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Plans set Santa Cruz County's goals for pollution targets

County residents had a chance Tuesday to weigh in on a regional plan aimed at meeting state-mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets.

During a meeting at Watsonville Civic Center, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments presented long-range land use and transportation objectives designed to cut Central Coast emissions 5 percent by the year 2035, while still making room for the region's expected growth.

"It's probably, at best, incremental change," said Maura Twomey, AMBAG's executive director. "We're looking at strategies that make changes that result in a more livable community, and that meet the needs of the region."

State and local pols jockey to resolve flood risk, habitat issues on banks of Salinas River

There might be a silver lining to the devastating drought that’s drying out the West: The bone-dry Salinas River is allowing an alphabet soup of permitting agencies to take an extra year developing flood control plans.

And they need the extra time, because the board of Monterey County Water Resources Agency voted 7-0 on Sept. 30 to sink its own plan for Salinas River channel maintenance.

Fort Ord reuse: Agency says plan consistent with Monterey County general plan

Despite concern from environmentalists, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority decided Thursday its plan is consistent with the county's general plan.

Several groups had argued Monterey County's rules for development were much weaker than the FORA Reuse Plan, particularly when it came to water.

Board members held firm their claim that the reuse plan takes the place of overlapping plans on the former Army base, meaning there is no legal reason they need to match.

The county and FORA need the determination to move forward with future projects, such as the proposed Monterey Downs development.

"The base reuse plan supersedes. It does have authority over all that," Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio said. "... It is time for us to move this along.

Get it done."

Salinas speaker: Neuroscience behind climate change denial

Imagine building reservoirs and desalination plants in Monterey County during the 1970s because we knew there would be a drought of the magnitude we are experiencing today? No need to imagine, because we did know.

That was the message delivered Tuesday during the Salinas Rotary Club meeting at the National Steinbeck Center. The messenger: Rebecca Costa, best-selling author of “The Watchman’s Rattle,” a look at why leaders, corporations and even nations stumble even when they have solutions to problems staring them in their collective face.

For example, the world has known for decades that climate change will negatively affect water supplies and exacerbate droughts. When did we act? Three weeks ago when the state issued an emergency drought declaration. Why?

“Because policy is based on unproven beliefs and opinion makers,” Costa said. “We have 1.5 billion temperature readings from around the world, yet 65 percent of the U.S. population believes there is no climate change.”

From Marina to Salinas by bus and bike

Monterey County isn’t particularly known for public transportation. It’s a car-loving county, in a car-loving state, in a car-loving nation. Gov. Jerry Brown, in his State of the State address in January, said Californians drive 330 billion miles a year. The sun, he remarked, is 93 million miles away.

But public transit could be a shining star in the county’s future.

The Transportation Agency for Monterey County is planning a robust route from Marina to Salinas that will emphasize frequent bus service and will also be bike and pedestrian friendly, planners say. The trouble is creating a path that doesn’t conflict with the needs of Salinas’ agriculture and Marina’s university communities.

“The idea behind this is to get more people to ride transit and to ride their bikes and walk on either end of the corridor,” says Ariana Green, a transportation planner with TAMC.

In transit speak, the project is called a multimodal corridor – a road that accommodates multiple forms of transportation. One project goal is to provide bus service that comes along every 10 to 15 minutes, rather than the 30-minute waits commuters are used to now.

As record drought intensifies, organic dairy farmers are the first to face financial crisis

As California's record-breaking drought continues, organic farmers are facing shortages that could jeopardize their production of beef, milk and cheese.

The Golden State's third straight year of dry weather is forcing farmers to make tough choices. Dairy and cattle farmers are the first to feel the squeeze of water shortages, as their cows need to eat year-round, while plant growers typically have until mid-March to make planting decisions.

"Everyone knows it's going to be bad," said Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation, which has 78,000 members. "The question is, how bad is it going to end up being?"

No more watering: Climatically correct landscaping is springing up in Southern California. Photo by M. Dolly, courtesy of Flickr.

The state's second snow survey of the year, taken near Lake Tahoe last week, turned up even less snow than the first survey. Levels of snowpack are 12 percent of average for this time of year, down from 20 percent on Jan. 3.

Leafy greens gumshoe

From working on celery and lettuce breeding projects at UC Davis to serving as the vice president of lettuce operations for Dole Fresh Vegetables, Mary Zischke has dedicated her career to improving leafy green production.

It comes, then, as no surprise that Zischke has spent the past eight years as the CEO of the California Leafy Greens Research Program which funds research projects that benefit the leafy greens industry by improving product quality through plant breeding. The Salinas based organization also supports practical food safety research efforts and pest management projects that lead to improved strategies for controlling plant pathogens, insects and weeds.

Explaining she grew up on a farm in Michigan “with a little bit of everything on it,” Mary Zischke laughed and said her father’s advice was to “do anything but agriculture” because it was such a hard life.

Salinas ag program accepting applications

Applications are available for Class 45 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program in Salinas. Growers, farmers, ranchers and individuals working in allied businesses and organizations are encouraged to apply.

The Ag Leadership Program, operated by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, is considered to be one of the premier leadership development experiences in the United States. More than 1,200 men and women have participated in the program and are influential leaders and active volunteers in the agriculture industry, communities and other areas.

The 16-month program, from October 2014 to January 2016, is composed of monthly seminars delivered by California Polytechnic University, Pomona; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Fresno State University, the University of California, Davis, and other academic institutions. Fellows also participate in a 10-day national travel seminar and a 15-day international travel seminar. Seminars provide a comprehensive curriculum focusing on a variety of subject matter.

“Ag Leadership is an incredible educational opportunity for emerging or mid-career leaders in agriculture,” said CALF President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Gray. “Fellows will gain important skills and awareness to enhance their leadership capabilities and effectiveness in a rapidly changing environment. They will be better prepared to assess and deal with the challenges affecting their business, agricultural associations and community.”

Growers line up against fracking

For Apolinar Yerena of Yerena Farms in Castroville, forcing huge amounts of water down a drill bore to extract oil makes no sense when farmers up and down California are or will be hurting for water during the drought.

It’s why he and at least a dozen other growers along the Central Coast signed a petition calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an immediate moratorium on the water-intensive oil extracting process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In total the petition was signed by nearly 150 farming operations in the state.

Farmers are already grappling with a record drought that’s parching their fields and livelihoods. Both the state and federal governments have allocated zero water allocations to growers in the Central Valley — the first time in the Central Valley Water Project’s 54-year history.

“We want to save as much water as we can,” said Yerena, who grows organic berries outside of Castroville and sells them into the San Francisco market. Farmers are the ones who depend on water for food production in Monterey County and across the state, something that should be considered above the needs and wants of oil drillers, he said.

Monterey desal conflict of interest: state Attorney General asked to take over

A defense attorney has asked state Attorney General Kamala Harris to take over the prosecution of former water director Steve Collins, citing a litany of conflicts confronting the District Attorney's Office.

In a letter delivered Tuesday, San Francisco lawyer Dan Clymo, who represents Collins, states the already tainted prosecution was further complicated by a judge's ruling last week that only Monterey County, not California American Water, can challenge the contracts from the failed Regional Desalination Project.

Desal project appears headed for yet another delay

California American Water's proposed desalination plant will not avoid another months-long delay for the project after all.

On Monday, Cal Am engineering manager Ian Crooks told the Monterey Peninsula water authority's technical advisory committee that it will take several months to complete the analysis of water drawn from bore holes on the Cemex property north of Marina and elsewhere.

That's long enough to push the release of a draft environmental impact report by the state Public Utilities Commission on the project into the second half of the year, about five months later than the original February release date.

And it likely means completion of the desal project will be delayed into the latter half of 2018, more than a year and a half after the Dec. 31, 2016 deadline for full implementation of the state-ordered cutback in pumping from the Carmel River.

The bore holes water quality testing is a key aspect of the draft EIR and is being evaluated by a hydrogeological working group composed of experts representing Cal Am, Salinas Valley agricultural groups, and the CPUC.

Venture capitalist Bud Colligan connected Opportunity Fund with Santa Cruz County

When Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bud Colligan met with Jacob Martinez, who is working on a federally-funded computer center for teens in Watsonville, Colligan noticed a skateshop at 25 E. Beach St. and thought to himself, "It's so great a business like this is downtown."

He did not realize then that H Skate's owner had opened with the help of a $5,000 loan from the Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit based in San Jose that boosted lending locally specifically because of his support.

"I met all the requirements and got the money in 72 hours," said Emily Huante, 31, who needed cash to buy inventory for her shop's September opening. "All the stars aligned for me."

Since May, Opportunity Fund has made $744,000 in small business loans ranging from $2,500 to $100,000 to 44 entrepreneurs in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, launching new ventures and providing less expensive capital to business owners that had relied on more costly merchant cash advances.

Farmer watering soil is not all wet

I received a voice mail this week from a fellow who was indignant that some grower out on Williams Road was intermittently watering empty dirt and asphalt in the midst of the Drought of the Century, keeping in mind, of course, that this century is still a teenager.

This caller’s experience is a great example of both misconceptions and shortfalls. The misconception is that the grower was watering needlessly. The shortfall is that the farmer was indeed watering with sprinklers that shot some amount of H2O onto a roadway.

It’s February, and soon the nomads from Yuma will be making their way back to the Salinas Valley to begin their spring planting. Young transplants need to be planted in moist soil to thrive. Mother Nature usually takes care of that with her ancient concept of “winter rain.” But since she started vacationing in the Sahara Desert it’s hard telling what she’s going to do next.

Responding to drought, Peninsula water districts approves interim conservation measures

In the midst of the worst drought in California history, the board of directors of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) voted unanimously today in approving increased interim conservation measures, which will largely rely on informed residents conserving voluntarily.

According to a statement issued today by the MPWMD, the measures don't include any conservation mandates, but focus on increased conservation public outreach, as well as "additional riparian vegetation and fisheries activities along the Carmel River."

Volunteers help to restore natural habitat of Struve Slough

More than 50 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and got down on their knees to dig holes for plants as part of a project to restore Struve Slough in Watsonville Saturday.

The area around the slough, near Ohlone Parkway just south of Main Street, was once ranchland before it was developed into a residential area, said Jonathan Pilch, restoration director for Watsonville Wetlands Watch, which helped organize the project.

Salinas Valley farmers wise, efficient at water use

We all know it takes water to grow food, and in some crops, a lot of water. Demand for high-quality fresh food products is increasing rapidly, as the health benefits of wise eating habits are continuously refined and publicized. In order to meet that demand for fresh, local food products, farmers here are maintaining their water resources in a sustainable fashion; over the course of the past two decades, yields and crop quality have increased dramatically but water use has not increased.

Efficiency has been aided by technology and research into crop management. Over 60 percent of our fields are now on drip irrigation, feeding water only to the root zone of each plant individually for maximum efficiency. Ongoing research into when a crop is most receptive to irrigation will continue to reform the irrigation practices of local farmers in the coming years.

Hole in one: Cal Am finishes first bore hole on Cemex property.

It's hard to imagine holes in the sand being quite so controversial, but these aren't the kind of holes kids can dig with plastic beach shovels.

It took lengthy public testimony and an appeal by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority to get a 3-1 nod from Marina City Council for California American Water contractors to proceed with two 350-foot deep bore holes in North Marina, where the water purveyor is looking to drill a slant well to suck up brackish water for its proposed desal plant.

The question at hand: Is the water supply there attached mostly to the ocean—which would be good news for Cal Am—or the Salinas Valley groundwater basin, which would raise red flags over agricultural water rights and saltwater intrusion.

To get at those samples, a drilling crew spent almost two weeks drilling in about 20-foot increments. They finished hole number one on Thursday, and begin the second of two on Monday—when they'll be butting up against snowy plover nesting season.

With a fraction of normal rainfall on the books, officials look for what will trigger serious rationing.

After a record dry December and January, rain finally fell on Monterey County in the first weeks of February, just in time for the AT&T Pro-Am. Golf got delayed, plants got a boost and spirits were buoyed. But our drought only budged a few inches, and local water officials are still faced with the delicate decision of when to sound the alarm.

“Everybody’s standing at the AT&T thinking, ‘Hey, great, it’s been raining,’” says Dave Stoldt, general manager of the the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD). “But the reality is: not so much.”

As of Feb. 9, the total rainfall at Carmel River’s San Clemente Dam was 2.2 inches for the current water year (which begins in October), only 18 percent of the long-term average of 12.43 inches.

Santa Cruz council to consider drought response, new water panel

The Santa Cruz City Council is expected Tuesday to appoint nominees to a new water supply committee and consider taking a step toward enacting mandatory water rationing in response to an ongoing statewide drought.

The council's 7 p.m. meeting will be dedicated to weighing a recommendation from city water commissioners to increase the current water shortage alert from voluntary cutbacks of 5 percent to mandatory curtailment of up to 25 percent during the next several months.

The Stage 3 Water Emergency would allow water officials to establish consumption targets for households, businesses and other customers, as well as set penalty rates for exceeding those limits. The Water Department needs time to hire additional staff, increase public communication and take other steps to prepare for a level of cuts unseen since 1990.

Because the state's water code requires the noticing of a public hearing to take such measures, the council cannot make a decision Tuesday. However, the council could schedule a special meeting for Feb. 18 or take up the matter during its next regular meeting Feb. 25.

How Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup grew to be a must attend event

When Doug Erickson, a globe-trotting veteran of Silicon Valley, launched the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp six years ago, 22 people showed up.

"I had to beg and bribe my friends to attend the first event," he recalled.

From working at Cisco, WebEx and SugarCRM, he knew more than 500 tech people around the world, but only a handful in Santa Cruz, his hometown.

Yet this MeetUp has grown -- during the worst recession since the Great Depression -- to become one of the largest in Santa Cruz.

Surf n' turf: Oceanic filmmaker dives into beef business

Although boutique wineries are fairly common in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, a boutique beef operation is a bit of a curiosity. Unusual as it may be, though, Tassajara Natural Meats is serious business to Mark Shelley and his family.A filmmaker by trade, Shelley is driven by a passion for wholesome meat and a vision of how cattle should be raised and handled to produce the best beef possible.

International Trade Group Aims to Brand Monterey Bay

A group of non-profit organizations and private sector businesses have joined forces to develop a new business league called Brand Monterey Bay (BMB) whose mission is branding and marketing the Monterey Bay region of California for investment, trade, and tourism. The group will provide funds and business support services to regional projects and initiatives undertaken by the cities, counties, economic development agencies, business councils and private businesses located within the region.

The Monterey Bay region, located 75 miles south of San Francisco, comprises the counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito on the beautiful Central Coast of California. The region is uniquely located, adjoining Silicon Valley to its north, encompassing the spectacular Big Sur coastline to the south, the nation’s new Pinnacles National Park to the east, the MontereyBay National Marine Sanctuary to the west, and at its heart, the Salinas Valley ‘Steinbeck country’, which is also known as the ‘salad bowl of the world’.

Earthbound co-founder talks up 'big organic'

Earthbound Farm co-founder Myra Goodman plans to speak “in praise of big organic” March 1 at a technology, entertainment and design event in New York City. Goodman plans to debunk claims that large organic operations have become industrialized or less authentic, said Samantha Cabaluna, vice president of marketing and communications for San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound. Goodman will clarify issues of organic versus local produce.

Dubbed “Changing the Way We Eat,” the TEDxManhattan event is scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. Eastern webcast start, with Goodman speaking at about 4:30 p.m. Other participants include David McInerney, co-founder of online grocer FreshDirect.

Planning the future of transportation for Santa Cruz County

What's the plan for our transportation system?

Every four years, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Plan is updated to analyze highway, local road, bus, bicycle, pedestrian and other transportation system needs for the next 20-25 years.

While the commission is the lead agency, broad participation in the development of the document helps make the plan reflective of community values about how we will get around in the future.

Balancing our extensive transportation needs with very limited funds is a challenging task. The Draft 2014 Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Plan incorporates a sustainability analysis to identify transportation investments that improve access, mobility, the environment, public health, safety, the economy, equity and preserve our existing transportation system, all within financial constraints.

Monterey's failed desal project: Whistle-blowing status was investigated for water chief

One minute, Monterey County water chief Curtis Weeks was a potential whistle-blower and the next he walked away with a $100,000 severance check and a promise to stay silent on the failed regional desalination project.

Salinas defense attorney Michael Lawrence confirmed he briefly researched the possibility of Weeks invoking whistle-blower status in the defense of his former friend and colleague Steve Collins. That was in June 2011, shortly after Collins hired Lawrence to defend him against impending criminal conflict-of-interest charges connected to Collins' work as a consultant on the desalination project while he sat on the Monterey County Water Resources Agency board.

In a June 30, 2011 email to Collins obtained by The Herald, Lawrence states that he emailed a memorandum on protections under the whistle-blower statute to Monterey defense attorney Larry Biegel, who was representing Weeks in the probe by the Monterey County District Attorney's Office.

Seaside mulls big mixed-use project for Fort Ord

The Seaside City Council on Thursday will consider giving its preliminary blessing for a major residential and commercial development on Fort Ord land, a project being called the Seaside University Center.

The council will consider staff-recommended approval of a 12-month exclusive negotiating agreement with familiar Seaside developer K-B Bakewell.

As outlined by the developer, it would include a 20-acre retail center, entertainment space, a business park, more than 220 houses and additional apartments.

The yearlong deal would provide time for the developer to complete plans for the property, conduct a market study, submit a formal application, reach a land-acquisition agreement and perform environmental studies.

The site comprises about 76 acres in two neighboring tracts called the "Surplus II site" south of Gigling Road and the "26 Acres" site south of Lightfighter Drive.

The development group, which built the 380-home Seaside Highlands development 10 years ago, has been seeking the Surplus II land since 2011, but the process stalled when the state scrapped local redevelopment agencies.

Central Coast water quality board approves pesticide limits affecting farmers

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board voted unanimously on Thursday to approve targets for pesticide reduction in the Santa Maria River Watershed.

The board discussed the issue for about three hours at its meeting in Watsonville, hearing comments from stakeholders ranging from private farmers to representatives of the city of Santa Maria.

Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, gave her testimony. She said the targets, which would require farmers to demonstrate progress in reducing pesticides in local surface waters, would be very difficult for some farmers to meet.

“I would say (I’m) disappointed with these options of (total maximum daily loads),” she said.

Christopher Rose, a senior environmental scientist for the board, said it would be more difficult for some farmers to meet those targets than others but that it’s doable.

“It's also important to note that in some areas, we don't have toxicity problems,” Rose said. “And farmers are farming without impairments to water bodies from pesticides. So it can be done.”

The issue will need to travel through a few other agencies before it’s completely approved, Wineman said. The most important of those votes likely will take place at a state water board meeting in

October.

Drought: The tip of a melting iceberg

On the week California released its action plan to address the ongoing drought, top climate scientists from California, Nevada and Arizona cautioned that what growers in the Salinas Valley and throughout the west are experiencing now could be the “new norm.”

Certainly a severe, sustained drought would be ruinous to many facets of California’s way of life — environmental, social, economic — but the toll it would take on agriculture cannot be understated. 

Without rain, groundwater in the Salinas Valley basin will not be recharged, forcing growers to drill deeper into aquifers at a much higher cost and a decline in water quality. Overdrafting of wells more than they are now would exacerbate seawater intrusion already plaguing Monterey County. And farmers forced to switch from lucrative specialty vegetables to far less profitable drought-resistant crops or dry farming would have an economic ripple throughout the region.

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