Sunday, February 27, 2005

Gullixson spills the beans: pols have just ten months to deliver for developers

Even the Press Democrat lets the truth slip out now and then. After months of pro-development and anti-salamander propaganda, Assistant Editorial Director Paul Gullixson wrote today,

"the reality is the Fish and Wildlife Service is under court mandate to designate critical salamander habitat in Sonoma County by December. And if local officials are not able to come up with a plan that has regional support, the service may be forced to make sweeping definitions of critical habitat that could be far more severe than anything imagined so far." (2/27/05, "Readers react to salamander questions")

Some developers with projects in the Santa Rosa Plain sued the F&WS last February, hoping to weaken or eliminate federal listing of the California Tiger Salamander as an endangered or threatened species. Then they sat down to negotiate a habitat preservation deal that allowed continued development.

According to a North Bay Business Journal story last March, a group of ten developers called CTS Fund II, coordinated by Carolyn Wasem, was raising $20,000 a month to fund negotiations with the F&WS. They hired former Deputy City Manager Ed Brauner to facilitate an agreement. [See below: "Press Democrat can't say 'CTS Fund II' "]

The PD reported the negotiations were between the City and F&WS, and the City indeed supported the meetings. Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park had limited roles in the developers' lawsuit, and SR Public Works engineer Colleen Ferguson now represents Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Cotati at the table.

The negotiators were renamed the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team last May. The team is meeting through March at the City's Municipal Services Center and Geysers Operations Center on Stony Point Road, and Ferguson created a team page at the City website: .

The Team's draft plan has not been released, but the PD has been commenting on it in detail. Gullixson said today, "the draft plan now on the table may be the foundation of the best possible outcome. Whether it's workable has yet to be determined."

The PD's two-part editorial last week concluded, "it will be important for Sonoma County not to abandon the idea that a workable solution can be found - one that ensures preservation and allows change. It's this middle ground that offers the best hope for avoiding the slippery slope toward more lawsuits, more delays and the possibility of mandates that are ever more onerous."

A box within last week's editorial asked the public to write letters for "a special package in an upcoming edition", and the PD printed some of them today. The PD also took a "less than scientific" survey, to which Gullixson said 220 "regular letter writers" responded.

It's no suprise his editorial column today concluded, "So the good news from all of this is that residents want some middle-ground solution." That's what the editorial asked for, and that's how the PD slanted its poll:

"When given the statement, 'Sonoma County needs to develop a reasonable tiger salamander preservation plan that protects the species while still allowing some development,' 71 percent of our respondents said they either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed. "

It's pretty clear the PD is spinning its news and editorials to get the public behind a habitat preservation plan that will allow at least "some" development. Is it working?

Gullixson wrote, "The bad news is it's not clear where that [middle ground solution] is - and readers aren't confident officials will get there. The burden is on the decision-makers to prove them wrong."


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