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Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Heroes & Villains of Sonoma County's Environment

Sonoma County tends to be above average in environmental and social awareness, so when I got the call from a very upset visitor from Chico, I was rather taken aback by the tale she told.

Barbara brought her family to camp at Doran Park on the coast to get away from Central Valley heat over the 4th of July holidays. She, her husband and two children spent the afternoon enjoying the beach until they heard loud woops and laughter coming from a family of revelers who were carrying a cooler up to their BBQ filled with something they had gathered nearby. She watched in horror as they pulled starfish and tiny crabs out of the cooler and threw them on hot coals…just to watch them die.

Barbara immediately jumped up to stop the cruelty and was assaulted by a woman yelling at her to mind her own business. “We found them so they’re ours and we can do anything we want!” Barbara went to her husband for help, and with children in tow, tried to reason with these people. Nothing they said had any influence. Frustrated and crying, Barbara went with her family to the park ranger station at the entrance to Doran. With the help of park rangers, the offenders were arrested and what was left of the starfish and crabs were taken away.

Barbara called me because she had seen the photo of people lined up on the beach to protest the Gulf Oil Spill and offshore drilling in my July edition. What she saw were people who care… the perfect antidote to people who recklessly destroy life.

I contacted Sonoma County Regional Parks to find out what laws we have to protect these innocent critters and yes, we have laws but people are ignorant – and in this case - really didn’t care.

How do we stop destruction when laws are not enough?

Good People balance Bad People.
Shortly after Barbara’s call, I received an e-mail from a River's Edge kayak and canoe rental business in Healdsburg showing photos of how they were sending employees out in canoes to collect trash left behind over the holiday. Mountains of beer bottles were piled high among debris collected from river beaches where people cared little about the place they were visiting, nor about the people who would come next and risk cutting their feet on broken glass.

BUT – here was a business paying their employees to clean up the river. Yes, it’s the river that keeps them in business, but they could have been like so many other people and just complained to the city government that THEY should be cleaning up the mess. Instead they took it upon themselves to take care of the need.

Last month we ran a letter to the editor written by a woman asking people to be self-assigned clean-up crews along our coast because our government doesn’t have funding to hire people to do this job. “Just Do It” thinking has more people taking on tasks the great “they” aren’t accomplishing.

As our down economy falls further into debt, people need to get used to taking care of their own worlds rather than relying on government employees. This could be good for everyone as people get in touch with what it takes to maintain our home on every level. Being responsible always has lessons.

River Heroes on a Mission
We have articles all the time written by people who monitor our water systems both above and below ground. They are the individuals and groups we have come to rely upon to keep watch while the rest of us are running our lives, raising children, etc. One of these heroes asked me to take a canoe trip on the Russian River to see a problem that needs to be fixed.

Quite honestly it’s been a long time since I paddled down our river. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful with people out in droves floating on tubes and anything else that would allow them to drift down river on a leisurely day. I was impressed with how people seemed to be enjoying our home and river while treating it with respect. By the time we reached our destination I felt more confident in people’s consciousness of the river they were enjoying.

Not far west of Odd Fellows summer bridge is a long embankment where last year’s winter rains and elevated river washed away a whole section of river bank along a vineyard owned by Korbel. High up the bank, about three feet below the surface is evidence of a landfill dump that has been exposed.

River watchers found debris from this landfill far downstream and spent countless hours trying to clean plastic bags out of trees, etc. before summer canoe season. They brought me here to see if we can do something about this.

Apparently Korbel is aware of the problem but considers it beyond their financial means to fix the eroding bank. Discussions have occurred but so far nothing is in the works for removal of the debris or bank repair. Winter is fast approaching and river watchers are concerned.

At first glance it looks like a pretty simple task to dig up the trash and haul it away. Parts of it look recent and other parts look old. At this point large numbers of broken bottles and shards of glass have cascaded down the bank into the river. We picked up broken champagne bottles so thick it would take decades to break them down. Glass scattered across the river bottom where bathers were getting out of their canoes. This is dangerous.

This may be one of those projects where it’s simply too great a task for canoe clubs and river watchers to handle. As the bank continues to erode, every winter brings more trash and glass into the river. What we’re hoping is that increased awareness will bring a solution before rains begin this fall.


Water Heroes Clean Up
Every fall several groups of environmentalists and canoe/kayak clubs get together for a watershed clean-up. Tons of trash are removed from river banks throughout Sonoma County as well as up into tributaries where people leave debris all summer long. The goal is to clean up as much as humanly possible so that rains don’t wash this mess down river and out to sea.

Who creates all this trash? It’s a combination of people. Some are “campers’ finding a spot in the woods and they simply don’t clean up after themselves. Others are careless visitors who simply don’t care. And still others are people avoiding dump fees and throwing trash in places where they hope they won’t get caught. For a while the county had a surveillance system at the most frequently used dumping sites and were catching people in the act with video camera systems. But word is that this program has run out of money. That’s where citizen volunteers come in… yet again.

Keep an eye out for announcements of these upcoming clean-ups that happen in September and sometimes in October. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work hard with other caring people throughout a weekend and get the feeling that you have actually done something about a serious problem that needs time and attention. And keep in mind that you can alert authorities when you see an illegal dump. Yes, it’s against the law and fines help our county with clean-up. To report an illegal dump site, visit or call 877-565-DUMP (3867).

Being the Solution
There are two ways to balance environmental villains. One is to be responsible yourself and to influence others to care as much as you do. The other is to become involved with environmental heroes, people like water and river watchers, clean-up crews and watchdog groups.

If water is your passion, you can log on to for a list of like-minded groups across Sonoma County. There’s a full list – with links – to groups that actively work to maintain the environment many take for granted. These are the people you rarely see, but your life is impacted by their efforts. You can become one of them and be a hero.

You can also just start doing things in your daily life. See trash on the side of the road? Keep a bag and gloves in your vehicle and pick it up. Weed a public garden that isn’t getting enough attention because of low funding. Sweep an area where people frequent because it needs it.

You have too much to do at your own home to take care of the rest of the world? It’s that way for everyone. But some people consider it part of their responsibility for taking up room on this earth and using resources. Besides…you feel really good every time you do a good deed. So consider it selfish because you want that feeling more often. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Written by Vesta Copestakes with the guidance & canoe of Dave Kolman

Sec. 20-7. - Plants, animals and historic material.
No person shall remove, harm or destroy any plant, either living or dead, any animal, fish (see hunting and fishing, Section 20-9), reptile, amphibian or bird, including their nest and/or eggs, or the disturbance, removal or destruction of articles or artifacts of historical, archaeological, botanical, paleontological, geological or mineral resources, in, or from any park, except when permission is granted by park authorities.
Ord. No. 1832 § 2.) As found on

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Local vs. Super-Centers in Sonoma County

Local vs. Super-Centers

By Will Shonbrun
The Rohnert Park City Council decided to approve a proposal by Wal-Mart to expand its Rohnert Park store by more than 40,000 square feet, becoming a super-center selling both groceries and retail. Rohnert Park’s Planning Commission voted to turn down Wal-Mart’s proposal in April, but the company appealed the decision to the city council…and won.


There are pros and cons regarding this massive project though the negatives far outweigh the positives. What can be said in favor of the proposal, and has been said in a number of letters to the Press Democrat, is that it will provide a place for inexpensive foods and goods to many people on very limited incomes. It is also said that it will provide more jobs in the community though these are very low-paying ones, most with no health benefits.

Counter to the argument for jobs gained is the potential for jobs lost by local businesses that might well be forced to close; good jobs paying decent wages and providing benefits, such as those at Pacific Market, Oliver’s and other groceries, and the 50-60 local and regional businesses that would be affected by their closure. Just a few of these local suppliers are Amy’s Organics, Alvarado Street Bakery, Wildwood Natural Foods, Redwood Hill Farms, Kozlowski Farms and La Tortilla Factory. Nationally Wal-Mart has wiped out thousands of local businesses and their suppliers leading to an urban decay in neighborhood shopping centers where stores like Pacific Market are the anchor and draw for other small businesses.

Therefore the potential for jobs lost would far surpass jobs gained. Finally, in favor of the expansion it’s argued that it will increase tax revenue for the city, but this is debatable. Most of the expansion will be for nontaxable food items, and what the super-center might provide in increased tax revenue may well be offset by decreased tax money from affected local businesses.

Wal-Mart has become a retail behemoth by keeping costs low: wages, health benefits, reducing full timers to part time, keeping unions out and buying cheap goods from foreign sources. Giants like Wal-Mart have closed tens of thousands of local independent businesses nationally, including pharmacies, hardware stores, bookstores, groceries and other retailers. According to a University of Missouri report that examined 1,749 counties where Wal-Mart located and the resulting loss of jobs were taken into account, “The superstores contributed just 30 jobs on average” Furthermore, most of the dollars that go to Wal-Mart stores leave the local economy. A policy study authored by Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, cites a report by the firm Civic Economics, which found that “…every $100 spent at an independent store generates $23 more in local economic activity than $100 spent at a chain.”

In addition, local businesses tend to be much more community involved than large out-of-state chains when it comes to charitable contributions and participation in community services and neighborhood organizations. Profits generated from Wal-Marts go back to corporate headquarters in Arkansas, whereas locally generated business revenue stays primarily in the community.

There has been a strong movement in Sonoma County and other Northern California regions to “shop local and eat local,” taking advantage of the many small businesses that produce local foods, goods and services. A perfect example of this is the growing popularity of weekly farmers’ markets in practically all of the county’s nine cities. 

Local businesses are supporters of schools, community organizations, community projects and non-profits, as well as the primary suppliers of local jobs. Buying from these businesses keeps the money circulating in the local economy, greatly serves the community’s needs and means a good deal less driving longer distances, which translates to a healthier environment.

Will Shonbrun is a freelance journalist in Sonoma. To view more of his writing, visit

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Dramatic Rise of Hunger in Sonoma County

Dramatic Rise of Hunger

Median Household Income $930 a Month of Food Recipients

By Bob Klose
The number of Sonoma County residents needing help to feed themselves and their families has risen 20 percent during each of the past two years, producing a growing community of people who are living on just one-fifth of the median household income of their neighbors, a study by the Redwood Empire Food Bank shows.

“Our most startling and ultimately significant finding is the incredibly low median monthly income of $930 a month reported by food recipients,” the report said. “If you consider that $1,078 was the median rent for an apartment in Sonoma County in 2008, you can understand why there is little if any money left for food or necessities.”

The hunger study, Hunger in Sonoma County 2010, was conducted in 2009. It included the participation of 114 Sonoma County pantries, kitchens and shelters which interviewed some 357 recipients of food bank distributions in Sonoma, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol, and Rohnert Park/Cotati as well as unincorporated areas of the county. Highlights of the survey include:

Food Insecurity
74 percent of households receiving food relief in Sonoma County experience low or very low food security, which is defined by the USDA as reports of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
Food insecurity is particularly difficult for households with children. When children are in the home, households reporting “low food security” rose from 43.8 percent without children to 57.8 percent with children under 18.

Jobs and Income
52 percent of food recipients are working and report that the largest source of their income comes from a job. The next highest source of income is Social Security.
Only 2.7 percent of food recipients participating in the study rely on government assistance programs commonly called welfare.

61 percent of food recipients live at or below the federal poverty line, which is $903 a month for one person, $1,214 for two people, and $1,838 for a family of four.
35 percent were forced to choose between paying for food and paying for other basic necessities.
About a third of recipients had to choose between buying food or paying for utilities, rent, medicine or medical care.

30 percent have no access to a car which limited their ability to seek food, services and a job.
21 percent had a hard time or were late paying rent during the previous month.
10 percent have no place to live.

Of households with children, 73 percent have incomes 130 percent below poverty line.
17 percent of recipients said their children were hungry during the previous year.
38 percent of all food recipients are under 18.

“In Sonoma County, land of award-winning wineries and gourmet eateries, there are families that cannot afford to feed their children nutritious food,” the report said. It noted that the rising rate of childhood obesity is directly related to the inability of families to provide healthy food for their children. “

41 percent of senior food recipients 65 and older report low or very low food security.

58 percent of households with at least one person over 65 live on incomes 130 percent of poverty level, and another 36 percent have incomes between 131-150 percent of poverty level.

The study also reports on the ability of the 146 various agencies that work with the REFB to provide hunger relief in Sonoma County. It found that agencies report an increase in requests for help from 70 to 88 percent in 2009 versus the previous three years. Seventy-seven percent of agency food comes from the REFB, 78 percent of agencies have no paid staff, and the average number of meals served by kitchens in a day was 304.

“As a hunger study interviewer, one gains a strong understanding of the fragility of well-being. None of the people interviewed ever imagined they would be seeking food assistance,” said Goodman.

The REFB report said the study information will be used to help improve services, advocate for policy changes and “fuel our mission of ending hunger in our community.”
Among other things, Goodman said, the study shows that there are varying degrees of food insecurity and hunger, and as a result different types of help are necessary to meet people’s needs.

For example:
A person who is hungry every day will be best served by a soup kitchen.
Someone whose income can’t last them through the week or month will find a food pantry most beneficial.

Many people can make it on their own if they have access to affordable groceries.
“In this situation, a Value Marketplace where one can find affordable groceries is the best choice,” Goodman said.

The REFB, working with 146 partner agencies, provides hunger relief to some 70,000 individuals and families in every community of Sonoma County including Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sonoma Valley, Santa Rosa, the West County and Russian River communities and the North County from Windsor to Cloverdale.

The REFB is also the primary food source for pantries serving Lake, Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties.

For more information, please call David Goodman at 707-523-7900.

Related Story...

Interchurch Pantry Struggles to Survive

By Cecile Lusby
Sebastopol’s Interchurch Pantry is turning to the community in an appeal for financial help in its mission to feed the needy in West Sonoma County. As the economic downturn continues, the six churches that have sustained the Pantry for decades have all suffered a loss of income. These churches are hurting at a time when more individuals are losing jobs and more households need assistance.

The Pantry served 585 households in the first six months of 2001; this year, in the same six-month period, we served 1,245 West County families. Additionally, there are twice as many single individuals, many of them seniors, requesting assistance with groceries. 

This problem did not happen overnight; we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients served over the last four years. Now we face a loss of income from our member churches. As a direct consequence, we have been operating at a loss averaging $1500 a month for more than six months.

Sadly, additional clients mean Pantry volunteer shoppers must buy greater amounts to fill the extra need, and all Pantries and hot meal programs must pay for their commodities at the Redwood Empire Food Bank. It is this cash nexus that is so difficult to achieve in this time of high unemployment. The Food Bank in turn feels the pressure to care for the hungry in Sonoma County in ever greater numbers.
The Little Red Hen Society generously awarded the Interchurch Pantry of Sebastopol a one-time grant of $15,000 at the end of 2008 at a time when our shelves were almost bare, but there is no miraculous grant appearing now. 

The Pantry has two traditional food drives: The Letter Carriers/ Postal Clerks project on the Saturday before Mother’s Day and the Realtor’s Food Drive just before Thanksgiving. Now after only two months since Mother’s Day, Sebastopol’s Food Pantry is in dire financial distress.

We always appreciate produce sent to us from West County gardens and family farms, but in this summer appeal we are asking for money to help us continue feeding people in need in our community until November and the well-known holiday generosity of West Sonoma County.

Please send your check to Interchurch Food Pantry, c/o Diana Godwin, Treasurer, P.O. Bo 579, Sebastopol, CA 95473. Gifts of food may be brought to the Pantry site at 500 Robinson Road in Sebastopol during business hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; or Saturday between 10am and 12 noon.

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