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Coastal Watchdog Gives After-the-Fact OK to Bay Area Seawall

By: MATTHEW RENDA, Courthouse News

BODEGA BAY, Calif. (CN) – The construction of a seawall and its contribution to beach erosion took center stage at the California Coastal Commission’s monthly meeting Wednesday, in the form of a debate between those looking to prevent flooding of a public golf course and those who say seawalls damage beaches and are too little, too late in the face of climate change.

Supporters of a seawall in the Northern California beach town of Pacifica say “coastal armoring” is needed to stop flooding of a golf course and surrounding neighborhoods.

Since the seawall has already been built, the coastal commission voted 9-3 Wednesday to give the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department an after-the-fact permit. But the decision also allows the city department to further armor the existing earthen berm, located directly seaward to Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica.

The after-the-fact aspect of the approval outraged environmentalists, who accused the city department of misrepresenting the construction project as minor. Instead, they say the recreation department pretended to make only minor repairs to the earthen berm in 2013, but actually undertook a massive construction project aimed at shoring up the berm with rocks and other materials – a controversial practice called coastal armoring.

“Fifty thousand pounds of rock was illegally installed,” said Neal Desai, director of field operations for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Anything short of a cease-and-desist order is a celebration of illegal armoring or seawalls at the expense of low cost recreation and coastal access.”

Desai’s words come as an advocate for national parks, including the Golden Gate Recreation Area near the golf course. Several golfing buffs attended the meeting and attested not only to the historic value of the course, designed and built in 1932, but also relative low cost that allows the masses to play a coastal course typically reserved for the well-heeled.

Several residents of the area also attended the meeting, making the case that neighborhoods adjacent to the course and seawall would likely be routinely flooded during winter storms if the parks department didn’t move forward with the coastal armoring.

“In our view, there is a 100 percent certainty that flooding would occur,” said Dan Carl, a member of coastal commission staff that recommended the board approve the permit.

Further complicating the issue, two of California’s most endangered species – the San Francisco garter snake and the red-legged frog – occupy the Laguna Salada wetlands directly inland from the course’s back nine.

Spencer Potter, with the recreation department, said saltwater intrusion into the wetlands might kill the population of red-legged frog, which in turn would drastically reduce a food source for the endangered snake, if the seawall isn’t finished.

“There are a variety of issues with that approach, including whether you could even do that,” Potter said, alluding to potential violations of the Endangered Species Act.

This ultimately forced the hand of commissioners, though several expressed concerns that the 20-year permit for the seawall is only a temporary fix.

“We have published a sea-level rise plan that demonstrates and proves that seawalls and armoring are anathema to what we are trying to do here,” said Commissioner Mark Vargas. “We are trying to fool Mother Nature.”

Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh agreed, saying that the length of the permit should be reduced and the commission should revisit the issue in five years.

“I am concerned about the message we are sending when we see four years of unpermitted action and then award them with a permit,” she said.

Pacifica, a small coastal town located in San Mateo County immediately south of San Francisco, was hit hard by a series of storms this past winter that ultimately broke century-old precipitation records. In some areas, the coastal erosion was so pronounced that apartment complexes had to be evacuated after city and county officials deemed the structures prone to collapse.

Carole Groom, a commissioner who also sits on the San Mateo Board of Supervisors, said the golf course does provide economic vitality to a community still recovering from the effects of a tough winter.

“I hate to disagree with the strong environmental groups,” she said. “But the golf course is an important part of the town economy and the seawall is integral to the survival of those neighborhoods.”

Find the full article here.

CAG November Newsletter

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Northern California golf courses battle back after wildfires

By:Dan Kilbridge, Golfweek

The Atlas fire started around 9:20 p.m. PT Oct. 8, roughly three hours after Brendan Steele finished two shots ahead of Tony Finau to win the Safeway Open at 15 under at Silverado Resort’s North Course.

By morning, the fire had burned an estimated 25,000 acres amid the beautiful homes, wineries and ranches in Northern California’s Napa Valley region.

Most of the 15,000 fans in attendance for the PGA Tour event were long gone, and those staying on Silverado’s 370-room property were able to leave safely.

“The fact that there were no deaths at Silverado, all the people got out, it really is nothing short of a miracle,” Silverado vice president of marketing Julie Maurer said. “If that (fire) had broken out earlier, it might not have had the same outcome.”

Multiple fires that began that night claimed 42 lives and thousands of homes and were still not 100 percent contained as of last week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

CNN’s Breaking News Twitter account posted a photo of the blaze at Silverado the day after the Safeway Open, and the dramatic image appeared to show an entire grandstand area engulfed in flames.

It was actually a corporate skybox off the 17th green, ignited by embers from the Atlas fire and fortunately contained to one small area. Embers in the air caused small fires throughout the property, including several around the North Course, which had recently been spread with mulch in various spots for the tournament. Mulch is flammable, and a resort staff with little-to-no firefighting experience stood guard throughout the night trying to contain the flames.

“Our director of security, our resort manager and our general manager were there with two other employees all night long on vigilance,” Maurer said.

The back nine on the North Course did sustain turf damage and the driving range remains closed because several telephone poles which hold up the netting alongside the range sustained fire damage and remain a safety concern.

Most of Silverado Resort was spared. The resort re-opened last week and is now fully operational, with the South Course, grill restaurant, fitness center and spa back up and running. Repairs are still ongoing at the North Course, but it is expected to be open for play again by the end of the month.

“Things are going remarkably well,” Maurer said. “The resort itself sustained very little damage. … It was mostly smoke damage. We do have some turf damage on the North Course, but none of our permanent structures caught fire.”

Roughly 45 miles northwest of Silverado, Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa was preparing to host the UCSF Medical Center Celebrity Golf Classic on Oct. 9, the day after the final round of the Safeway Open.

According to USA Today, several former Major League Baseball players, including Barry Bonds, Bret Saberhagen and Eric Gagne, were among those forced to leave the club early Monday morning.

“It was a crazy, surreal night,” Saberhagen told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I was out on the balcony at Mayacama when the power went out and sat down and saw the moon come up. It was very nice. And then I saw the moon turn orange and it started getting lighter and lighter. I saw the fire coming over the ridge and I could hear propane and gas tanks popping.”

Mayacama sustained significant fire damage and while the clubhouse was spared, the Jack Nicklaus Signature designed-course was burnt throughout and the maintenance facility was “severely damaged,” according to a report from the Golf Course Superintendents of America. The clubhouse and maintenance facility at Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club in Santa Rosa burned to the ground and the course was devastated, according to the same report.

(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 30, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

CAG October Newsletter

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CAG September Newsletter


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In court battle over groundwater rights, tribe’s leader demands water treatment

By: Ian James, The Desert Sun

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear an appeal from water agencies and rule in the precedent-setting legal fight over whether the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians holds rights to groundwater in the California desert.

But Chairman Jeff Grubbe said his tribe is already looking ahead to the next phases of the case, including a federal court’s eventual decision – if the tribe prevails before the Supreme Court – on how much groundwater the tribe is entitled to.

Grubbe said in an interview with The Desert Sun that if the Agua Caliente tribe wins, one of the first priorities would be to start treating the Colorado River water that flows to the Coachella Valley and is used to replenish the aquifer. He said the tribe’s leaders are concerned about the quality of the water and the aquifer’s long-term sustainability, and would be willing to help pay for building treatment facilities to remove salts and contaminants from the imported water.

“As soon as this is all said and done, that’ll be one of the first things that the tribe’s going to work on is cleaning that water before it gets dumped in our aquifer. And that’s an expense the tribe’s willing to front for the betterment of not only my tribe but the Coachella Valley as a whole,” Grubbe said, sitting at a table next to Andreas Creek at the Indian Canyons.

He said the concern is that water from the Colorado River Aqueduct – which flows into groundwater replenishment ponds in the desert next to Palm Springs – is of lesser quality than the groundwater, with higher levels of dissolved solids as well as contaminants from farm runoff and cities upstream.

“There’s a lot of solids and pollutants in it,” Grubbe said. While the effect on water quality may not be “alarming” quite yet, he said, “if nothing is done now, in the future it could be.”

The full article can be found here.

Trump rolled back this environmental rule. California may replace it with a stronger one

By: Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler

President Donald Trump’s administration gave California land developers and farmers a reason to cheer when the White House last month rolled back controversial regulations for wetlands imposed during the Obama presidency.

They may want to hold off on the celebration.

A powerful California water agency is poised to adopt its own regulations that could protect more of the state’s wetlands from being plowed, paved over or otherwise damaged. Environmental groups are pressuring the State Water Resources Control Board to push back against Trump’s decision and adopt a wetlands policy that’s even stricter than former President Barack Obama’s.

“The state board should be adopting a policy that is even more protective of California’s wetlands,” said Rachel Zwillinger, water policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife. “This (proposed) policy is a critical opportunity for the state to step up and protect its own resources.”

A fight over the proposed rules has been brewing for years and is about to come to a head. A year ago, a broad coalition of developers, homebuilders, farmers and other business groups submitted testimony against the regulations, saying they would create more red tape, higher costs and fewer rights for landowners. These organizations, including the California Building Industry Association and the state Farm Bureau, declined comment for this story because they’re reviewing a recently updated version of the water agency’s proposal.

Other property-rights advocates who’ve been studying the issue say the proposed wetlands rules could harm the state’s economy. “The impact may be particularly substantial for the agricultural industry and large-scale infrastructure projects in California that will almost certainly be subjected to additional permitting hoops and exposed to additional third-party litigation,” said Tom Boer, a San Francisco lawyer who represents businesses in environmental cases.
Read the full article here.

CAG August Newsletter

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