Jan 062024
 

The Urbanization of Sonoma Mountain

By Will Shonbrun

A sailor on horseback

“I ride over my beautiful ranch. Between my legs is a beautiful horse. The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am filled with dreams and mysteries.” —John Barleycorn by Jack London, 1913

In 1905, Jack London, acclaimed author, world traveler, foreign correspondent, farmer, socialist, humanist, and courageous enjoyer of life, found the place that spoke to him on the side of Sonoma Mountain in what was known as the Valley of the Moon. He knew at first sight it was where he would set his roots and live his days with his beloved wife and companion, Charmian, farming and writing and thinking about the things that interested him. 

London didn’t buy what he and Charmian named Beauty Ranch to amass fortune, but to work the land and farm the soil using practices we now call sustainable agriculture by using nature’s innate elements for replenishing and replicating the natural growing cycles. His approach to stewarding the land was built on respect for its vital needs and the bounty it gifted. In this he mirrored and honored the Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the natural world over the thousands of years they’d lived there.

That’s all about to change.

Brief backstory

Most readers, especially residents of Sonoma Valley, know the backstory of the demise of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), officially closed in 2018. The wrap-up comes down to this: The buyer intends to build about 1,000 houses, a 120-room hotel/resort, and provide commercial space for all the businesses needed to serve thousands of new residents and visitors on the 180-acre “core campus.” This plan would create a new town in the midst of a rural and wildlife-friendly region in the heart of Sonoma Valley. 

Urban sprawl on steroids

The state of California and Sonoma County are abandoning years of land-use decisions regarding urban infill and urban growth, decisions intended to prevent sprawl into greenbelts and open space. In so doing, both the state and county are acting contrary to their stated and pledged environmental goals to address the increasing impacts of global warming.

Which begs the question, why is public land, paid for with public money, able to be privatized and commodified without public consent? 

Since 2015, buoyed by persistent state and county promises to incorporate the community’s vision in the outcome at SDC, thousands of Sonoma Valley citizens diligently participated in the planning process to consider how and by whom the land should be used. But in the end, the state’s assurances turned out to be little more than empty words.

Development in rural areas is being driven by a state-imposed mandate to address what is labeled a “housing crisis.” In spite of the fact that the “crisis” is for affordable housing, not market-rate housing, the state-selected developer, Grupe/Rogal, has stated that it does not intend to build more than 10–15% affordable housing. The rest will be out of reach for most Sonoma County citizens. 

To make matters worse, in addition to the proposed housing and commercial development at SDC are plans to develop more than 60 acres on the nearby Hanna Center property for, as you might have guessed, housing, plus a hotel and businesses. How many people and their daily vehicle miles traveled this additional development on rural land adds up to can only be guessed. 

This is an environmental issue

In my view, the disposition of the former SDC land is not a housing issue, or a sell the land and make it profitable for state and county issue. It’s matter of preserving and protecting an ancient, biologically diverse, self-sustaining ecosystem. It has intrinsic value as habitat as well as for the enjoyment and knowledge it bestows on our human citizens. This ecosystem, with a wildlife corridor running through it, cannot remain viable side by side with the urban development being planned next door.

Humans are not entitled to live anywhere and everywhere. Just as we need to honor and preserve the remaining wilderness areas, we must recognize the importance of rural landscapes and green buffer zones so that urban regions have access and connection to the natural world. We have much to learn and time is surely running out.  

Building a new town in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the base of Sonoma Mountain threatens to destroy our rural wildlands and wildlife. Taking the example of the other places, it may start small, but will not stay so. We have seen this pattern played out here in Sonoma County and elsewhere in our state.

Back to Jack

Writing about his property next to SDC in 1905, London said, “There are 130 acres in the place, and they are 130 acres of the most beautiful, primitive land to be found in California. There are great redwoods on it, some of them thousands of years old … in fact, the redwoods are as fine and magnificent as any to be found anywhere outside the tourist groves. Also, there are great firs, tanbark oaks, maples, live-oaks, white-oaks, black-oaks, madrone and manzanita galore. There are canyons, several streams of water, many springs … I have been riding all over these hills, looking for just such a place, and I must say that I have never seen anything like it.”

Jack London knew what he was talking about, and he knew when he saw it that it was a treasure to protect and preserve. He left it as a legacy for us and all others who would understand its innate value. If we let the SDC go on the auction bloc for a quick profit for government functionaries and the business merchants who influence them, we will have sold another of nature’s gifts for a handful of silver.

Will Shonbrun is a Sonoma Valley resident and community activist.

May 252023
 

Wildlife Fair at Jack London Park, May 20

What a gorgeous day to hold a Fair! People circulated through the thirteen booths distributed inside the Winery ruins in Jack London Park.

Up front there were three live birds: a raven, an owl, and a red tail hawk. Visitors were pulled right in and asked lots of questions.  Further along, there were bones and skulls and stuffed animals on display. Spread throughout were over 60 dramatic wildlife photos exhibited on panels. They brought the space to life.


Children approached with eyes wide and mouths round. “Birdie,” flap flap, or “Look Doggie,” woof woof. They were completely prepared to take it all in and love it. They rushed on to the next booth to see the fox and on and on.

 
Around 1500 people passed through in a constant stream. They paused to listen to the speeches given by local experts ranging from the effect of fire on wildlife, living with lions and bears, and the various ways throughout history that people have lived with local wildlife, all overseen by John McCaull, of Sonoma Land Trust, who wrangled the lot. The crowd’s response was enthusiastic, even raucous. 


Francisco Kilgore was present interviewing people to air on The Morning Show on KSVY 91.3.


We were incredibly lucky to have Sonoma Land Trust as a sponsor for the fair. But each of the thirteen organizations and three individual photographers participating brought their own passions and commitment to sharing their work and knowledge with the families and public who attended. All contributed to the success of the fair. Thanks to Uli Kolbe for taking many photos, allowing you a glimpse of the fun.


The participants circulated to share tales with their co-exhibitors, in some cases whom they hadn’t seen for years due to COVID. Having all these dedicated environmentalists in one space really created a frisson of energy and hope. Hope for the 30 by 30 goal – protecting 30% of our landmass for open space by 2030. Maybe even 50% one day. 

May 012023
 

Helping at the Wildlife Fair

by Nancy Kirwan

There is deep concern for the piecemeal approach that is requiring enormous effort on the part of the residents of and communities surrounding Sonoma Mountain to protect local open space and to sustain the wildlife corridor. There are interconnected watersheds, fragile habitats, and enormous beauty. Whenever a piece of land is developed in these areas, they are put at risk of land, water, and air pollution, increased fire risk, disruption of natural ecosystems, and the degradation of the natural environment.

After working on the book, Where the World Begins, it occurred to Sonoma Mountain Preservation (SMP) that looking at Sonoma Mountain as a whole rather than as its constituent parts might help us to come up with an effective method for protecting it as a bulwark against climate change and urban sprawl. We have been discussing the idea of a wildlife zone that would encompass the entire Mountain and set permanent standards regarding development. The idea of a conference connecting all the constituent environmental organizations that work on educating about, advocating for, and protecting the corpus of Sonoma Mountain and environs is being considered so that we could figure out the needed terms of such a blanket protection.

As I was mulling how to start pursuing that effort, I was contacted by Deborah Large, the Community Events Coordinator at Jack London State Historic Park (JLSHP), and asked about assisting her with a wildlife fair at JLSHP. I literally jumped at the chance. It is not a conference, but I saw it as an opportunity to have SMP work with JLSHP on bringing those same organizations together in an informal gathering that will be educating the public about Sonoma Mountain and the wildlife thereon while it connects the organizations in a common effort. Preliminary steps to a long-term goal.

Through contacts made during SMP’s advocacy work on protecting Sonoma Mountain and educating the public on its attributes over the last six years, I was able to reach out to a couple of dozen organizations, asking them if they’d be interested in participating.  The thrust of the solicitation was to thank each organization for all the work they had done in their particular area of expertise and to ask if they would like to share that expertise at a Wildlife Fair. LandPaths responded by saying, “This sounds like a fantastic event for sharing with the community the opportunities we have for them to get outside and about our mission to foster the love of the land in Sonoma County.”

We are thrilled to be bringing together over a dozen leading Bay Area nature, environmental, and rescue organizations who will be providing information and hands-on activities about local wildlife, challenges to survival, and ways that we can all successfully coexist. John McCaull of Sonoma Land Trust said that he is “really psyched about this event,” generously pledged SLT’s support for it and agreed to be Master of Ceremonies for the oral presentations!

The Fair includes educational booths, kids’ activities, a photo gallery of photos taken by local photographers, and participating organizations and speakers. There will be birds from the Bird Rescue Center, Activities about Our Wild Neighbors, and some booths will have video from trail cameras or slide shows of local wildlife captured on camera. John McCaull will give an introduction to Wildlife Corridors. Arthur Dawson will address what he has learned from indigenous elders. Eric Metz will be speaking about the wildlife he has encountered in the JLSHP. Quinton Martins will share his experiences with local mountain lions. Wendy Hayes will discuss living with black bears as they move back into the environs of Sonoma Valley, and John Roney will share what Sugarloaf has learned about fire and wildlife.

The Fair is free to all, though a parking fee of $10 or a state parks pass is required. As part of JLSHP’s free pass program, La Luz, Mentoring, Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and St. Leo’s are all being encouraged to distribute free parking passes for the day of the Fair to their families.

I can’t wait to see how all these organizations are working to support and protect the wildlife and wildlands on and around Sonoma Mountain. See you there!!!

Nancy Kirwan
Sonoma Mountain Preservation

Apr 242018
 

Sense of Place: Two-day Trek Across the Mountain

On SMP’s first 2-day hike across the Mountain, a small group of intrepid hikers got to sleep overnight on private land and spend a fabulous two days trekking. Sponsored by Landpaths in honor of Pat Eliot, and led by SMP’s own Arthur Dawson and TrekSonoma’s Meghan Walla-Murphy, the trek offered amazing wildflowers, spectacular views, deep learning about plant healing properties, catered meals, and great conversations.

The group hiked from North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail to Jack London State Historic park——Cowan Meadow Trail, Mountain Trail, camping near Vineyard Trail, Coon Trap Trail (steep!!!)——up to East Slope Ridge Trail, and shuttled out through private property.

Highlights: Prolific Canyon Delphinium & Mission Bells, leafing oaks, paths lined with poppies and lupine, a mountain Lion territorial marking along Coon Trap trail.

Here are a few photos to give you a sense of place. 

May 312015
 

The Story of the Mountain and the Oak

Under the great dome of time

From deep in the slow moving earth

A mountain lifts its crest into the heavens

Sun and frost

Wind and rain

Soil makers

Working their ways

For trees, flowers grass and seeds

Feeder of birds and beasts

Day and night

Watcher of countless seasons

That arise and pass away

And the silent mountain stands

Nestled in soft soil

An acorn’s root goes deep

Slowly ever slowly

The promise that was held

Perfectly in the seed

Becomes a mighty oak

A home and pantry for the birds, for insects

And a multitude of tiny lives

A hopping place for squirrels

A place of shade for deer and fox and mice

And the great oak grows

And the beauty mountain stands in silencesonoma mountain oak tree

Then came the hunters, acorn gatherers

Sacred Mountain worshipers

For ten thousand years they came

And they were happy

The workers of the land, they came

The cattlemen

The orchard men

The tenders of the vine

Fathers, mothers, children, pioneers

They came in waves

And flourished

And the Valley of the Moon held and fed them all

And the mighty oak was witness

And the mountain called Sonoma

Stood beside them in its beauty

Then came a man called Jack

With Charmain his beloved wife

A Beauty Ranch was born

Their place of happiness, hope and friendships

A cottage built

Books written

Vines planted heavy with fruit

A Big House rose amidst the redwoods

But alas, a great flame took the house away

One day Jack spoke to Charmain

And this is what he said

He said

“If I would beat you to it,

I wouldn’t mined if you laid my ashes on the knoll

where the children of the pioneers are buried.

and roll over me a red boulder

from the ruins of the Big House”

Then he too was taken

And the great oak saw it all

And the mountain called Sonoma stood in silence

Three hundred years

Maybe four

The old oak nears its passage

A child of some distant parent

The parent of a child

It now becomes

Passing an ancient linage

On into the future

So be our lives

We dwellers of the Valley

A chain of love and hope

From hand to hand be given

Recalling now and then

To offer up our gratitude

To these, the watchers of our lives

Our sacred guardians

This mighty oak

And this

The silent beauty mountain called Sonoma

by Michael Sheffield

copyright 2015

www.mountainandpine.com

Thanks to poet Michael Sheffield for sharing this poem, read by him at both the Jack London State Park oak tree planting and Sonoma Arbor Day, 2015.

Mar 162015
 

East Slope Ridge Trail now connects with Jack London trails!

East Slope Ridge Trail open, thanks to Pat and Ted Eliot and many others who worked on it for 20 years! Thanks to Paul martin, ©Vineyard Productions 2015 for photos…

View east to Mt. Diablo

East Slope Trail
East Slope Trail - JLSHP-7 copy
East Slope Trail
East Slope Trail - JLSHP-330

View south to San FranciscoCutting ribbon to open trail on 3/14/15Happy hikers and ribbon-cutters!

Sep 302014
 

“Why I Love Sonoma Mountain”

“No summit within miles carries the cachet of the mountain I live on” writes Tracy Salcedo-Chourre, author of this post.

Seems I’ve always called a mountain home. I used to live on a mountaintop—at least by California standards. This was in Colorado; our home on Circle Drive was perched on a nameless summit at 8,500 feet. That qualifies, even if neighboring Bergen Peak, at nearly 10,000 feet, got all the glory.

Now I live at the foot of Sonoma Mountain, which by Colorado standards is a hummock. Never mind that, though: It’s as steep and imposing, in its context, as any Rocky Mountain. And it’s the iconic one—no summit within miles carries the cachet of the mountain I live on.

Nearing the summit o Sonoma Mountain
Nearing the summit of Sonoma Mountain

It’s odd, though. I am a walker, by both nature and profession–Tracy of the Trails. But I have never been to the top of Sonoma Mountain. It’s been off-limits, private property. I’ve been as close as the trails permit, gazing upward in mild frustration at the grassy apex, contemplating trespass but turning around instead because I am not, by nature, a trespasser. Especially in parks and preserves. I know how much work goes into setting parkland apart, and I would never violate the trust that exists between parkland and neighboring private property.

So I am elated at news that Sonoma Mountain’s summit will soon be accessible to walkers like me, by dint of private/public negotiations that have yielded new deposits into the Sonoma County Open Space land bank and a new stretch of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Hikers will now be able to explore the top as well as the bottom of the mountain.

But were the top never to open—or were I never to reach it—wouldn’t matter to me in the long run. It doesn’t make me love the mountain more. Just to be clear: The paths on the lower reaches of Sonoma Mountain have imprinted themselves forever on the soles of my wandering shoes. I know pockets of the eastern flanks intimately; Jack London State Historic Park and the open spaces above the Sonoma Developmental Center are my backyard. I return again and again to the old familiar, where the vistas never fail, the woodlands are always fragrant, the flowers and grasses demonstrate the seasons in a parade of blooms that mature to seeds and begin again.

SDC wildlands
SDC wildlands

Yes, I’ll be able to get to the top soon, but I’ll be found on the paths I’ve walked for years, around my home at the base.

By Tracy Salcedo-Chourre

Sep 062014
 

New Sonoma Mountain Regional

Park and Open Space!

From the Sonoma County Regional Parks…

“Our favorite thing to do is announce a new park, so we’re thrilled to let you know about Sonoma Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve, a 738-acre gem we’re working to open by the end of the year. The parkland is located on Sonoma Mountain Road near Pressley Road, southeast of Santa Rosa between Rohnert Park and the Sonoma Valley. Sonoma Mountain’s special features include forests of oaks and redwoods, numerous creeks, sweeping views of Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain, and a 4.25-mile trail connection to Jack London State Historic Park. The park will comprise six properties on the north slope of the mountain, five of them purchased over the years by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District with revenue from a voter-approved sales tax. The Board of Supervisors last month OK’d the properties’ transfer from the District to Regional Parks. We’re now repairing a bridge at the main entrance to the site, and once that’s completed this fall, we’ll open the park for hiking, horseback riding, and limited mountain biking.”

One view from the top: Mt. St. Helena

 

Jun 112014
 

Home-Coming:

The Lee Family on Two Moon Family Farm

two moon family farm raised beds sonoma mountain preservation

In 2009 we moved our family of 5 from suburban San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles County) to rural Glen Ellen. This was not ‘flight from the city’ but a home-coming; a chance to move back onto the property where my husband grew up, bordering the SDC and Asbury Creek, in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain. Our property has been in the Lee family closing-in on 40 years, but the history is rich here, and previous owners included Vallejo, Chauvet, and Pagani. As I sit watching the clouds lick at the ridge of the Sonoma Mountain to our west or look up from our orchard to see how the sun is playing off Mt. Hood to the north, I think about the other folks who have occupied this flank of the mountain, looking up from their work to those exact same views.

Our 5 acre parcel was once covered in vineyard, one of the oldest in the valley. If you ride on our mower you can still feel the undulating ghost of the grape rows under the blade. The vines are gone, but we are continuing the ag tradition from those early days of Chauvet and Pagani’s viticulture, morphing into vegetable gardening and animal husbandry passed down through my in-laws, and then expanded by our little family. What started as our ‘quaint’ desire to ‘get back to the land and grow our own food’, has blossomed over the past several years into a small family farm business. As Two Moon Family Farm, we sell eggs and produce to several local restaurants and at the farmer’s market (Kenwood Community Farmers Market). In addition we raise goats and the occasional turkeys and lamb for our own family. Our children understand where food comes from and we are carrying on the tradition of having a small homestead farm on the side of Sonoma Mountain.

It is amazing to live on an interface between the wilds of the mountain and the village of Glen Ellen. Our farm is surrounded by open, natural habitat. The wildlife we see every day is always a great form of entertainment for our long-time city friends when they come to visit ‘Camp Lee’. Out our window we’ve seen bobcats, jackrabbits, raccoons, quail, deer, skunk, ground squirrels, woodpeckers, turkey vultures, hawks, snakes, coyotes, etc… Currently we have three ‘families’ of wild turkeys wandering about- three hens with at least 10 chicks in tow. Steve has distinct memories of wild pig encounters while growing up here, although they have since been actively removed from the mountain. And, of course, there are mountain lions. Although we haven’t seen a cat directly, we know that they share this mountain with us, and we’ve seen the evidence of their behavior. Hikers on treks just up beyond our fence have reported them and we had a young goat taken by a lion early in our adventures, when we hadn’t yet fully secured our night-time penning situation. We love overlapping with the nature of this mountain even when predators ‘visit’ the farm.

It sometimes feels like a dream when I look up from my work in the garden to see the changing light on the hills and valleys on our side of the mountain. There is a sort of magic here. Just slightly up the hill to our north west is the ruin of Jack London’s Wolf House. I know he was drawn here by that same pulse. My husband knows almost every foot of this mountain, that he often refers to as ‘his backyard’. And it is…. but it is yours too…. with all of it’s history, wildlife, and magic.

Shannon and Steven Lee are trained marine scientists who have more recently taken on farming. They have numerous ‘jobs’ but are primarily science educators and researchers, respectively. They share the property with their three children, Steven’s parents, 10 goats, 20 hens, several roosters, and 2 barn cats.

Photography by Shannon Lee

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 Shannon & Steven for your contribution and we encourage readers to like Two Moon Family Farm on Facebook and follow them on twitter at @TwoMoonFF

Dec 092013
 

From SDC Beginnings to Now

sonoma developmental center trail jack london sonoma mountain

Sonoma 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?