VOTMA 2018 Year in Review
By Todd Board, VOTMA board member
As many may know, VOTMA (Valley of the Moon Alliance) is a volunteer nonprofit monitoring developments that may have significant impacts within Sonoma Valley, and advocating Sonoma County's actions and policies when we believe warranted. While we're vigilant, VOTMA has no special authority or purview in influencing county policies; we have the same ability to review and comment on issues and policies as you (our neighbors) have.
As an advocacy organization, there are times when we update our broader community on specific developments, and encourage and facilitate specific actions. However, in other situations VOTMA strategies remain under development for some time. As a result, we believe it's important to occasionally update on our activities, and welcome community input.
VOTMA spends much of its time and energy “playing defense,” responding to development initiatives that are not always presented with the greatest amount of notice before public comment/action deadlines. More broadly, though, we're motivated by a vision of sustainable balance between community, ecology, and economy in Sonoma Valley - each of the three legs on the stool needs the other two, long term. We focus not only on preferred outcomes, but also on the county processes and precedents that influence them.
Key VOTMA highlights in 2018
o We persistently call on the county to justify waivers-of-hearing for specific, significant discretionary use permit applications, and to routinely provide timely and proactive updates on in-process applications. Fair and open government requires advance disclosure of relevant information to Sonoma Valley residents.
o As highlighted in VOTMA board member Kathy Pons' Nov. 15 Kenwood Press article, we continue to press the county for an updated and more accurate traffic model to use in planning. As anyone who lives here knows, the traffic model should include peak (weekend) traffic and tourism impacts, which it currently excludes. We also seek the pending update of the Sonoma Valley Traffic Study, to address cumulative impacts as actually experienced on the ground (not relying only on unverified, formulaic impact estimates from isolated project applications).
o VOTMA continues to comment to the county on VJB Cellars' repeated, sustained violations of originally permitted uses, which far pre-dated the notable strain on Permit Sonoma resources after last year's wildfires. We're concerned that VJB continues to “pursue forgiveness rather than permission” via scope creep, including efforts to avoid improving safety via a left turn lane from increasingly congested Highway 12 onto Shaw Avenue.
o On the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn, VOTMA worked with the owners and, with Supervisor Gorin's engagement, obtained conditions-of-approval clarifying constraints on resort activity and community impacts. Specifically, we ensured that the newly designed, open-air rooftop restaurant will close by 10:30 p.m. (not midnight as originally approved), and permit no noise-producing activities. We also obtained an adjusted cap on water consumption saving a half-million gallons of groundwater every year, and a cap on parking spaces that requires all parking onsite (no shuttled parking onto Kenwood streets).
o Groundwater remains a local and regional concern. We've focused on a blossoming of new permit applications in Sonoma's 8th Street East area, an area of known groundwater concern, including risk of saltwater intrusion over time. VOTMA met with one applicant and the county to clarify water use estimates, and firm up use thresholds that if exceeded will (not just “may”) trigger permit review by the county. We vigorously encouraged the county to monitor groundwater use by new developments in identified areas of concern, during transition to the legally mandated Groundwater Sustainability Agency by 2022. We also recently commented on traffic and water concerns tied to the very large Tolay Springs development proposed near Sonoma Raceway and Highway 37.
o Clarity on what constitutes a “winery event,” leading in turn to clarity on parameters and constraints regarding winery events, remains elusive. The rapid growth in the number of winery tasting facilities and events has made valley traffic congestion worse. This initiative has been delayed by fire recovery, and validly different needs and pains in different parts of the county. We continue to actively petition the county to re-engage in this critical process.
o Yours truly was VOTMA's representative on the Advisory Committee convened by State consultant Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT) regarding the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center. We joined various other county agencies and local interest groups in ensuring WRT and the state clearly understood the repurposing priorities we've all heard in our many conversations on this critical topic. VOTMA joins many neighbors in continuing to advocate for a solution that sustainably reflects local values and needs.
o VOTMA is sharing perspectives with our friends in the Glen Ellen Forum, regarding potential formation of a MAC (Municipal Advisory Council) in the Eldridge/Kenwood/Glen Ellen area. We expect MACs to gain momentum in various county communities in the coming months, and it's important that citizens have the chance to influence their scope and structure.
We hope this is a helpful update on VOTMA's priorities, activities, and accomplishments during 2018. As always, we welcome feedback, engagement, and contributions from Sonoma Valley residents supporting protection and preservation of this beautiful valley, at www.votma.org. We likewise thank the many neighbors who also work to sustain the qualities of life in Sonoma Valley that make it so special.
Last - please save-the-date for a VOTMA “New Year's Social” at the Kenwood Depot on Jan. 26 (more details to follow in the New Year). Meanwhile, happy holidays!
The Valley of the Moon Alliance was formed to promote the preservation, protection and maintenance of the agricultural character, natural resources and rural beauty of Sonoma Valley. We are committed to providing a forum for research, information, education and recommendations on projects that affect the environmental qualities of the valley communities.