Here is a statement made by John Roberts to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on June 6 regarding the activities of Paul Hobbs to convert forest to vineyards in the county.
I’m John Roberts. I have lived out Green Valley Rd. for forty years and am a board member of the Atascadero Green Valley Watershed Council and our rep. to the Sonoma County Water Coalition.
I remember back in the 70’s when the citizens of this county, myself included, voted in support of diverse ag. to help protect ag. from the rapid growth of both towns and rural development. I would vote that way again under similar circumstances. But today we do not have the diverse ag. we used to. We have ag. with a capital V.
And today we have an alarming example of what the resultant right to farm policy has allowed.
In the last few weeks Paul Hobbs LP has been clear cutting the former properties of John Jenkel along Hwy. 116 near Graton Rd. in order to put in more vineyards. Hobbs has also clearcut 10 acres of ridgetop timberland between Forestville and Guerneville without securing the necessary permits required to fulfill the Timberland Conversion Permit process. A stop work notice has been placed on this project, called Hillick Ranch. The clearcutting along 116 in Graton has shocked and outraged many West County residents. The clearcutting of 10 acres of forests may be subject to prosecution by the County District Attorney. These actions point to the deficiencies of the regulations of Sonoma County that govern these processes.
Hobbs was allowed to clear cut Jenkel’s former property with sign on by CalFire and the AG. Commission because it was not timberland and the trees were just landscaping. Vineyard development is not subject to the Sonoma County Tree Ordinance, except in the case of Valley Oaks. I remember when Jess Jackson made mincemeat of that rule when he cut down many large valley oaks in order to put in a winery and vineyards by the airport and then haplily paid his fine. It was legal for Hobbs to cut down all the trees in Graton including the 5’ and 6’ diameter redwoods, some of the largest redwoods outside of parks,. Hobbs was also allowed to do this along a state mandated Scenic Highway, because ag. in this county is not subject to Scenic Highway protections. The Ag. Commisioner did send out two folks to do a plant survey. As far as we know, no survey was done of nesting birds and raptors.
New vineyards may be planted subject to just a ministerial permit. This means that any proposed vineyard that does not involve a timberland conversion, will be approved subject to the zoning with no oversight but an approval by the ag. comm. and a promise by the owner that due diligence will be taken, regardless of the consequences to our environment. No consideration of cumulative effects or water availability is allowed.
In the 70’s and 80’s vineyard growth mainly involved local farmers and wineries. Today Sonoma County grape growing is largely financed by a few large multinational corporations. i.e.- Seghesio Winery just sold to a large investment firm from New York.
The growth of vineyards is rapidly expanding to the locations where they cause some of the most devastation to our environment –forested ridge tops. When a ridge top is clearcut for vineyards, we lose the sponge that absorbs the rainwater that slowly percolates down to our waterways. Without this sponge, water either leaves the property very quickly and picks up speed as it travels down to the valleys or is captured by vineyards in reservoirs, either way the water is not there for keeping flows in streams. The most egregious example of this is Upper Mark West Creek along St. Helena Rd. where ridge top vineyards have dried up the creek in the summer. This stretch of creek was once one of the finest salmonid spawning streams in all of the North Coast of Ca. Today is is virtually dead. The west county, from Valley Ford to Annapolis, and inland back to Warm Springs Dam is being inundated by ridge top vineyard development. World wide, deforestation of ridgetop forest lands has had disastrous consequences to the environment. Costa Rica today has programs to restore ridgetop forestlands and in consequence, they are restoring their rivers and streams.
Paul Hobbs has illegally clear cut 10 acres of ridge top forestland. He did it in three days starting on a Friday and finishing before any authorities knew about it. We are watching closely to see what consequences there are in his actions. So far, we have heard that the Registered Professional Forester and the Licensed Logging Contractor may be the only ones subject to legal enforcement. It certainly was Paul Hobbs or Paul Hobbs LP who ordered the tree cutting to commence. We know of no survey of wildlife and nesting birds and raptors being done previous to the logging. A slap on the wrist is not in order.
We should not let our environment be compromised by those moneyed interests who are taking advantage of our “right to farm” rules and continue to monocrop our county only for their own profit.