with burritos provided by Chipolte.  Thank you to everyone who came out and to the wonderful businesses that supported the effort.

sonoma mountain trail volunteer
sonoma mountain volunteer work day
sonoma mountain trail restoration
download-12
sonoma mountain preservation work trail
sonoma mountain volunteer work day rei chipotle
download-16

Dec 092013
 

sonoma developmental center trail jack london sonoma mountainSonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is the oldest facility in California established specifically to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. It opened to 148 residents on November 24, 1891, culminating a ten-year project by two northern California women who had children with developmental disabilities, then referred to as feeble-minded. Private owners donated the land for that purpose.

Since then the facility at Eldridge has undergone four name changes and has expanded several times. As anyone who has hiked southeast from Jack London State Historic Park will know, you can now clamber down through the orchard once used by and for SDC clients. But it almost wasn’t so.

In the mid-90s the state decided that the farm on the upper acres could no longer benefit the increasingly infirm residents, so the old orchard and other upper wooded areas, reaching to the ridgeline of Sonoma Mountain were declared surplus property to be sold for any purpose. One local vineyard owner sought the land for grape growing with some proceeds dedicated to support the disabled.

In February 1996, over 200 citizens attended a meeting chaired by then state senator Mike Thompson and organized by SMP. A strong majority of attendees supported keeping the lands in its current state and adding them to adjacent Jack London Park.

For the next five years local and state agencies planned, re-planned and re-thought options for the more than 600 acres. In addition to Thompson’s office and SMP, the county Open Space District got involved. Eventually the state moved from advocating the sale for vineyard use to sale for multiple purposes (including housing) to, ultimately, transfer of the entire acreage to the state Parks Department for expanding Jack London Park. SMP veterans advocated vigorously throughout this time for the open space option.

In 2001, thanks largely to then Assembly member Pat Wiggins, negotiations between state agencies got underway and reached conclusion with SMP members, among others, at the table.

Isn’t it time to take a walk?

Dec 092012
 

sonoma mountain oak tree What does it take to build the kind of trail Bill Kortum envisions for his grandson? Mainly, it takes access to land and permission of property owners. The more property owners, the most challenging it may be to assemble a pathway for future generations, to let them experience the majesty of the mountain and be inspired to care for it.

Right now nine owners hold parcels of 600 acres or more each within SMP area of interest on Sonoma Mountain. Altogether they own approximately 8500 acres, mainly for agriculture. In some cases the owners may want to retain title and current uses in perpetuity; in others, as people age and consider their options, land will change hands, be divided up, and options for more development will be exploited.

Landowners who place conservation easements on large swaths of their land can protect it for watershed, habitat and recreation. Maintaining critical wildlife corridors will help ensure that we do our share to protect at-risk and endangered species that need the mountain to survive, and to give young Willy a place to hike.

Dec 012012
 

sonoma mountain sonoma developmental center SDCIt’s no secret that the Sonoma Developmental Center – one of only four such large residential care facilities left in the state – may close down in the not too distant future. SDC’s website shows 523 clients now live there; the state has been shuttering these facilities when the populations drop below 500. Families of residents want the facility to stay open so their relatives don’t have toe leave the bucolic and relatively safe environs. But the state may be forced to hut SDC down and relocate remaining clients to comply with the 1969 Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act.

Local Sonoma residents have expressed concern, not only for the sake of these clients, but also for the welfare of the lands that SDC encompasses. What will the state decide to do with the property when it no longer serves SDC’s needs?

At a recent gathering at the Sonoma Ecology Center, which rents space on the SDC campus, a dozen individuals and representatives of organizations, including the Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, the county Agriculture and Open Space District, SMP, county parks and state parks, talked about this critical property.

Why is it critical? SDC sits on the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a vital connection identified and described by the Sonoma Ecology Center. Some of the last available open space for endangered and at-risk species to migrate from Sonoma Mountain east to the Mayacamas crosses Sonoma Valley through and adjacent to the state-owned facility. Recently, the Bay Area Critical Linkages project (sponsored by the Bay Area Open Space Council) identified this habitat corridor as a top priority wildlife link in the Bay Area.

When the state decides it can no longer maintain SDC in its current configuration and at its current cost, the land may be declared surplus property and potentially sold or leased for development. Family members of SDC clients have begun to explore options for an alternative development that would meet the requirements of the Lanterman Act, enable clients to remain on the land, and provide revenue to the state by adding a variety of marketable components.

Creating a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections – for a wildlife corridor, watershed preservation, traffic mitigation, and public access – would be the optimal outcome as these and potentially other concerned groups begin to grapple with the future of this keystone property.

Nov 012011
 

For over a decade the slopes of Sonoma and Taylor mountains have been covered, not only in homes and fields and woods, but by a set of development guidelines that restrict the visual impact of new residences. IN 2011 the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved revisions to the design guidelines and extended them to include the southern slopes of the Mayacamas.

The guidelines apply to single family dwellings, appurtenant structures such as garages, guest houses, storage buildings, etc. and to related roadways, grading sites and utilities. They do not apply to agricultural structures or uses nor to structures that do not require a building permit.

They are intended to reduce the visual impact of development. Guidelines include site planning, architectural and landscaping elements. Site planning constraints include, for example, locating structures so they are screened by existing vegetation or topographic features when viewed from a public road. Architectural guidelines address exterior color, glazing (non-reflective) and night lighting, while landscaping guidelines cover plant species, re-vegetation scale and density.

SMP had a major role in getting county approval and implementation of the initial guidelines and, this time with the assistance of land planning consultant Nancy Dakin, again pushed for approval of the revised and expanded requirements.

This coming year SMP will produce and distribute the guidelines in an easy-to-understand pamphlet which will be available through real estate offices as well as the PRMD office.

For more information, in the meantime, contact
PRMD
22550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, 95403,
707-565-1900
www.sonoma-county.org/prmd.

sonoma mountain preservation journal

sonoma mountain logo

Nov 012011
 

Have you recently heard the roar of a tractor or the clanking of a cement mixer in a nearby wooded area where you know no houses exist? Do you suspect that something is going on there without a permit from the county Planning and Resource Management Department (PRMD)?

Here’s how to check it out. You will need either the address of the property or the APN number.
Then go on line to the Sonoma County PRMD, click on Permit History, write in the address or APN number where indicated to find out if the property owner has applied for and received a permit. Some permits may have been issued in the past and are either closed out (project completed) or are timed out and no longer valid.

If you discover that work is going on without a permit, call PRMD (565-1900), choose #5 from the menu for Code Enforcement and leave your name and contact telephone number. If you prefer not to have the owner whom you suspect of doing work without a permit know that you have looked into the project you can explain your concern on the phone to PRMD.

Should you fail to get assistance from PRMD, call your District 1 Supervisor Valerie Brown for the east side of Sonoma Mountain or District 2 Supervisor David Rabbit for the the west side of the mountain and describe the problem. Both can be reached at 565-2241. PRMD has less funding now than in the past and even then enforcement did not get the attention some of us would like.

In meetings with PRMD management, SMP has brought violations to their attention, and attempted to support the agency in any way appropriate for a volunteer group.

You can help, too, by staying vigilant and observing development that seems inappropriate, for example over scale, or being done without a permit visible on the property. Preserving a mountain takes all of us.

xsonoma mountain logo

Nov 012011
 

sonoma mountain horse fence Home owners, farmers and wild life cohabitate on our mountain, but not always congenially.
Old barbed wire fences, new deer fences, wooden fences built for privacy: all of these can have negative and often lethal effects on wild animals. Animals need to travel, to find food, water, and mates, and to escape predators, diseases, and fire.

All of these factors shift their location over time, and the animals must shift in response.
Many, if not most, parcels on Sonoma Mountain have fences that block wildlife unnecessarily. You don’t need an eight-foot fence to delineate property boundaries; a privacy fence can be built to let small animals pass under it.

Before you build, study your property and identify the plants, wetlands, meadows, and waterways. Learn which creatures pass through. Search the web for “wildlife friendly fencing.”

Allen Buckman, an upland biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, provided these suggestions for wildlife-friendly fencing:

  • Try to keep most of your property as a natural habitat. Use deer-proof fences only around gardens, vineyards, or other deer-sensitive areas.
  • Native habitats, and particularly streams, should only be fenced with open fencing that allows animal passage.
  • Graduated or field fencing should only be used around cow-calf operations, dog runs, and other areas where the young cannot escape through the fence. Such enclosures should be located away from streams and not encompass large areas of native habitat.
  • When deer try to jump fences, they frequently pick up the top wire with their hind foot, becoming hamstrung. To alleviate this, place any two fencing wires a minimum of 10 inches apart. Use smooth top and bottom wires. Allow 12 to 18 inches above the ground so fawns and other small mammals can pass.
  • Place gates in corners so animals can be driven out. Deer will run past an open gate in the middle of a wall!
  • Work with your neighbors to provide corridors of 100 feet minimum for wildlife.

sonoma mountain logo

Oct 092009
 

sonoma mountain preserve

Back in September 2008, as the economy moved closer to the brink, not much was happening on the local real estate front besides foreclosure sales.  But one opportunity quietly emerged that launched a frenzy of activity and a lot of optimism in a generally economic time.

The opportunity also gave leaders in SMP a chance to create a wonderful story with a happy ending, through teamwork, old friends working together, their daughters learning to work together and the cooperation and coordination of public agencies and on-profits.

The opportunity arose when a 287-acre parcel near the summit of Sonoma Mountain known as the Stevenson Ranch came up for sale. Kirsten Lindquist, an agent for Sotheby’s in Sonoma, learned of the offering by accident, but immediately recognized the enormity of the chance to obtain and preserve this property for use by the public.

She informed her mother, Mickey Cooke, long time resident and founding member of SMP. Mickey told Kirsten to call Mickey’s childhood friend and fellow SMP leader, Pat Eliot. Pat, busy packing for a hiking trip in Europe, quickly called her own daughter, Wendy Eliot, conservation director for the Sonoma Land Trust. And so it began.

Ted Eliot, Pat’s husband and campaign manager for the recent ballot initiative that renewed funding for the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District (OSD), got on the phone to Andrea Mackenzie, then general manager of the OSD; Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust and Valerie Brown, supervisor for District 1. Everyone recognized how special this opportunity was.

Over the next two months, while the economy crashed and most of us struggled to confront the holidays with reduced resources, Wendy and Andrea worked intensely to put together a deal that would satisfy the seller who demand the sale close by the end of the year. It was an unusually tight time frame for a conservation sale, which, as in this case, usually involves financing from more than one source. And financing options were shrinking.

Through long hours, diligent negotiating, a persuasive case for the public good and the trust and bonding that comes from old friendships and shared passions, they made the sale and the deadline.

Kirsten served as the buyer’s agent (a condition imposed by the seller) and then donated $50,000 back to the Land Trust.

Mickey and Pat cheered their daughters on, added historic information to help make the case for funding and delighted in the new alliances being formed in the process.

Wendy and Andrea developed the strategy and negotiated carefully, coming up with $125,000 from the Land Trust for an initial deposit, and then $8.45 million from the Open Space District and $1.5 million from the California Coastal Conservancy. The final piece from the conservancy was the last check issued by the state before its funding freeze took effect; the deal was a cliffhanger to the end.

Now, the mountaintop where Mickey Cooke and Pat Eliot rode their horses as young women in the 1940s has been saved forever as open space by their daughters in the first decade of the 21st century.

The acquisition engaged senior personal in the agencies and non-profits in a way they hadn’t previously experienced, leading to the possibility of future collaborations.

 

~Margaret Spaulding