SVCAC moves to expand boundaries

The Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission met Wednesday to discuss changing its boundaries and to plan future meetings based on group concerns.

The primary focus at the Oct. 23 meeting was to follow up after the Sept. 25 meeting, at which the group voted to recommend changing its boundaries to follow the Sonoma Creek watershed with the exclusion of areas in Santa Rosa and the second supervisorial district (Sonoma Raceway).

The joint powers agreement, which governs the commission and authorizes it under both county and city jurisdiction to review planning and development proposals, is set to expire at the end of this year. The group must decide to make any recommendations about boundary expansion to the two governing bodies to give them enough time to approve a proposal.

SVCAC’s current boundaries were set more than 20 years ago when the commission was created, and used the boundaries of Planning Area 9 to divide projects amongst area planning commissions. But the current boundaries have come under scrutiny because they bisect Kenwood and do not reflect what many commissioners consider Sonoma Valley.

At the September meeting, the panel selected Chair Mark Bramfitt, Commissioners Rochelle Campana and Sean Bellach, and Ex-Officio Commissioner Greg Carr to meet with 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin about the expansion, and to create a map to present to the Sonoma City Council and the Board of Supervisors.

Carr reported on the smaller group’s meeting, noting that Gorin is in favor of modifying the boundaries to follow the watershed, excluding any area in Santa Rosa, but she wants to include Sonoma Raceway. She plans to talk with 2nd District Supervisor David Rabbitt about the expansion. Campana said Gorin wanted to include the area because of projects at surrounding wineries and vineyards, including La Roche and Paradise Ridge.

Bellach noted Sonoma Raceway CEO Steve Page said he would be OK with the raceway being included in the boundary and had even come to the group for input on raceway projects in the past.

However, SVCAC Vice Chair Kirsten Lindquist, who was conducting the meeting in Bramfitt’s absence, said the group should stay with the original plan and keep things “simple” so as the increase the chances of the Board of Supervisors agreeing to expand the boundary and not creating an area where there is a third jurisdiction for the commission.

After Bellach motioned for the boundary expansion to reflect the watershed, with the exception of Sonoma Raceway and areas in Santa Rosa, El Verano West Commissioner Clarence Jenkins said he wanted to leave the resolution open to include the raceway. Then, ex-officio Dick Fogg reminded the group they were only making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and to the Sonoma City Council. Gorin could push to include the raceway later.

The group agreed to propose the expansion for which Bellach motioned, adding they did not want to add more commissioners to the group. The SVCAC will let Gorin raise the issue of including the raceway in the new jurisdiction.

In a more open discussion concerning matters in the current jurisdiction, Jenkins brought up the roundabout project at Arnold Drive and West Agua Caliente Road, noting that it is difficult to navigate in a larger agricultural truck. Jenkins said, as someone who is entrenched in the agricultural world (he is president of Madrone Vineyard Management), not only does the roundabout affect the flow of larger trucks, but the actual construction of the multi-million dollar project in the middle of the grape harvest season was especially inconsiderate to the Valley’s biggest cash crop and its producers.

Campana, who is worried about the safety of the structure in the center of the roundabout, said the group should talk about the roundabout at a future meeting.

Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown agreed, adding it could be a learning experience to help prevent additional roundabouts from being constructed.

Lindquist said she was concerned about the approval process and the county’s transparency in building the roundabout, which was the topic of discussion at a 2011 SVCAC meeting and was contested by numerous residents. “We saw the roundabout project in July 2011, but at that point, the project was already underway and we had no inkling what was coming,” she said, adding the roundabout changed the rural character of Arnold Drive.

She added that she wants to discuss the possibility of public projects being “under the purview” of the commission.

Fogg said Measure M made the roundabout construction law, so the SVCAC may have not been able to do anything about it in the first place. Lindquist quickly pointed out the text of Measure M indicates a traffic light be installed at the intersection, but that the county decided on a roundabout for purposes that seemed unclear to her.

The public also had a chance to address the panel. Oakmont residents Kathleen Connelly and Susan Millar, who are president and vice president, respectively, of the Oakmont Community Development Committee, expressed concern for development in the Oakmont area and said they feel ignored by the county.“We feel attacked and unprotected by the county,” Millar said, explaining the residents are concerned about the increasing number of development permits issued and the increase in traffic and construction in the area. Connelly asked the group, “What would residents of Oakmont do if there was a fire with events going on at all of the wineries and limousines and cars clogging up the highway?”

Campana said while she understood Oakmont’s concerns, the permits for most of these projects are in place, so the SCVAC couldn’t do anything about them at this point. But she said she and the other commissioners are open to Oakmont residents, and to residents from areas near to, but not necessarily in, SVCAC boundaries to bring issues to future meetings. Lindquist said she would like to discuss how the panel could work with Oakmont at a later meeting.

Lindquist also announced that Commissioner Richard Caselli submitted his resignation and that the group is looking for someone from the El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs or Eldridge area to fill an El Verano West seat.