All Quiet on the Lafferty Front?
by Bruce Hagen
Remember Lafferty Ranch, the remote hypersensitive wildlife preserve, the explosive tinderbox home of endangered eagles and besieged ranches at the end of the county's worst road, suited for only the hardiest of mountaineers? The place that present and former City Council members said would never become a park?
It's gone. Blown away like so much smoke by a report from an independent environmental consultant. Hired by the City under threat of lawsuits from Sonoma Mountain neighbors, the consultant has completed the first phase of a formal environmental impact review (EIR.) In their "Constraints and Opportunities" analysis, the EIR scientists and engineers have concluded there are no environmental factors preventing minimal development and year-round unsupervised hiking on Lafferty Ranch. Surprise! Their findings were similar to earlier reports from Citizens for Lafferty Ranch and a Regional Park and the City's Lafferty Access and Management Plan Committee.
Regarding wildlife, the report says " golden eagles do not nest on or adjacent to the site," and that "steelhead trout are limited to areas below the abandoned diversion facility." Regarding vegetation, the report states "there are no rare, endangered, or threatened species on the site."
Neither wildlife, vegetation, streams, wetlands, steep slopes or archaeological resources preclude the parking lot, trails, and activities proposed for Lafferty, concludes the report. This should put to rest the notion that Lafferty's ecology is too fragile for hikers. On the contrary, the consultants recognized a wide variety of passive recreational opportunities in a place of great ecological and scenic diversity.
What about other concerns expressed by Lafferty's neighbors? "Given measures recommended in this report, there is no reason to believe that site development will significantly affect neighboring agriculture operations." These measures include locking the parking lot gate after hours and posting of boundary signs.
While the report acknowledges the high fire risk, the two agencies with fire management responsibility for Lafferty (Rancho Adobe Fire District and the California Division of Forestry) concluded that "public access to the site would be an acceptable risk given certain improvements." All of these improvements, which include vegetation control and a water tank, were recommended by the Access Committee earlier this year.
Traffic safety on Sonoma Mountain Road was the most significant issue, according to the EIR consultant. While worst case Lafferty traffic was projected at an average of only 50 trips per day (four cars per daylight hour), this nonetheless represented a significant increase in the volume of traffic on this rural road (equal to that generated by five residences). But the report pointed out that the road currently "does not meet national standards for rural roads." It recommends the City and County together determine what improvements are appropriate, and who should pay. Considering that Lafferty has been designated as a park site in the County General Plan, we hope our County Supervisor Jim Harberson (who for years opposed a park on Lafferty for the reasons now discredited by the EIR report) will fight for a fair level of County funding to improve this County road.
The EIR and planning process still must go through several more steps leading to City Council acceptance of the EIR and implementation of the Lafferty Park Plan, which is scheduled for the coming winter. If opposition to the park was based on any of the issues addressed in the report, the opponents should be satisfied that their concerns have been addressed.
Citizens for Lafferty Ranch and a Regional Park remains committed to opening Lafferty Ranch for public recreation and education, and convinced that it will be well worth the effort and expense (although we must point out that this level of environmental review, normally reserved for projects like malls and subdivisions, is overkill for making a wilderness park out of a cattle pasture.) We encourage people to help develop the plan, and help carry it out. People can view copies of the EIR report at the Petaluma Library.