Sep 11, 2018
by Will Carruthers
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday heard public comment on six lawsuits against the county, approved an amendment to the county’s mining ordinance and granted county employees affected by the fires 40 hours of leave time.
The Supervisors received public comment on six lawsuits against the county before discussing the cases behind closed doors. One of the suits, Friends of Chanate vs. County of Sonoma, alleges that the County gave a local developer a sweetheart deal in its sale of a plot of public land.
Friends of Chanate argues that Bill Gallaher, a local developer, bought the 82-acre parcel of county land for between $6 and $12.5 million, far below the assessed value of the land, $30 million.
“That property was worth more than $6 million, even if you build only 40 luxury homes on the land,” a Friends of Chanate member said during the public comment period.
The supervisors passed unanimously a measure to provide County employees who lost their primary home in the October 2017 fires with 40 hours of Recovery Leave Time and to extend the County Employee Disaster Relief Plan for another year.
Approximately 149 County employees lost their homes in the fire, according to a staff report.
“This recovery leave time is very important to employees who have lost their home,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said.
Gorin said she had encouraged the supervisors to “think more broadly” by including employees who lost rental units and caretaking for parents who lost their homes, but ultimately supported the measure as written.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane encouraged large local employers to offer similar programs for their effected employees, noting that full recovery from the fires will take a long time.
“This is a small but meaningful measure of relief for our employees,” Zane said.
The Board of Supervisors amended a sentence of the County’s Mining Ordinance to “clarify that setbacks to critical habitat do not retroactively apply to quarry sites” affected under a new definition of critical habitat passed as part of the 2012 General Plan.
The amendment will allow two quarries located within 47,383 acres defined as Tiger Salamander critical habitat based a map from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to operate.
The two affected quarries - Stony Point Quarry and Roblar Road Quarry – were granted permits to operate before the new rules went into effect.
Stony Point Quarry has been active for 90 years while Roblar Road Quarry received permission to operate in 2010, before the new definition was passed, according to a staff report.
“There was never any expectation that the setbacks would apply to these quarries, and these setbacks were not intended to apply retroactively,” the staff report states.
John Barella, the owner of the quarry, first applied to develop the land in 2003 but the project has been significantly delayed by environmental lawsuits. In 2014, a three-judge panel approved Barella’s plans in a lawsuit brought by the Citizens Advocating for Roblar Rural Quality.
When asked by Zane why the item was before the board, a county staff member said that Roblar Road Quarry “will be proposing some changes to their conditions of approval and you will see that project come before you next month.”
“There’s no way that Stony Point Quarry or Roblar Road Quarry if they were to amend their permit could apply with that one hundred foot set back because they are both located within the critical habitat area,” the staffer continued.
Supervisor David Rabbitt added that the issue should have been dealt with in 2012 while updating the General Plan.
“So this actually makes sense in that regard to make sure that [the language] is very clear that those that are operating and vested and approved can continue operating in that vane and not be legal non-conforming which is just ends up muddying all waters,” Rabbitt said.
The amendment passed unanimously.
An agenda and a video of the meeting are available on the county’s website.
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