Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Developers whine, so Council has Kolin dump Goldberg

At age 60, most senior City officials are looking forward to their final years of professional service. But not Wayne Goldberg, head of Santa Rosa's Department of Community Development for the last 22 years. All he has to look forward to is either spending the remainder of his career under City Manager Jeff Kolin's thumb, or taking early retirement.

Kolin just demoted Goldberg to a new staff job in the City Manager's Office, and made his deputy Chuck Regalia acting director. The City will continue to pay him the $133,740 director's salary, but Goldberg goes from head of the $6.4 million DCD with 65 employees, to "Director of Advance Planning and Public Policy" in Kolin's Office, supervising just two planners.

This may be the most egregiously political action the Council and Kolin have taken in public. Powerful local developers and businessmen reportedly lobbied the six Councilmembers who share their views and get their contributions, and the Council told Kolin to get rid of Goldberg.

The Press Democrat reported Mayor Jane Bender said, "council members continued to be inundated with complaints from business owners, home builders and the wider community as well. ... she said council members shared the complaints about the planning department's bureaucracy, along with their own concerns, with the city manager."

City Hall reporter Mike McCoy wrote, "Goldberg has been at the center of criticism the past few years by the 1,000-member Home Builders Association of Northern California and the 1,100-member Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. Leaders of the two organizations contend the planning department imposes too many regulations on development and its slow processing of plans and permits is costing home builders money and stifling business and job creation."

The Council probably responded to complaints from leaders of the Sonoma County Alliance and its PAC--the countywide developer/business lobby to which the Homebuilders, the Chamber, and most of the Council belong. SCAPAC campaigned for Mayor Bender and Councilmembers Mike Martini, Lee Pierce, and John Sawyer last November.

Martini, Pierce, Vice Mayor Bob Blanchard, and Janet Condron are current SCA members. Former Mayor Sharon Wright was the Alliance's paid Executive Director when she was first elected, and during most of her tenure on the Council. The Alliance hired Martini to run it when he was Mayor, and he worked there for two years.

I've been watching the Council, appointed officials, City Manager and staff make and break the rules for special interests since the late 1980s. The developers, business, and the Council have tried for years to change the rules to speed development.

When Goldberg couldn't or wouldn't change the system to please them, they punished his department, then decided to replace him: "Charlie Carson, executive director of the home builders's group, and chamber president Mike Hauser said their members don't believe there has been much improvement.

'We have been complaining for years that the system needed to be fixed. It still seems to take an inordinate amount of time,' Carson said. While Carson said his association's goal in past years had 'not been to change personnel but to change the system,' members shifted their position when improvements weren't forthcoming. (3/24/05, "Under fire, SR planning agency chief reassigned/Goldberg gets new job after complaints from developers, council on slow permit process")

Kolin was uncommonly smarmy about reporting Goldberg's demotion to flunkydom: "As most of you have probably heard, I have asked Wayne Goldberg to head up a new department for Advance Planning and Public Policy. One of the things that we have been hearing in the community is that we need more focus on advanced planning and looking at the long term policy issues related to development.

Over the years, Wayne has shown me that this is really his strength. He is more of a visionary and has an understanding of the community that makes him ideal for the new position. ... I asked Wayne to work directly in my office so that the public understands the importance that we are placing on this new position."

Goldberg ran DCD for 22 years, but after less than five years as City Manager, Kolin claimed to have determined Goldberg's forte was planning, not administration. It's notable that moving advanced planning into the City Manager's Office also puts Kolin directly in charge of the City's General Plan process.

It's also curious that the developers and businessmen apparently don't object to Goldberg's deputy Chuck Regalia, who has been far more directly involved in processing development applications. Kolin made Regalia acting director, and hinted he might promote him to director:

"Chuck Regalia will be taking over the duties of Director of Community Development beginning April 4 while I recruit for a new director. I am sure that Chuck will be applying for the position as well."

I've talked to people who complained that Goldberg himself was too subject to pressure; and even that he was too friendly with the developers, and DCD was already biased in their favor. But in my experience, Goldberg has been an honest, highly professional City executive.

He's done an amazing job under severe political pressure. He doesn't deserve to be dumped on and dumped at the climax of his professional career.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Real estate group plans to cash in on new immigrants

The five-month-old Sonoma County chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals already has 125 members, according to the Press Democrat. Supporters include Bank of America, Century 21, Fidelity Title Co., First American Title Co., North Bay Title Co., and Wells Fargo Bank.

The PD quoted Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, and Juan Nieto, a Frank Howard Allen agent and president of the new group. "Census figures show the Latino community here grew 92 percent between 1990 and 2000, and there's every reason to believe that trend will continue, Stone said. Those kinds of figures make it clear that Latinos are no longer an 'emerging market' but a powerful force.

'It's not emerging anymore. It's right in front of us. It's here,' Nieto said. 'If you're not tapping it, you're missing something.' " (3/26/05, Building Latino homeownership/Chapter of national real estate group combines education, networking, advocacy)

Local developers and businessmen have argued for years that without continuous growth, our own children won't be able to get a job and buy a house here. The median selling price of a local house recently topped half a million dollars. The merchants of growth have told us teachers, police, and firefighters can't afford to live here.

Yet the Latino immigrant population nearly doubled in ten years. And now, banks and real estate and title companies see Latino immigrants as a profitable new market for local real estate.

Kevin McCallum's story said, "Latinos are more inclined to involve multiple family members in different aspects of the real estate transaction. Whether it's friends or family members co-signing loans or a couple's children and parents attending a closing, the real estate industry needs to do a better job of understanding such cultural factors, Nieto said."

It sounds like the new, low-paid immigrants are networking family members and friends, and pooling resources to buy into the housing market. The same "cultural factors" have worked for years for other minorities: some Sonoma County gay men were pooling their money and labor as far back as the '60s, to buy and recondition crumbling Victorian houses in San Francisco.

The new immigrants are here because local business wants their cheap labor for the wine and tourist industries. It figures that other business interests would plan to profit again by selling them houses.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Closed session key to parking garage condo deal?

California's Brown Act requires the City Council to do most of the public's business at open and public meetings. But it also allows the Council to meet in secret Closed Session to authorize its negotiator to buy/sell/exchange/lease real estate.

The minutes of the Council meeting of 12/21/04 record that the Council met with City Manager Kolin in closed session for Item 3.6, "CONFERENCE WITH REAL PROPERTY NEGOTIATOR/Property: 730 Third Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95404 (A.P.N. 009-072-044)/Agency Negotiator: Jeff Kolin, City Manager/Negotiating Parties: Hugh Futrell, Hugh Futrell, LLC/Tom Monahan, Monahan Pacific Corporation/H. James Schafer, Samuelson Schafer/Under Negotiation: Price and terms of payment".

And later under Item 5, the City Attorney reported on six similar closed sessions before the regular meeting: "City Attorney Farrell announced that the Council had met in closed session regarding items 3.1 through 3.6 as listed on the agenda. He stated no action was taken and there were no announcements to be made."

So according to the minutes, the Council in late December was negotiating with the three developers either the sale, or the purchase/exchange/lease of some property at 730 Third Street. No one has explained the City’s interest in that specific property, and that address may not be correct.

The address of Kinkos Copies, at the corner of Third and D, is 700 Third Street, and the small shops east of Kinko’s bear the addresses 720, 730, and 740 Third Street. The tenant at 730 Third Street was a shop called Chelsea at Home. A current sign across the front of 730/740 Third Street reads, "Metrodome Salon/Skin Care/Massage".

No one has claimed the City owns the property, so the negotiations must have been for the City to buy, trade for, or lease 730 Third Street. But it appears none of the three developers owned 730 Third Street last December either, so none of them could sell, trade, or lease it to the City.

Monahan Pacific reportedly was in the process of buying the whole corner, but Futrell and Samuelson Schafer apparently had no interest in the property. Monahan Pacific may still build a previously proposed project called The Rises, which has been described as being at 740 Third Street.

So why did the Council meet in secret to discuss the "price and terms of payment" for a property that didn't belong to any of the four negotiating parties? One explanation might be that the Council was working on a deal to buy or trade property with Monahan Pacific, in connection with the Council's parking garage project on the White House parking lot next door.

Futrell and Samuelson Schafer reportedly were competing with Monahan Pacific to build a housing component to the City parking garage. But what did they have to do with the property at 730 Third Street, or The Rises project?

Thereby hangs a tale too long to tell here in a single story ...

(To be continued)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Business/government export good jobs, import cheap labor

The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County is a labor-based coalition "to address the problem of growing income inequality and poverty in our community." It released its study "The Limits of Prosperity" at a March 5 forum at SRJC. LWC Coordinator Ben Boyce praised the study today in a Press Democrat letter (3/19/05, "Growing poverty").

Boyce wrote, "The pattern of polarization of wealth described in the study is a consequence of the intersection of two macro-economic trends: Internationally, the globalization created by the NAFTA and GATT trade regimes, and the corresponding domestic agenda, the low-wage WalMart economic development model. This model is, in essence, a business strategy based on manufactured goods made by Asian ultra-low-wage labor, sold in the United States by low-wage workers with few benefits and high levels of job insecurity. This is not a sustainable economic development model."

There's an easier way to say that: business and government--which are essentially the same these days--send good American jobs to the Third World, and encourage immigration to fill the low-paying jobs that remain.

For example, today's PD reported Wal-Mart admitted no guilt, escaped criminal charges, and will pay a token $11 million fine for hiring hundreds of illegal immigrants to clean floors. The AP story said a spokeswoman cited Wal-Mart's "ongoing partnership with the government".

Local business and government are applying the same "Economic Development" model here, where the local economy is increasingly based on grapegrowing, wineries and tourism. "Telecom Valley" was a fluke and local manufacturing is going fast, with Agilent moving to Malaysia and Amy's Kitchen to Oregon.

I'd like to hear some straight talk from people like Boyce and the LWC. Sooner or later, they'll have to say the problem is Mexican immigrants--legal and illegal--are undercutting Sonoma County labor. And if they do, they'll have to say that local business and government want it that way, and the taxpayers are paying for it.

But I don't think they will. The solution the Living Wage Coalition proposes begins with local governments raising public employees' salaries, and requiring government contractors to pay higher wages. That will cost the taxpayers even more, but do little for the private sector workers who pay the taxes.

No, the LWC isn't likely to challenge local governments at the same time it's asking them to pass Living Wage Ordinances. What's more, government and labor know something most local citizens don't: government itself is a major part of the local economy, and organized labor today is mainly government employees like teachers and office workers.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

PD tells SMART, "Leave development to cities"

With $4 million of SRJC bond money in his pocket, Michael Salinger wants the City of Santa Rosa to be in charge of building a proposed Food & Wine Center in Railroad Square. [See below: "City's business is development, says Salinger"]

The Press Democrat agrees: "SMART should focus on trains and the 2006 election - and let cities take the lead in development near the stations." An editorial Sunday warned local voters may reject SMART's 2006 railway bond measure, unless it lets the City run the project:

"SMART will come under fire if its decision kills the proposed food and wine center in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square. Proponents of the center are concerned that investors may give up - after years of negotiating with the city - if they have to start anew with SMART.

This would be a loss for downtown (ironically, the center grew from a process to make Santa Rosa more lively and amenable to transit- and pedestrian-oriented development). It would also be a loss for SMART if it's seen as a spoiler
." (3/13/05, "Not so SMART/Rail agency should focus on trains and leave development to cities")

The editor said "investors" who have negotiated with the City for years may not want to start over again with SMART. But there's no indication anyone invested anything but their time and influence at City Hall. And in fact, Salinger's SRJC Culinary program may be the only potential investor of actual money.

The PD also said the F&WC is the product of "a process to make Santa Rosa more lively and amenable to transit- and pedestrian-oriented development". That process presumably included the Council's 1996 Downtown Partnership Committee, the recommendations of the 1998 R/UDAT Report, and the efforts of the Council-funded CityVision (now Santa Rosa Main Street) to implement it.

But the process never had anything to do with Santa Rosa as a whole--it was always of, by, and for the Downtown/Railroad Square property and business owners, investors, and developers. The current dispute demonstrates it was never about transit-oriented development either.

The editor wrote, "Members of the SMART board argue that they can increase ridership by creating a mix of jobs and housing near train stations. Yes, they can. But so can city councils -many of which are already building transit-oriented development projects in their downtowns.

"To question the commitment of cities to this type of development will likely gain SMART enemies among local elected officials and voters. Voters, who don't like government waste, will question why an agency formed to run a railroad would divert staff time on negotiating directly with developers over land-use decisions, when this is something that cities currently do. "

But SMART hasn't questioned any city's commitment to transit-oriented development. It hasn't even publicly questioned the SR Council's visible commitment to the Downtown/Railroad Square commercial interests. SMART apparently just wants to control its own 5 1/2 acres in Railroad Square, and ensure development is compatible with a future railway.

So the PD's warning isn't about alienating voters in 2006. It's a threat that if SMART queers the F&WC deal, then Downtown/Railroad Square business, the City, and the region's major daily may not support the 2006 bond measure.

The SMART directors are scheduled to confirm on Wednesday their tentative agreement to develop the site themselves. Maybe we'll see how they react to thinly veiled threats from local government and business.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

City's business is development, says Salinger

The City of Santa Rosa should be in charge of building a food and wine center in Railroad Square, according to Michael Salinger, coordinator of the Culinary Arts program at Santa Rosa Junior College. He thinks the City should do the job because, "The city of Santa Rosa is essentially in the business of doing development".

The JC is about the only visible investor in the proposed F&WC so far. Voters probably still don't know they gave Salinger's program $4 million, when they approved the JC's $251 million bond Measure A in March 2002.

Just after it passed, a private group incorporated April 11 as the nonprofit Sonoma County Food and Wine Center. Salinger and JC vice president Curt Groninga are among its directors.

Now it looks like the promise of the JC's bond money may be all that's keeping the F&WC vision alive.

The City Council strongly supports Downtown/Railroad Square business--in fact, it just renamed the City's Department of Housing and Redevelopment "Economic Development and Housing". But the Council has also paid lip service to building a regional railway, with a station in Railroad Square.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), a regional public agency, is in charge of the railway. Measure M just gave SMART $23 million, and it plans to put another bond measure on the 2006 ballot.

The Press Democrat reported Friday, "The city and the food and wine center group have outlined plans for an open-air farmers market, a wine-tasting and education center and a building to house the Santa Rosa Junior College cooking program. Santa Rosa officials want SMART to lease the land to the city so they can deal directly with developers. "

The 1998 R/UDAT Report recommended creating a small farmers market on Fourth Street, but the Council-funded CityVision group wanted more. CityVision and the Redevelopment Agency sponsored a Public Marketplace Feasability Study, and presented it to the Council at a 9/3/00 "Study Session". SRJC was the largest contributor to the study, presumably through CityVision.

The Council soon made it a formal goal to build a F&WC--without ever asking the public what we thought about it. Councilman Mike Martini, a partner in Taft Street Winery in Sebastopol, is a longtime major booster.

But the SMART directors tentatively agreed Thursday to hang onto their 5 1/2 acres in Railroad Square. San Rafael Mayor and SMART board member Al Boro said, "I don't think that just because we are another public agency our land is up for grabs."

The PD reported, "SMART board members insisted the decision won't mean the Sonoma County Food and Wine Center gets shelved, just that they would have the final say in the elements of the project so long as they meet city land use guidelines. SMART has put a heavy emphasis on affordable housing and combining residential and commercial uses, saying that will promote ridership of the passenger rail service it's planning.

Santa Rosa already faces a lawsuit contending that plans for Railroad Square don't include enough affordable housing. Some groups also say city plans don't sufficiently account for rail-transit opportunities." (3/11/05, "SR food and wine center hits snag/Regional transit agency balks at leasing land for Railroad Square development, seeks its own role")

F&WC boosters have a good relationship with the Council, and they don't want to work with SMART. Salinger told the PD the City knows its business, SMART doesn't:

"'SMART is a fairly new, fledgling operation that does not have the expertise to develop real estate at this point in time,' he said. 'The city of Santa Rosa is essentially in the business of doing development.' "

And Councilwoman Janet Condron fears investors who would deal with the City won't deal with SMART: "'If those kinds of things are going to have to go through the SMART process, they might walk,' she said. 'I have a high level of frustration if that is what happens.' "

But it's unclear whether there are any other serious investors. When the late Jim Brecht presented the Feasability Study to the Council, he said the project didn't pencil out, and suggested the Sonoma County Community Foundation might solicit donations to build it. The Community Foundation is another local nonprofit with interests in Railroad Square, including its Chop's teen center.

Salinger told the PD the Culinary Center is looking for another Railroad Square property to buy; and attorney John Mackie, vice president of Sonoma County Food and Wine Center, said his group might go somewhere else entirely:

"Food and wine center advocates are getting overtures from other communities to move the project elsewhere, according to John Mackie, the group's vice president. Cutting the city out of the lead negotiating role may push the group in that direction, he said.

'People who are in the food and wine world say, "Why don't you just give that up?"' he said of the Railroad Square location. 'I think we have to explore that.' "

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Who profits from Burbank Housing's "nonprofit" development?

"Nonprofit" corporations aren't necessarily charities. And when a nonprofit corporation does business, that doesn't mean nobody profits from the deal.

Nonprofit Burbank Housing builds and manages affordable housing. It's all but an arm of local government. Its website says, "We are involved in active partnership with local governments to meet housing objectives, working in cooperation with all nine cities in the County and the unincorporated area. Burbank Housing's ongoing role in the development of affordable housing within the County is referenced in the current housing elements of the County's local governments."

Burbank Housing Development Corporation (BHDC) is a nonprofit developer, and Burbank Housing Management Corporation is its rental management arm. A Press Democrat story today said Burbank built 600 homes and more than 1700 apartments in the last 20 years. (3/5/05, "Burbank housing repairs finances")

So how does a nonprofit developer work? "To make the projects affordable, Burbank Housing relies on a complex array of financing to lower development costs, rents and purchase prices. Much of it is tax-credit financing to attract private investors, providing developer fees that pay Burbank Housing's costs and construction loans.

Public agencies provide deferred loans often used to buy land, pay costs for engineers, architects and other professional services, or show a local subsidy to compete for federal tax credits. Much of the private money, however, isn't paid until a project is completed and has two months or more of cash flow. 'We have to earn a living just like any other developer does,' [executive director John] Lowry said."

And like other developers, nonprofits have unexpected setbacks: "Despite its experience in financing and completing projects, Burbank Housing ran into problems with project delays the past two years. Project delays mean investors contribute less and total revenues suffer."

I understand all that to say private investors get tax breaks for financing Burbank's projects. It borrows money from the local banks like other developers do, and also gets deferred loans from local agencies like the City of Santa Rosa. But the private investors don't have to pay until a project is complete and making money--and that can lead to trouble.

Nonprofit Burbank came up $750,000 short the last two years: "The deficits totaled $250,000 in the 2003 budget year and $500,000 in the 2004 budget. Burbank Housing was forced to lay off 11 employees and seek $900,000 in short-term loans, well above its more typical $500,000 line of credit."

"While Burbank Housing always has operating debt, it needed a consortium of local banks to increase their line of credit to $1.3 million.Burbank Housing needed $900,000 and projects paying that off in the current budget year. "

So now the banks and public agencies--including Santa Rosa--are making Burbank toe the line: "The banks, as well as cities and the county, have required Burbank Housing to make quarterly financial reports. Such reports had been provided on a project-by-project basis.

Burbank Housing went further and adopted its first business plan last fall. 'We were concerned. But they were able to take some corrective steps,' said David Gouin, Santa Rosa's director of economic development and housing."

[The PD identified Gouin as "director of economic development and housing", although it hasn't reported the transfer of Santa Rosa's "Economic Development" function to the former Housing & Redevelopment Department, and the semi-independent Redevelopment Agency. See the 2/28/05 item below, "City renaming Housing & Redevelopment to stress 'Economic Development' ".]

When Burbank has problems, the taxpayers' money is at risk: "Monitoring by Burbank Housing's lenders indicates the nonprofit is on the right course, Gouin said. 'The city's a stakeholder in the affordable-housing developments,' he said. 'They just worked on their construction scheduling and the project management so there's no peaks and valleys between revenue and expenditures.' "

Burbank Housing carries much of the burden of providing "affordable housing" for Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. We taxpayers lose the use of the "deferred loan" money the City Council pays to grubstake nonprofit Burbank until a project is up and running. And it looks like the "private investors"--who apparently are the coalition of local banks--eventually make a profit with little risk by paying back those loans.

The Council should be telling us a whole lot more about Burbank's "affordable housing" projects, and the way we "stakeholders" are paying for them. Are they the right projects, in the right places? Are they really necessary at all? We also have a right to know whether the local banks are making good money at our risk and expense.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

What are all these Mexicans doing here?

The other day a friend asked me, "Where did all the Mexicans come from?"
"My guess would be Mexico," I told him.

But it was a serious question, and what he really meant was, "Why are all these Mexicans here?" He was talking about the highly visible local population of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.

A simple answer would be, "They're here to make money." But a better one is the "Mexicans" are here because Sonoma County business likes cheap labor.

Vineyards, wineries, and what's left of what used to be "agriculture", have long thrived on cheap immigrant labor. Years ago, a government "bracero" program legally imported seasonal workers. The farmers were supposed to treat them fairly, and house and feed them properly, but many didn't.

Now Sonoma County "farmers" are European wine grandees, and rich men like Jess Jackson, and today's immigrants aren't just farmworkers. Mexicans work in manufacturing plants, hospitals, hotels and restaurants, as well as vineyards and wineries.

They make their own way here, live wherever they can, and profoundly impact Sonoma County and its cities. Santa Rosa's public school system is segregated, criminal gang members kill each other on the streets, and emergency rooms treat the sick and injured.

Meanwhile, organized labor and affordable housing advocates push their own agenda. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey will chair a panel at SRJC Saturday to review a paper, "The Limits of Prosperity: Growth, Inequality and Poverty in the North Bay".

Sponsors are a liberal labor/housing group called New Economy, Working Solutions (NEWS), which commissioned the study, and the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County. Martin Bennett and Michael Allen say in their foreword to the study,

"There is an alternative to the Wal-Martization of America, the race to the bottom that is taking over our economy through wage and benefit cutbacks, expansion of temporary and part-time employment, and the weakening of labor unions. We need a new social contract that will ensure a decent standard of living for all working families and enable business to compete locally and globally on the basis of efficiency, quality and innovation."

NEWS finds there's "A Latino economic underclass. Minorities are the most likely to be poor and work in the worst jobs. Latinos, in particular, earn low incomes; experience severe economic hardship; and are concentrated in the lowest-paid, most insecure jobs."

And also, "The White population decreased from 89.1% to 75.7% of the regional total between 1980 and 2000. The Latino population, by far the largest non-White group, grew the most rapidly: from 6.1% to 16.3% of the population."

The report says, "Certain service industries, Professional & Business Services, Education & Health services, and Leisure & Hospitality Services, dominated North Bay employment growth. These three sectors accounted for 52% of North Bay jobs created between 1990 and 2003."

And "Blacks, Native Americans and especially Latinos are dramatically overrepresented in occupations that are below average in skill and wage: Agricultural, Production (e.g., manufacturing assembly) and Service occupations."

True, but not news. While local business makes money from immigrants, and the taxpayers pay for their impacts, the union/housing liberals publish statistics and promote the Living Wage Ordinance.

Now would be a great time to start telling the public why all these Mexicans are here, and challenging business to help pay the bills. Now that would be NEWS!

[Go here to learn more about NEWS: http://www.neweconomynorthbay.org/index.htm ; and here to download The Limits of Prosperity (pdf): http://www.neweconomynorthbay.org/limits_of_prosperity.pdf ]

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

$100,000/acre estimate NOT from CTS Team, but Wildlands, Inc/Press Democrat

Here's what happens when the local daily paper reports the news, then editorializes on its own version of the facts. The Press Democrat has been warning that preserving California Tiger Salamander habitat could cost $100,000/acre, and a total of $400 million. The source is a PD story two weeks ago saying,

"The $400 million is a preliminary figure based on a plan to set aside 4,000 acres around seasonal ponds where salamanders breed. The cost estimate was contained in a study by a Bay Area habitat conservation specialist who shared his findings last week with government officials, environmentalists and developers studying the salamander issue.

The calculation is based on a cost of $100,000 an acre to not only buy and prepare the land, but also set up an endowment to maintain it and monitor the salamanders. " Clark Mason's 2/14/05 story was headlined, "Saving salamander could cost $400 million/Coalition pegs price of buying 4,000 acres of Sonoma County land to be set aside for habitat".

If the PD meant "Coalition" to refer to the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team, Mason's story was accurate, but the headline wasn't. The "very preliminary" financial analysis came from Wildlands, Inc., a mitigation banking company with corporate offices in Rocklin, and four branch offices in California and Washington. Wildlands did the analysis to decide whether to do business here, so it may have inflated the cost of land for bargaining purposes.

According to the Team's meeting notes for 2/10/05, "Greg Lyman of Wildlands, Inc., a mitigation banking company, met with the team and discussed the results of an analysis they conducted to determine the feasibility of their company becoming involved in mitigation banking in the Santa Rosa Plain. Greg indicated that this is a very preliminary analysis, but gives a general sense of what it would cost a project proponent to purchase credits in a preserve or bank established for CTS, listed plant, or wetlands, or a combination of these. This analysis results in an average cost per acre to acquire, improve, and maintain of about $100,000.

The Team did not delve deeply into the assumptions upon which this analysis was based; therefore, the Team did not agree or disagree with the conclusions that were reached. The Team, however, did not have any particular basis for disagreement with the conclusions reached by the analysis."

The minutes say the Team "did not agree or disagree" with Wildlands' numbers. The Team was scheduled to meet today, and to hold four more meetings this month. We probably won't see its draft report and recommendations until at least April.

So the Team itself hasn't determined the price per acre for local habitat, or recommended spending $400 million to preserve CTS habitat. The PD was misreading its own coverage last week, when a two-part editorial began, "What's certain about Sonoma County's ongoing debate over the preservation of the California tiger salamander is that the outcome will be unprecedented - and breath-taking in its expense.

We are hard-pressed to find a habitat conversation effort anywhere in the nation that equates to what this region is experiencing in terms of the scope and expense for mitigation. That's because rarely has the habitat of a listed species been identified in an area so urbanized - and in a part of the country where land prices are already so astronomically high."

[Go here for the CTS Team's webpage: http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/default.aspx?PageId=1111 ; and here to learn more about Wildlands, Inc. http://www.wildlandsinc.com/index.htm ]