WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County’s zoning rules for streamside development delayed


A move to add controversial limits on development and vineyard planting near streams into Sonoma County’s zoning code has been delayed and may not be decided until sometime next year.

Sonoma County sealA public workshop set for Wednesday on the proposed zoning amendment was cancelled and a Nov. 7 Planning Commission hearing on the matter was postponed indefinitely last week by the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department.

“There’s no real hurry,” said Jennifer Barrett, deputy director of the department, noting that the stream bank development limits are already included in the county’s General Plan.

“We are applying them already,” she said. Putting the limits in zoning law “would streamline the process.”

The zoning proposal, which establishes protective setbacks along more than 3,200 miles of year-round and seasonal streams, will go to a “working group of interested stakeholders” to be named next month, Barrett said.

The delay came at the urging of Tito Sasaki, president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, she said.

Prior to receiving Sasaki’s letter, Barrett said she heard of the Farm Bureau’s concern from several county supervisors, but declined to identify them.

Sasaki, a Sonoma Valley grape grower, said the 3,500-member Farm Bureau has “serious concerns” about codifying the General Plan limits “without additional thought going into it.”

The rules give equal protection to all stream bank land, known as riparian habitat, Sasaki said. He suggested that the county await current studies assessing the relative importance of those areas.

Many properties will lose value because of the setback rules, Sasaki said. “How do you compensate for that?” he asked.

The proposed setbacks, extending on each side of a waterway, range from 200 feet on the Russian River to 25 feet on streams in urban areas.

The zoning code regulations “should be meaningful and fair,” Sasaki said.

Some critics feel the establishment of riparian corridors amounts to a seizure of private land by the government. “They feel very strongly about that,” Barrett acknowledged.

Questions also have been raised about the interpretation of the ordinance, which currently is being revised, she said.

Planning Commissioner Pam Davis said she was dismayed by the delay in taking up the stream setback regulations.

“We’ve been through the public process and it’s time to get this into the zoning code,” she said.

The incoming county planning director, Tennis “J.T.” Wick, who starts work Nov. 12, will appoint the members of the stakeholders group that will review the zoning measure prior to any further public meetings, Barrett said.

Wick, a principal at Berg Holdings, a Sausalito land management company, is a board member of Friends of the the Petaluma River and a Sonoma County Farm Bureau member.

Representatives from farm, environmental and real estate groups will be included, along with people involved in fisheries and water supply, Barrett said.

The stakeholder group likely will start work early next year, and the zoning measure will go to the Planning Commission when the group’s work is done.

County regulation of grape planting has been a hot-button issue at least since 1999, when the county’s first vineyard planting ordinance was adopted after 19 months of debate between growers and environmentalists following rapid expansion of vineyards across the county.

Today, there are nearly 60,000 acres of wine grapes in Sonoma County, twice as many as in 1982.

In 2006, two public hearings on proposed county General Plan provisions on stream setbacks packed a theater at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.

7 Responses to “Sonoma County’s zoning rules for streamside development delayed”

  1. Irene Tavenner says:

    When government talks about “stakeholders” bad things start to happen. Stakeholders are interest groups that really don’t have any interest except their special interest in mind.

    The bicyclists, small train advocates, public union enrichment, and the saving something groups all come to mind.

    These are called lobbying groups and that is exactly what they are. Unfortunately for us, they literally write the laws that govern us and most of the time we, the people, take the back seat and do our part by paying for it all.

    We are the Greek chorus, just there to cheer when expected and pay for it.

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  2. James Bennett says:

    An ICLEI charter has more tools to under mine private property than…

    an unemployed building contractor.

    This along with a tool shed full of other instruments amount to a kind of eminent domain.

    What does it do to property value, ‘enjoyment’ of property, the Fifth Amendment.
    How are property owners being compensated for these administrative takings?

    Folks pay premiums to be next to, have access to water.

    Make no mistake, this is just planting the seed.

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  3. James Bennett says:

    You have some important subjects on here today.

    However with the level of biased censorship that you have escalated…
    well, your newspaper and this board are irrelevant.

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  4. bear says:

    @Sonoma gone crazy

    You and your neighbor chose to buy property near a watershed.

    Your democratically elected officials chose to protect this watershed.

    Your best chance is to convince folks that this is a minor seasonal creek and is therefore not subject to the rules.

    Otherwise, you look like someone who wants to destroy habitat for a driveway?

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  5. Geoff Johnson says:

    Barrett made clear that while the Farm Bureau was trying to delay the Planning
    Commission’s finding of Zoning Code consistency, her department was already
    applying the policies in the County’s General Plan.

    By state law, the County’s Zoning Code must be consistent with its Plan (“vertical consistency”) — which is the local equivalent of the U.S. Constitution.

    So the Farm Bureau is wasting its time fighting the legally required determination of consistency — and the PC and Supervisors should hasten to make that determination.

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  6. Papa E says:

    “A move to add controversial limits”; The clue word here is “controversial”. How about discussing the controversy like adults? How about some real Public discussion before moving forward. There are legitimate concerns for protecting stream quality, and I support them. However, we need to guard against the “overreach” that so often occurs with these types of controversies.

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  7. Sonoma Gone Crazy says:

    I’m even afraid to fix my driveway now because of this whole set back thing. A neighbor had the California Dept. of Fish and Game up his butt after he did some clearing because his property was flooding from a culvert creek that flows in the winter only….But you can’t even do that with these new rules.

    How about “too much Government and we are drowning”…But who cares, just buy a damn rowboat, right?

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