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We challenge supervisor candidates for REAL action on Sonoma County forest-vineyard conversions!

We challenge supervisor candidates
for REAL action on Sonoma County
forest-vineyard conversions!

May 25, 2012
Peter Baye and Chris Poehlmann
Friends of the Gualala River

Credibility and authenticity on environmental issues of Sonoma County have emerged at the forefront of the debates for the 5th district supervisors campaign. This is particularly glaring in the 5th district in northwestern Sonoma County where large-scale conversions of coastal forestlands are either proposed (Preservation Ranch) or at the very end of their permit processes (Artesa Annapolis vineyard conversion).

Are the candidates just debating platitudes, philosophical postures and remote policy issues, or really focusing on concrete, real-time policy actions in the public interest that put their authenticity of their environmental commitments to the test?

Perhaps we are seeing in these debates a bit of pantomime performance aimed at the passion and drama surrounding high-profile 20 thousand acre Preservation Ranch – a bit of shadow-boxing with a project that hasn’t made any public progress in environmental review since 2008 and with no announced schedule for even a draft EIR.

It’s very easy for sparring candidates Carrillo and Carpenter to take a position on something that can’t possibly come up for a decision for a year or two or more, and perhaps may not materialize at all: in fact, CalPERS, the controlling interest in Preservation Ranch lands, has been evaluating offers to sell the Preservation Ranch lands to prospective owners that would keep it intact forestland.

Meanwhile, the 173-acre Artesa vineyard conversion in coastal forests in Annapolis has made it past the state permit finish line in May of this year, making it the first forestland to vineyard EIR approved in California. CAL FIRE has certified the final EIR and issued the timber conversion permit, so as soon as this summer it may begin clear-cutting, ripping, well-drilling, and pesticide applications in addition to scraping away thousands of years of forest soil and Pomo cultural history forever.

Artesa, not Preservation Ranch, is the immediate test of Sonoma County political will to rein in vineyards sprawl into coastal forestlands. The last permits Artesa needs are from Sonoma County: a mere checklist of standardized items for an automatically issued (ministerial) permit for any project that meets its standards for setbacks, buffers, erosion control – with no limit on how many trees that can be cut or how much soils scraped away.

The new County vineyard tree removal ordinance update effort places absolutely no limits on forest vineyard conversions, and by-passes public comment and project-specific overall environmental review (no CEQA – even mitigated negative declarations; is anyone shocked?) The Artesa vineyard conversion is not speculative or pending: it is imminent.

Friends of the Gualala River is an action-oriented local watershed protection grassroots organization with eyes on what’s on the ground and on the horizon, not pie in the sky. We are not interested in speculative environmental policy positions, platitudes or name-calling when there are real-time, real-world tests for people in power or influence to protect our coastal forested and woodland watersheds against sprawl of vineyards.

Our supervisorial candidates can prove their genuine environmental policies by publicly supporting official County planning department statements on record that affirm that the Artesa vineyard conversion is contrary to County General Plan policies. The County’s comment letters on the Artesa CEQA documents (EIR and original Negative Declaration) are a matter of public record. Will candidates endorse them, equivocate, or look the other way?


  1. Write a letter to Cal PERS recommending favorable consideration or acceptance of financially sound offers to purchase Preservation Ranch lands for continued forestland and sustainable timber production.
  2. Demand Public Hearings for the Artesa vineyard conversion and lend support to rigorous enforcement of County General Plan policies that the County defended in comments on the Artesa EIR.
  3. Get creative and demonstrate leadership: Don’t just respond to environmental challenges, chart a better course and spearhead its timely political and policy implementation. What will you do as supervisor to stop this deforestation?

For additional information, see:

Artesa Winery vineyard conversion
Artesa timberland conversion
CAL FIRE approved the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Artesa Winery’s plan to clear-cut 154 acres of coastal redwood forest to plant a vineyard in Annapolis. The EIR states that the project will have no significant environmental or cultural impacts.

The so-called “Preservation” Ranch Preservation Ranch is a 19,300 acre development in the heart of the Gualala River watershed. The project plans to destroy and fragment coastal redwood forest to plant grapes on the ridgetops – and call that “preservation.”

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